Aggressive child: how to behave?

February 2, 2024

How often do we hear that parenting is the “hardest job in the world”?

This is certainly a statement that is not too far from reality, especially since accompanying a little one in growth and personality development may present some hiccups: it happens, for example, that we have an aggressive child.

What to do in such cases and what lies behind what we would call an aggressive child?

Let’s find out together.

What to do with the aggressive child?

According to psychologists, aggression expressed by children is mostly a simple manifestation of defense, a consequence of failure to satisfy a need, or a simple reaction to some impediment. It is a problem with emotional management.

There are children who, while not expressing anger externally and therefore aggression, feel it internally but know how to repress it: the risk is that this somatization then results in other parts of the personality, for example, in a drop in self-esteem.

In most cases, this is not a manifestation of pathological characters – not the normal child self-centeredness – but it is good to make sure that this outburst is channeled by making it non-destructive so that the little one can associate a just cause with the negative feeling he or she is feeling.

It is important to “slow down” the aggressive behavior that the little one manifests and lead him toward more socially acceptable behavior.

Why is the child aggressive?

While it is true that aggression rarely represents a pathological aspect in the child, it is also undeniable that many child development experts are clear in their thinking on this matter, believing that what we normally refer to as “bullies” generally manifest aggressive behaviors as early as early childhood and preschool age: this is certainly an important reason not to neglect the problem or underestimate it.

Rather, it is a good idea to try to take action as early as possible to work on these aggressive behavioral aspects of the child.

How to deal with aggressive children?

An aggressive child in many cases is just trying to get attention because he or she feels neglected by parents or simply to get what he or she wants.

For a child to understand behavioral errors, it is necessary to avoid behaving in the same way, responding, for example, with yelling, slapping, or spanking. An example is always the basis of good education, including emotional education.

It is good to know that, in general, when parents begin to behave correctly, the child will begin to understand that his aggressive actions do not produce any positive results, and even that they may hinder his desires and expectations.

First, it is important to keep calm when the child is angry and becomes aggressive, being careful not to give in to his demands (otherwise he will understand that aggression is the ideal way to get his satisfaction).

It is good to keep calm and not act immediately: with the facts and with the parents’ firm in their decisions and behavior, the child will gradually understand that manifesting this anger is counterproductive.

How to act when a child raises his hands on people?

Later, when the child has calmed down, you can then try to suggest alternatives to voice his aggression, as well as help him understand his emotions and manage impulsiveness.

If the angry child raises his hands with schoolmates or parents at home, it is still a good idea to intervene firmly, avoiding, as mentioned above, yelling or raising hands in turn.

In such cases, psychology and pedagogy recommend implementing a good dose of authority and firmness, using age-appropriate “punishments” that result in the deprivation of pleasures and desires, but are always consistent with what happened: casual and unshared rules are only counterproductive.

It is then necessary to explain to the little one that we understand him or her, making him or her understand that it also happened to parents as children but that it is necessary to deal with it differently because these are inappropriate behaviors.

It is important to avoid shouting at the child and making him “feel bad” by blaming him too much.

What to do when children hit their parents?

In some cases, children’s aggression is expressed toward their parents, and it can manifest itself either physically or verbally. In these cases, a difference must first be made between very young children, i.e., those between the ages of two and five, and older children, who are over the age of five.

If a three-year-old raises his hands on his parents or yells at them, it is quite normal: considering that very young children have a hard time understanding their own emotions and cannot empathize with those of others.

This does not mean that it is not good to set limits and rules, making it clear early on that nothing will be achieved in this way and that hitting or biting are things not to be done.

As the child grows, he will figure out for himself the best behavior and gradually abandon the wrong behavior on his own.

If aggressive behavior toward parents is expressed by an older child, from age 5 and up, it is a good idea to intervene and begin to set stricter rules, letting it be known right away that these behaviors will not go unnoticed and will provoke firmer parental reactions and direct consequences.

The first thing to do, however, is to create the ideal conditions for the little one not to feel anger.

How? By observing the little one can learn what situations generate anxiety, which could end in screaming, biting, and punching.

But while it is true that very young children, that is, between the ages of two and five, tend to be aggressive in asserting their own reasons and desires, and such behaviors should not be overly worrisome, it is important to curb overly exuberant behavior.

Why does my child push other children around?

It happens that children exhibit aggressive behaviors not toward their parents, but only toward other children, perhaps with pushing and shoving.

In these cases, the reason is only one: to react to express their desires and counteract other people’s aggression, especially if they are 2 to 5 years old.

According to psychology, things change for older children over the age of 5. In these cases, they tend to enact aggressive and prevaricating behavior because, like sponges, they absorb a lot of the behavioral examples of the adults around them: these are often children who witness scenes of aggression in the home. Although this is not an absolute rule (in some cases, these children have not been given the right behavioral example, sometimes parents make mistakes by not giving rules and not setting understandable limits to their children).

How to help him deal with anger?

We have seen that children’s anger is a typical manifestation of a reaction to an impediment or canceled pleasure. In some cases, it is a defensive reaction, or rather a feeling of frustration.

Sometimes the child expects to receive gratification for something, and if that something positive does not occur, the little one may become frustrated, feel a sense of shame, and experience strong disappointment, feelings that may lead him or her to display aggression toward adults and other children.

In all these cases, it is important to help the child regulate his or her impulses, calming them with kind words and restraining them both verbally and physically, resisting their attempts to discharge anger through aggression.

How to deal with children who hit others?

Some tips may prove useful, primarily that of thinking of possible alternative strategies against anger.

A useful way to help children control anger might be to think together with the child about alternative solutions to the feeling that he or she vents in frustration: one can try to imagine other alternative scenarios or use reading stories and tales (e.g., books about times of anger and sadness). Of course, this should be done when the child is calm, not during the emergency.

This may be a smart way to teach the child to understand why he or she is experiencing these feelings and learn how to deal with them, maybe after you see your kids always fight.

Another useful strategy might be to go over the moment of anger with the child, that is, to remind the child of the episode of anger experienced, to help him or her verbally express the feelings felt and the difficulties perceived. This, too, should be done after the child has calmed down and has the lucidity to understand.

In some cases, the child could be taught the “emergency technique,” agreeing with them on a signal to indicate to the parents when they feel anger and frustration, such as a secret code word known only to the parents, so that they can then calm the child with physical contact and kind words.

We are with you.

A child’s aggression is often very difficult to manage, and the best way is to get to know your parenting method thoroughly and restructure it to adapt the rules to your family and succeed in having the best possible environment.

We at Parentalife support you in this, especially through our guides, courses, and personalized consultations. If you feel the need to ask for help, don’t hesitate to do so. We are here for you.

Fonti

1. Sukhodolsky DG, Smith SD, McCauley SA, Ibrahim K, Piasecka JB. Behavioral Interventions for Anger, Irritability, and Aggression in Children and Adolescents. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2016 Feb;26(1):58-64. doi: 10.1089/cap.2015.0120. Epub 2016 Jan 8. PMID: 26745682; PMCID: PMC4808268.
2. Mitrofan, O., Paul, M., Weich, S. et al. Aggression in children with behavioural/emotional difficulties: seeing aggression on television and video games. BMC Psychiatry 14, 287 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-014-0287-7

About the Author

Severino Cirillo

Health, Wellness and Education Expert. With a degree in Community Health, he is the CEO of Informed Parent and is responsible for validating the blog's scientific information and coordinating the editorial team of experts, consisting of gynecologists, midwives, psychotherapists, and others in pregnancy, perinatal, and parenting wellness and health.