Aggression in Young Children! How to Handle? Tips from Pros

Aggression in Young Children! How to Handle? Tips from Pros | Aggressiveness is a normal reaction in children. They let out their angry emotions when they feel they need to protect their safety or happiness. Aggressiveness can be defined as hostile behaviour that can cause injury to another.

Aggression in Young Children!

Babies display their tempers whenever conditions are less than perfect. Two-year-olds try to settle disputes by hitting or slapping. They may be imitating behaviour they have seen in adults. Or may be trying to get attention. Slapping is also a reflex that all children have. They slap out of aggression or excitement. By the time children reach the age of eight or nine, aggressiveness is usually well controlled.

Angry Children
Angry Children

Aggression in Babies,

When children are frustrated and feel they can’t get what they want instantly. They may react aggressively. Aggressive feelings are natural. According to The Parenting Advisor of the Princeton Centre for Infancy. “We want to help the baby control her feelings in order to use them constructively. As she grows into a healthy, mature individual. What we want to do is help each child learn to cope with this natural emotion. So that it does not become to much for her to handle.”

Babies have two states of feeling — pleasant and unpleasant. If she is relaxed, full, dry, and warm. She is in a pleasant state. If she is hungry, cold, or uncomfortable. She is in an unpleasant state. The infant learns to show distress by reacting with anger at frustrating situations.

If a baby wakes up feeling hungry, he will probably scream violently until he is fed. He will show anger if he is kept from doing, or getting, what he wants. According to the Princeton Centre for Infancy, “The desire to look, to touch, to handle is as urgent for the baby as hunger. And as necessary for his intellectual growth as the books we will give him later on.

Aggression in Young Children, Aggressive reactions!

Too many restrictions on mobility create irritability, temper outbursts. And conflicts between the baby and family which require much time to undo. And are often easily avoided through practical approaches to the child’s needs.”

Infants are unable to control their feelings. Parents should not react with anger. Or great sympathy to the first violent outbursts of their child. The baby does need comforting, but you should remain calm and undisturbed.

According to the Prince Centre for Infancy. Parents should take a look at their own reactions to frustrations. “Since children learn from parents both consciously and unconsciously . . . if you behave violently, your baby will probably do likewise.” You must be prepared for your child’s aggressive reactions to the many frustrations of the first year of growth.

Aggression in Toddlers,

In a book, The Magic Years relates the story of Lawrie. Lawrie was just barely two-years-old when his baby sister arrived. He had been told there was a baby inside his mommy which would come out one day. However, he was not prepared for the reality of his new life with an actual baby in the family. His mother was in the hospital for one week. And when she came back, she returned with a new child to love.

Lawrie tried hard at first. He “helped” take care of the baby, and hugged and caressed her. But sometimes, his jealousy got the upper hand. He would hug the baby too hard, or pinch or slap her. Several times he came up to her wielding a stick or block.

While his parents were sympathetic with his feelings, their first priority was to prevent him from hurting the baby. Lawrie’s parents were firm with him about this. They showed their disapproval when he tried to hurt the baby. Lawrie tried desperately to control himself.

As a result, he began throwing temper tantrums over other things at least a dozen times a day. He had strong feelings that needed to be expressed. The only way he could show how he felt was through action, since he did not yet have the verbal skills to express himself through words.

Aggression in Young Children, Aggression against his sister!

According to Fraib, a professor of child psychoanalysis. “We cannot allow him to express his aggression against his sister through physical attack. And the vocabulary . . . is inadequate for expression through words.” If Lawrie were older. His parents could tell him not to hit the baby. But rather to talk to them about his angry feelings toward her. If he were even a few months older, he might be able to say, “You love her more than me. I don’t want a baby sister.”

Children fight
Children fight

What can you do to help a young child like Lawrie find an acceptable way to release aggression? Fraib suggested to Lawrie’s parents that they give him a plastic dummy to hit when he got mad. They did so, and told him he could not hurt the baby, but he could hit “Puncho” when he got angry.

However, the next day Lawrie’s mother called Fraiberg saying, “Lawrie doesn’t want to hit Puncho. He says Puncho is his friend. What do we do now?”

His angry phase,

Fraib suggested that they give Puncho a fair trial. Each time Lawrie tried to hurt the baby. His parents were to repeat that when he is mad he can hit Puncho, but he cannot hit the baby. The plan took two weeks to work. Within a few more weeks, Fraib says, “Puncho’s physical condition was almost beyond the point of salvage.”

But by that time, Lawrie had made it through his angry phase. He no longer tried to attack his younger sister. His temper tantrums were rare, and his aggression was under control.

Lawrie’s story is an excellent example of how to handle aggression in the early stages of teaching control to a child. According to Fraiberg, “Lawrie is required to inhibit his aggression toward his sister. But in making this demand of Lawrie, we recognise the strength. And feelings and the inadequate means of control at his age. And choose a method of handling which permits some expression of the urge in an acceptable way toward a substitute target.”

Aggression in Young Children, Thwarted instincts,

You remember that when Lawrie was first required to stop attacking the baby, his aggression was discharged into temper tantrums. Other children in similar circumstances may develop sleep disturbances or may begin wetting the bed. Two-year-olds can be taught to control their aggression, but if they stifle their emotions, other problems are likely to develop.

As Fraiberg says, “While it is tedious to teach a ‘Lawrie’ to express his aggressive feelings toward a plastic dummy instead of his sister, it is actually far more tedious to put up with temper tantrums a dozen times a day, to be up several times a night with an anxious child, or to change the bed-linen of an enuretic child for several years to come. Thwarted instincts have a way of avenging themselves.”

Handling Aggressive Behaviour!

The way Lawrie’s aggression was handled was suitable because he was pre-verbal. He did not yet have enough language skills to express himself through words. You should not have to use such a method with a child who is four or five-years-old. When children begin to be able to command the language, request them to put their feelings into words. Older children should be able to get rid of their aggression through games and play. If an older child has a temper tantrum, say, “You’re a big boy now. You can talk. You can tell me what is bothering you, or what you want.”

In the toddler stage, a child has not yet brought his aggressiveness under control. He will still openly show his anger at situations that frustrate him. Most young children will have problems with fighting, biting, and hitting. If your child is behaving violently in her daily relationships and constantly hurting you or other children, she may need special help. However, this is usually a passing phase and can be handled effectively by the parent.

Aggression in Young Children, Reassuring to a toddler.

Of course, your child should not be permitted to hit, bite, or scratch. He must learn to respect the feelings and rights of other people. Help him understand that you love him, but cannot permit him to hurt others. According to the Princeton Centre for Infancy, “To find that there are limits beyond which he cannot go is very reassuring to a toddler.”

After your child has slapped you, bit his brother, pinched the baby. And so forth, you should not try to think of a “punishment to fit the crime.” Instead, try to think of what will help your child. Don’t use words that will make him feel guilty. And make sure you keep your own emotions and actions under control.

Teach your child that when she hurts someone, people do not like it. Do not let her feel that she is not loved, or that she will only be loved if she behaves well. Teach her that some actions are acceptable, and some are not.

Activities which are not harmful to others,

You need to be firm in dealing with the problem, but do not punish your child severely. What you need to do is to help your child redirect her aggression. Don’t crush her ability to assert herself. Just help her channel her aggression into activities which are not harmful to others.

Many psychologists have found that children who are most aggressive have parents who are highly permissive and punish severely. The least aggressive children have parents who are not permissive and who punish mildly. According to the Princeton Centre for Infancy. “Parents who go to extremes by permitting adverse or destructive behaviour. Or by instituting severe punishments seem to be fostering childhood aggression.” In addition, severe punishment gives an example of the use of aggression just as parents are trying to teach their child not to be aggressive.

Harmful behaviour of children
Harmful behaviour of children

Physical punishment!

According to Dr. Thomas in his book, Discipline That Works, “Punishment doesn’t prevent aggressive behaviour by children; it promotes it.” Punishment promotes aggressive behaviour by depriving and frustrating the child. Also, according to Dr. Gordon, “. . . children are great imitators–they learn from watching what adults do, especially their parents.” Physical punishment teaches children to use violence. It teaches that it is appropriate to use force in relationships with other people. Think how ridiculous it is to spank a child, saying, “I hope this will teach you not to hit.”

Consider the following additional suggestions of how to prevent and control aggression in youngsters:

Be consistent in your parenting.According to Dr. Charles E. Schaefer in How to Help Children with Common Problems, “A combination of lax discipline and hostile attitudes by parents can produce very aggressive and poorly controlled children.” If you indulge or neglect your child, and then punish excessively, your parenting will cause your child to be aggressive, rebellious, and irresponsible.

Limit exposure to violence in TV and movies.Studies have shown that the more violent the programs preferred by children, the more aggressive their behaviour.

Minimise marital strife.Your child learns a lot by imitating you. Don’t expose your child to arguing, conflict, and aggressiveness between you and your spouse.

Provide physical activity as an outlet.Your child needs plenty of opportunities for strenuous outdoor play and exercise. This will help him get rid of tension and extra energy.

Aggression in Young Children
Aggression in Young Children

Aggression in Young Children; Provide more adult supervision.

Young children are calmed by the presence of an adult. Show interest in their activities. And be ready to become involved in time to head off trouble. If you notice two children getting irritated with each other, suggest a new game. Or give them separate activities for a little while.

Reward good behaviour.If your child has a problem with hitting her brother, praise her for giving him a hug or pat. Every time he plays with his friends or siblings without fighting, praise him for playing co-operatively. You might even give rewards. Like a star on a star chart, or a treat or privilege.

Be firm in your discipline.

Make it perfectly clear to your child that aggressive acts are not acceptable. And will not be tolerated. Explain why you disapprove. Set the rules, and consistently enforce them. Consider using the “time-out” penalty. This means that for a specific amount of time the child must be isolated from social contact. After an aggressive act, explain what she did wrong. And walk with her to the “time-out” area. Explain that because of what she did (slapping your leg, pinching her sister, etc.)

she will have two minutes of time-out. Set a timer for two minutes. And let her know the time-out is over when it rings. You can also consider taking away privileges. Or requiring your child to make restitution to the person who was hurt. For instance, you could require him to pat the area. He slapped (or pinched or bit) with his hand for a short time.

Provide a distraction or substitute.

Compliment her at random when you are holding her for keeping her hands to herself. Keep in mind that you, the parent, are in control. Set clear and consistent limits while showing your unconditional love. According to Dr. Schaefer, “a strengthening or redevelopment of loving feelings between parents and child may be necessary if the frequency of juvenile acts is to be lessened.” If your child feels secure in your love, he will be less likely to act aggressively, especially when he knows you strongly disapprove of aggressive behaviour.


Semih Bulgur

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