It’s never easy to handle a young child that hits you or bites you. It’s even harder when the aggression is directed towards other kids and you need to find the best way to intervene. When your child can think, she loves her friends and siblings. Secure in her connection with you, she can let you know when they irritate her by letting out a cry or running to you, upset and asking for help. But when she’s in the full grip of big feelings, the things you do and say to correct her actions churn like nonsense in her beleaguered mind. Aggression behavior in children is a sign that your child feels afraid. It is so much easier to help your child once you realize that she lashes out because she is afraid.
It’s a natural tendency for young children to become aggressive when they are upset, frustrated, and angry. It can even be considered typical during toddler and preschooler years. But it is not okay to be violent or aggressive. That is an important point that every child needs to know. Here are a few signs indicating that your child has anger issues.
- Getting angry often, even for the smallest of things
- Losing control of self, unable to stop the outburst
- Inability to express feelings coherently
- Failure to see how their anger is affecting other people, doesn’t seem to care about other people’s feelings
- Behaves recklessly
- Talks threateningly and draws or writes about violence or aggression
- Blames other people for their behavior
- Stays angry for a long time, has trouble moving away from frustration and anger
- Needs to be reprimanded and reminded to control anger.
Finding gentle ways to handle aggression in young children is a difficult task. But the good news is that it is possible. And once you will find them, things will become easier.
Recognize the Reasons for Aggression
The primary emotion behind aggression is a feeling of helplessness. If a child’s aggression is often directed towards you, studies suggests that you might be exercising too much control over your child, and the relationship would benefit from you giving your child more power through choice. When a child is aggressing towards another child, it is likely that they are unable to express their feelings of helplessness to get what they want and so they hit, push, kick, yell… The key then becomes helping them express what they want without them having to do those things. You may learn to detect subtle signs that your child’s fears are rumbling. For example, you might notice that just before she bites, pushes, or hits, the expression on her face goes flat, or perhaps her posture stiffens. The better you are at anticipating her difficulties, the better you’ll be at creating strategies that connect the two of you before she erupts.
Give a warning with a choice
Tips for Better Listening
If you are struggling with aggressive behavior, you may also struggle with listening. These two things tend to go hand-in-hand. Listening is something we are always working on in our home. Try out new and fresh ideas to keep things running smoother. Speak low and slow. This is a awesome technique learned from many moms. Speaking in a low tone of voice and slowly. Sometimes when you redirect behavior using “low and slow,” a power struggle starts. So turn it into a song and dance, using humor. Infusing humor validates what your child is thinking or redirects the behavior to the desired behavior (gentle hugs). Whisper so quietly, they cannot hear you.
This is especially useful with an energetic child, who will not sit still long enough to listen. Sometimes whispering is not enough to grab their attention. Instead, whisper so softly they cannot actually hear you. Try to keep eye contact as much as possible while you are doing this. This causes kids to stop and try extra hard to hear what you are saying. This at least gets kids to pause and usually stops aggressive behavior by default.
Simple phrases teach kids boundaries. Surprisingly, even a two-year-old can learn boundaries. Setting boundaries communicates what you will and will not tolerate as a parent, and it can be done lovingly, but firmly. The best part is, it can be done without any yelling, fear-oriented wording, or spanking. Once you have communicated your boundaries, and what you will do when they are violated, you offer your kids the freedom to choose what they are going to do in response.
Teach Your Child How to Wait
The problem many children have who act out or become aggressive is that they lack the control to curb their impulses. Toddlers escalate from zero to a hundred in what seems a heartbeat. The key is to catch them when they are just beginning to show warning signs of an impending outburst and to slow their response down. One way to elongate that time and create a stop-gap between your child’s impulse and the actual behavior is to teach them to wait enough time so that they can assess their own warning signals and change course.
Respond Firmly and Without Anger
According to experts, it is important to respond to anger and aggression in a caring, supportive way, instead of with more anger. If we want our children to believe that we love them unconditionally, even when they are so upset that they have lost control over their body, we must approach their aggression in a way that won’t shame or punish them. Instead, let’s try thinking of ourselves as a caring coach whose job it is to help our child calm down and learn how to behave according to our society’s social rules.
Take a Time-Out
Timeouts always help when you are angry. When your child is angry and is in a fit of rage, don’t react or reprimand. That will only fuel the anger. Instead of arguing and indulging the child in a heated conversation, give him or her a timeout. If the child is ranting angrily, let them finish, and then send them to their room, as coolly as you can. But if your child is aggressive and being violent, stop them immediately, make them sit quietly for a minute or two, until they cool down.
Take Her Away From the Situation
If you are in a public place or somewhere where you feel your toddler can aggravate the situation, distract her immediately by taking her away. Interfere on behalf of your toddler, even if you think it can make others more aware of your toddler’s aggression. Gently lead your toddler away. If she resists, tell her about what other things she can try out by moving away from where she is and going along with you.
Channel the Aggression to Other Outlets
There are numerous creative and physical outlets for a child who needs to expend physical and emotional energy. Pounding clay, running, jumping on a trampoline, or playing a sport may help divert negative energy into something they enjoy. The creative arts such as writing, music, or drama may also be ways for your child to explore their feelings and passions in a socially acceptable way.
Most experts agree that what young children need most is consistency. They need to know what you expect of them and how to meet those expectations. Using the same simple phrases over and over gives kids the consistency they need. As soon as you say that phrase, they automatically know what they should do. Granted, depending on your child’s personality, they may not always respond the way you want them to. But there are simple phrases for that, too.
What To Do If Your Toddler’s Aggression Gets Worse?
You may have tried everything but despite your best efforts, your toddler is still aggressive. In that case, it is advisable to make an appointment with your toddler’s doctor and explain the situation. Tell your toddler’s doctor about any violent and aggressive behavior she is involved in. Depending on the severity of the situation, the doctor may refer a child psychologist who will speak to your toddler and try to reach the root of the aggression.
Use discretion in how you use this information. What will work for one child may not work for another. Your child’s age, diagnoses, temperament, and communication skills all play a huge factor in how to best help your child. What may work for decreasing aggression in a toddler may be very different for treating a six foot tall teen who feels rage and is acting upon that emotion. You always need to tailor your treatment plan for the unique needs of your child.