Managing Aggression in Children

“He could have refused when I offered to build the archway. Instead, he stomped on it, broke it into pieces, and, along with his friends, scooped me out of the entry hole I was making for the mud mansion. To top it all, he punched me on my face and called me an intruder. All the others in the group were chuckling at it. I feel belittled.”

Sibling rivalry is one of the common causes of aggression in children. In an attempt to assert what they think are their rights, children often go overboard with their reactions. This is the age when children begin to argue rather than expressing whim. So it becomes all the more challenging for the parents to manage. However, such aggression must be curbed at the outset, because, with time, children tend to apply it outside the house, and parents may not be able to take control over such situations. For instance, if a child is used to resorting to fist fighting with his/her sibling or a family member at home, in a similar situation outside home, he might try applying the same tactic to win.

A common worry for parents and teachers is about finding ways to manage children’s behaviour without being aggressive to them. The best thing to do to change aggressive behaviour in children is to make them feel empathy for others. It is not an easy task, but quite possible. After a bout of aggression from your child, wait for him/her to calm down. Then, get him/her to observe the emotions of the person he/she was aggressive to and discuss his/her observations with you. Explain to him/her what about the aggression was unjustified and how the receiver would have felt. You may even take the help of TV shows/movies/storybooks/comics to put the thought in his/her mind. Always treat your child with empathy and respect. After all, he/she learns most qualities from your ways.How do aggressive tendencies sprout in children? Well, children are increasingly exposed to a variety of recreation that is at least loosely based on violence — be it a cartoon programme, an action movie, an action video/computer game, or even a comic. Over and above these, they also watch their parents fight at home, friends fight at school/neighbourhood, and parents/friends/teachers show aggression to them. All these make children believe that they can overcome any situation by showing aggression, and, as a result, they use it whenever they are angry, frustrated, disappointed, bored, stressed, tired, or anything else that goes out of their control.

One other very important measure we should take is to focus on having positive interactions with children. Appreciate any display of good behaviour. And when he/she is rough in his/her behaviour, you stay calm. By doing this, you will set an example for your child. And then, respond consistently to bad behaviour. You may warn or ignore him/her, based on the situation. However, hold back from scolding or hitting the child. One of the easier solutions when you are dealing with more than one child’s aggression is to set rules. Or better still, form an agreement with the children and explain why it is important for all of you stick to the rules of the agreement, such as agreeing with whoever offers the most logical solution.

Another way to deal with aggression is to demonstrate alternative behaviour to children. For instance, if two children have a fight, give your comfort to the child who is hurt and neglect the child who showed aggression. To make your child feel guilty is not bad. It is, in fact, required for him/her to realise his/her mistake. Once the subject of aggression is comforted, move on to the neglected child and explain to him/her that such an act is not acceptable, and remind him/her of what he/she could have done to be polite. When the child has calmed down, have him/her review the situation and become aware of the body signals that indicate that he/she is about to get aggressive. Once a child is able to do that, he/she will be able to gain control over his/her impulses and modify his/her negative tendencies, if any, to act positively. However, we have to remember that children might not always be able to regulate their emotions. We need to give them some leeway to have a decent outlet for an occasional burst of overwhelming stress.

What mistake we often make is to preach ‘what not to do’ to children. Try suggesting ‘what to do’, instead. Also, be proactive in promoting positive behaviour by reciting social stories of sharing between sibling/friends, helping others overcome their troubles rather than troubling them, caring for one’s possessions but not hurting others for it, etc.

Also, keep your child’s creativity constantly triggered and participate in the activities with him/her to encourage him/her to think productively. Give him/her the freedom to choose activities based on what he/she likes. For as long as your child is kept interested, he/she will give out positive vibes.