Aggressive behaviour at an early age can lead to problems later on. All children need a certain level of aggression. Without it they are likely to become targets for other children. If your child gets angry from time to time it is nothing to worry about either. After all we all get worked up now and then. Anger and aggression start to become problems when a child attacks another child or adult. This is likely to be shown by biting and hitting.
There are three main causes of aggression in children. These are frustration, attention seeking and being territorial.
Frustration can have a number of triggers. For example it can be caused when a child has been told it is time to stop playing, to carry out an activity they do not wish to do or when they cannot have something they want.
Likewise there can be different triggers for attention seeking. An example of this is if there is a younger sibling and the older child perceives the younger one is getting more attention then they are. The older attention may become aggressive in order to grab your attention if it reaches the stage where they would rather be told off by you than ignored. This is sometimes referred to as negative attention seeking.
Being territorial can occur if a child is playing happily by themselves. Another child may appear and wish to join in. If the first child does not want the second child to play as well he or she may show aggression towards the other child to try and drive them away.
These aggressive behaviours are most likely to be found in younger children. As their vocabulary evolves and grows they are more likely to be able to demonstrate their dissatisfaction through words rather than hitting and biting. Even then you may have a child who is inclined to shout and scream.
To help you overcome the problems of aggression in a child here are our top 10 tips:
1. Watch for triggers
Try and work out if there are triggers that regularly cause aggressive behaviour. It can be as simple as children regularly arguing and becoming aggressive over what television program to watch.
2. Be careful how you react
If you react to any problems in the home by shouting or hitting out, your children will learn from you that this is acceptable behaviour at stressful times. Therefore if they are in a situation that they find frustrating they are likely to react in a similar, aggressive manner.
3. Discuss appropriate and in appropriate behaviour
If you have had a hard day, wait until there is a period of calm and discuss your child's actions with them in a peaceful way. Explain to them the likely results of their actions. For example explain that when they hit or bite it hurts and that other children are unlikely to want to play with them in the future.
4. Give attention and show affection
All children need attention and affection. This is especially true for older children with younger siblings. A first born child gets used to a certain amount of attention and affection. They can find it very difficult to understand why they have to share the limelight with a younger child. This can lead to them feeling rejected and isolated. Make time to pay them special attention.
5. Monitor TV programs and play
Although the effect of television on children can be overstated there could be a link between your child's aggression and what they watch on television. If they like to watch programs that include a level of violence then this can have a negative effect on their behaviour.
In a similar way take note of the type of games your child tends to play. If they play lots of games with toy guns and swords it may be a good idea to try to change the balance of their play and introduce a number of calmer pursuits as well.
When you are playing rough and tumble games with your child ensure these do not go beyond acceptable limits. If they do then your child could be getting the message that this level of aggression is acceptable in other situations.
6. Monitor the influence of friends
If you have always lived in a quiet, peaceful environment then the introduction of a new friend can have an impact on the way your child behaves. If you example your child sees their friends answering back to their parents or hitting a sibling or other children, they may start to consider this as acceptable behaviour. It may prove necessary to try to end the friendship.
7. Give warning time
Most children get frustrated and can show aggression if they are busy playing and you suddenly tell them it is time to go. Although it is not always possible try to give them warning that it is nearly time to stop playing. This gives them the chance to get used to the idea and you are likely to get a more positive response.
8. Provide alternative toys and stimulus
If you sense a child is getting board or frustrated with what they are doing be ready to suggest trying something different. A child who is trying to do something they find very difficult may run out of patience and lose their temper. Watch out for these signs happening and whenever possible have some diverting alternatives ready.
9. Encourage a child to discuss problems
The more you talk to a child the easier they will find it to establish their own vocabulary and be able to express their frustrations verbally. In quiet periods explain to your child how they can resolve their differences through discussion and negotiation rather than through hitting out.
10. Praise good behaviour
If you have taken your child somewhere and they have behaved well or if they have had a good day at home then praise them. This will make your child feel good and want to behave in a positive manner more often.
There will be times when no matter what you do your child still shows aggression. If this happens make sure you keep a close eye on your child when you think a flashpoint may arise. Be prepared to step in quickly and guide your child away from the situation as calmly as you can.