My Child Has a Problem - Aggression

Portrait of an angry boy crying
Aggression in Children. Westend61 / Getty Images

Working with aggressive children, I like to keep in mind the model I learned from Assertiveness Training. When a child has a need or desire to communicate, he may present it in one of three ways:

  1. Unassertive (passive) communication - I lose, you win.
  2. Aggressive communication - I win, you lose.
  3. Assertive communication - I win, you win.

It may seem odd that the best thing to do to help aggressive children is the same thing you do to help shy children, teach assertiveness!

Of course, you are coming at it from a different angle. The first step in changing the pattern of aggressive behavior in your child is to develop a sense of empathy. Observe and discuss with your child the emotions of others to help him understand how people feel when they are treated badly. TV and books are useful tools for teaching your child to recognize the feelings of others. Treat your child with empathy and respect, and he will learn to treat others in the same way.

An ideal opportunity to teach your child how to handle angry feelings is when you and your spouse have an argument. Your child can learn principles of listening well, remaining calm, cooling off, and negotiating a solution by your example. Do you and your spouse often lose control emotionally? Name-calling, hateful words, and, of course, physical aggression by parents are directly modeled by aggressive children.

Harsh physical punishment and abuse also lead to an aggressive pattern of externalizing painful emotions.

Aggression in children is related to Oppositional Defiant and Conduct Disorders. These disorders set the stage for many long years of delinquency, substance abuse, poor relationships, and maladaptation in young adulthood. The destructive cycle is only stopped by learning self-control, a lesson best learned in childhood.

Children need to understand the difference between right and wrong. A healthy sense of guilt when they do wrong is a good thing. Feeling "shame" rather than "guilt", however, is associated with aggressive behavior. What is the difference between shame and guilt, and why is it important? Nancy Eisenberg writes in Emotion, Regulation, and Moral Development, Annual Review of Psychology , "Probably because guilt is focused more on the transgression than the self, guilt seems to motivate restitution, confession, and apologizing rather than avoidance". Now you know why experts say condemn the behavior, not the child. It's a delicate balance for parents, but an important one. In the same vein, parents should be realistic in their praise of the child. As children reach the elementary years, they need to have an accurate perception of their abilities and relationships. Some interesting current research suggests that children who have an unrealistically positive perception of themselves are more aggressive.

Children DO model aggressive behavior from TV, movies, and games. This has been demonstrated convincingly in the research . If your child has a problem with aggressive behavior, you should definitely limit or eliminate his viewing of this type of programming now.

Parental practices that are associated with aggressive behavior in children include:

  1. Poor supervision
  2. Harsh or erratic discipline
  3. Parental disharmony
  4. Rejection of the child
  5. Low involvement in the child's activities
  6. Lack of encouragement and reinforcement of polite or considerate behavior in the child, combined with giving attention and reinforcement to the child when he yells or throws a tantrum.

Plain Talk About Dealing with the Angry Child Adapted from "The Aggressive Child" by Luleen S. Anderson, Ph.D, reprinted at Kidsource Online *Excellent overview

How to Help Your Child Avoid Violent Conflicts by Wendy Schwartz, ERIC

Teaching Your Child Self-control KidsHealth.org

Aggression Family.com Health Encyclopedia

Dealing with Angry Children by Stephanie Dunnwinde, Family.com

If Your Child is the Bully KidsHealth.org

When Children Tantrum, Part 1 by Carol Warnemuende, The Informed Parent. Also see Part 2

The Truth About Temper Tantrums KidsHealth.org

Taking Out Aggression on Mom by Jan Faull, Family.com

How to Handle Hard-to-Handle Kids by Joan S. Rogers, Family.com

Handling Your Child's Anger by Jan Faull, Family.com

Verbal Interventions with Aggressive Children and Youth by Rick Van Acker

In-Depth Social Skills Information LDOnline

Aggressive behavior may be a symptom of childhood stress KidsHealth.org

Insecure Boy Lashes Out by Jan Faull, Family.com

Dealing With Anger and Keeping Your Cool for kids from KidsHealth.org

When Mom Has a Temper Tantrum by Melanie Howard (Club Mom) * I like her advice for a light-hearted "No Losing It" rule for all family members.

Digging Deeper

Aggressive behavior in childhood by Steven Scott, British Medical Journal

Sex Roles A Journal of Research Why are Girls Less Physically Aggressive than Boys Personality and Parenting Mediators of Physical Aggression.(Statistical Data Included) by Gustavo Carlo in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research.

Subtypes of Victims and Aggressors in Children's Peer Groups Interesting research on a subtype of victim - aggressive victims, by David Schwartz in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach Book by Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley

Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. - The Explosive Child Web site for a helpful book

Web Sites and Articles

Plain Talk About Dealing with the Angry Child Adapted from "The Aggressive Child" by Luleen S. Anderson, Ph.D, reprinted at Kidsource Online *Excellent overview

How to Help Your Child Avoid Violent Conflicts by Wendy Schwartz, ERIC

Teaching Your Child Self-control KidsHealth.org

Aggression Family.com Health Encyclopedia

Dealing with Angry Children by Stephanie Dunnwinde, Family.com

If Your Child is the Bully KidsHealth.org

When Children Tantrum, Part 1 by Carol Warnemuende, The Informed Parent. Also see Part 2

The Truth About Temper Tantrums KidsHealth.org

Taking Out Aggression on Mom by Jan Faull, Family.com

How to Handle Hard-to-Handle Kids by Joan S. Rogers, Family.com

Handling Your Child's Anger by Jan Faull, Family.com

Verbal Interventions with Aggressive Children and Youth by Rick Van Acker

In-Depth Social Skills Information LDOnline

Aggressive behavior may be a symptom of childhood stress KidsHealth.org

Insecure Boy Lashes Out by Jan Faull, Family.com

Dealing With Anger and Keeping Your Cool for kids from KidsHealth.org

When Mom Has a Temper Tantrum by Melanie Howard (Club Mom) at Sheeze * I like her advice for a light-hearted "No Losing It" rule for all family members.

Digging Deeper

Aggressive behavior in childhood by Steven Scott, British Medical Journal

Sex Roles A Journal of Research Why are Girls Less Physically Aggressive than Boys Personality and Parenting Mediators of Physical Aggression.(Statistical Data Included) by Gustavo Carlo in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research.

Subtypes of Victims and Aggressors in Children's Peer Groups Interesting research on a subtype of victim - aggressive victims, by David Schwartz in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach Book by Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley

Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. - The Explosive Child Web site for a helpful book

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