Handling Aggression in Kids

My ultrasound appointments while pregnant with my boys could not have been more different. With my first son, when the probe passed on top of him, he tended to move and shift position. Pretty typical, I’m assuming. Typical enough that the technicians never commented. But then with my second son, anytime the probe passed over him he would punch or kick in the direction of the probe. The techs would often comment, “oh wow, the baby is punching back!!” I knew I was going to have my hands full with my second child.

Having a child who regularly engages in aggressive behavior can be quite difficult to manage. Dealing with the bites, hits, kicks, throwing of objects, and name-calling can be exhausting when they occur multiple times per day or for long periods of time. While many infants, toddlers, and preschoolers engage in some level of aggression (e.g. just think about why “terrible 2’s” became a thing) some children go beyond the scope of what is typical. Or some kids turn to aggressive behaviors.

There is hope, and it begins with us parents. One of the first things I try to impress upon parents who are struggling to provide effective consequences for the inappropriate behavior of their children is to be the example they want to see in their children. What I mean is parents should drop the “do as I say, not as I do” behavior. Kids are sponges and actors. They watch us, they learn, and then they repeat. So the first step to reducing aggressive behavior in your child is by reducing (or better yet, eliminating) aggressive behavior in yourself. Don’t direct mean words or sayings at others (this includes yelling at other cars when driving). Don’t throw things across the room when you get frustrated. And certainly don’t put holes in walls, damage property, or hit, kick, or slap others. Do use kinds words. Do practice coping strategies (such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation) to deal with your anger. Do apologize for those moments where you lose your temper and act out.

You may be wondering whether my second son is an aggressive child. His behavior is certainly within the range of normal for his age, but don’t go getting in his personal space for too long because he’ll come with that right hand with a quickness. (For the record, he gets put into time-out for such behavior. Blog post for another day.)

Check out my previous post on how Daniel Tiger missed the mark on how to get kids to calm down when feeling angry or frustrated.

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