Hitting. Kicking. Spitting. Throwing things. You thought these behaviors were for kids still in diapers but yet here you are, extremely concerned and frustrated because your school age child is exhibiting aggressive behaviors. These behaviors are not a normal part of growing up. These are challenging behaviors and you deserve all the support you can get in dealing with them.
If your child is aggressive, don’t despair. There are solutions. First though, you have to figure out the “why.” Knowing why your child is aggressive will help guide your decisions about what to do next. Read the following questions below and answer honestly. The key to your child’s aggressive behavior may not be as mysterious as it seems.
Is your child frustrated? If your child becomes aggressive when attempting a task, or when asked to do a non-preferred activity (chores or homework anyone?), or when he’s not getting what he wants, your child has poor frustration tolerance. You may see your child roll his eyes, stamp his feet, cross his arms, or even yell in frustration. These are all precursors to aggression. If your child takes it to the next level and starts hitting, kicking, or throwing objects, he has officially crossed the line of being able to cope with frustration on his own.
Is your child being bullied? If your child starts becoming aggressive toward younger or smaller peers, finding out if your child is being teased or bullied is a good place to start. If your child is being bullied or teased he may feel like he doesn’t have a voice to stand up for himself. And he is likely carrying a lot of anger. This may lead him to perpetuate those same behaviors on smaller or younger children.
Do you or another family member roughhouse with your child? Ever wrestle with your child and then all of sudden he throws a punch at you? It feels like it came out of nowhere but it really isn’t all that surprising. Aggressive behavior is evolutionary. Humans are programmed when touched in a rough manner to fight back, and it takes skill for a child to be able to say “We’ve had our fun but it’s getting too rough, let’s do something else now. “
Is your child exposed to media with violent themes? Children do what they see. Plain and simple. If your child is exposed to TV shows and video games where problems are solved with violence (Walking Dead, Grand Theft Auto), your child will start to incorporate this thinking into his problem solving skills at home and school. It’s not a matter of knowing pretend from real. It’s your child’s “fund of information.” Meaning, when he’s in a tough situation and needs to figure out what to do next…what’s on the forefront of his mind to help him determine his next steps?
Do you use spanking or corporal punishment? Spanking is the best lesson in teaching your child that it is ok to hit others. Why? Because you are modeling for him that it is ok to use aggression to express anger and frustration. The whole “do as I say not as I do” expression really doesn’t work for children (and probably not for many adults either). If you are spanking or using any sort of physical touch to discipline your aggressive child, you are keeping the cycle of aggression going, not teaching him to stop.
Bottom line: The solution to your child’s aggressive behavior lies in a little bit of investigating on your part. It may seem mysterious but answering these questions honestly is a good place to start. Once you know the “why” then you will more clearly be able to target the aggressive behavior, and help your child toward a more positive direction.
Please let me know….what questions did you ask yourself when trying to understand why your child was aggressive? Are there any different questions you would add to the list?
Jenmarie Eadie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State with a dual concentration in Children, Youth, and Families; and Behavioral Health.