Aggressive behaviour entails any behaviour that is performed deliberately and endangers, or causes emotional and physical harm to oneself or someone else. Aggression is not unusual for children younger than 4 years of age, but kids outgrow this behaviour by kindergarten. However, for many children, aggressive behaviour tends to linger on, is not developmentally appropriate and disrupts personal, family and social life. It is also one of the most common referrals in child and adolescent clinics. As a parent, are you wondering how to deal with aggressive behaviour?
Children display aggression in many ways- hitting, biting, tantrums, outbursts that could damage property or trying to manipulate others through threats. Various factors could set children off. These include, but are not limited to- frustration, difficulty in managing social problems or controlling impulses. Many times, an internal battle with stressors, inability to regulate emotions or difficulty verbalizing problems can lead to aggressive behaviour.
However, parents, teachers, and family can have an influence on how he/she responds. Altering conditions in a child’s environment can modify their behaviour since pressures, violence, opportunities and outcomes, all shape the tendency to act aggressively or not.
Parenting tips to deal with a child’s aggressive behaviour
Here are some ways to deal with an angry child:
1. Be in control of yourself and stay calm:
Responding to a kid’s emotional outburst with your own emotional outburst or a physical punishment like spanking is sure to create a vicious circle. Modelling appropriate emotion regulation and prosocial behaviour, as well as reinforcing children for using these to achieve goals rather than aggression and destructiveness, is a way forward. Seek help from a professional, if need be.
2. Avoid giving in to aggressive outburst or temper tantrums:
Buying your kid a toy car at the shopping mall because they lie down on the floor, scream and hit, you can reinforce their inappropriate behaviour and be rewarding in its own right.
3. Recognize and reward the good:
Instead of rewarding only the extraordinary, a simple “I liked how you behaved when the guests were over” can help increase desirable behaviour by praising it, making it more likely to be repeated.
4. Teach kids to identify, name and regulate emotions:
Validating a kid’s emotions and feelings by saying “I see you’re feeling a little angry because you didn’t get the chocolate” can help them verbalize their feelings instead of expressing it physically by hitting or biting. Teach them strategies like counting backward from 100 to 1 before responding, so that their anger is under control. Redirect aggression by teaching the kid to punch a pillow instead of punching the wall.
5. Find the right re-inforcer:
The reward being given or unpleasant stimulus being taken away must be highly valued and delivered immediately following responses. All rule violations must lead to immediate withdrawal of desired stimuli. Rule following should be immediately and intensely rewarded from time to time.
6. Be consistent:
Be sure to have a predictable response to a kid’s aggressive behaviour. Rules should be the same across contexts and time, to avoid a double bind and confuse the child on how to behave.
7. Break coercive interaction patterns with kids:
Marital discord, socio-economic stressors, mental illness in parents can lead to a coercive parenting style wherein parents have few positive interactions with children and punish them frequently, inconsistently and ineffectively. They also negatively reinforce aggressive behaviour by first responding with punishment or confrontation and withdrawing these when the child’s aggression increases.
Thus, the child learns that escalation leads to parental withdrawal and develops an aggressive relational style.
8. Drop the hostile attribution bias:
It is important to view your kid as a good child with bad habits that are triggered by certain stimuli and reinforced by certain consequences. You should do this instead of attributing aggressive behaviour to internal, global, stable negative factors which can further provoke negative behaviour from the child.
Use a chart to monitor antecedents and consequences of specific positive and negative behaviours. It reflects how the child’s behaviour is partly controlled by antecedents and consequences. It could also shed light on the way aggressive behaviour may be reduced by altering antecedents or consequences.
Solutions to reduce aggressive behaviour by altering consequences include ignoring minor displays of such behaviour and using time out or deprivation of privileges as a response to aggression.