Aggression in Children: Effectively Dealing With It
Aggression in toddlers is… normal?
Toddlers do not yet have the verbal skills to express their feelings. This can lead to frustration, which is understandable. It can also lead to aggressive behaviour. It is not uncommon for toddlers to have tantrums up to nine times a week.
But it’s important to note that a toddler’s aggression falls within the bounds of “normal.” A pre-school child might sometimes display some aggressive behaviour. This doesn’t mean the child is aggressive. They just don’t have the words to deal with the situation. So they use what they do have to express their feelings: their physical strength. They are also trying to resolve the situation. But the only “language” they have is their physical actions.
If this isn’t a regular pattern, it is safe to believe that as the child is not aggressive. As he or she gains language skills, aggressive behaviour will diminish. Most children grow out of this phase as they learn to say what they feel. As they learn to talk through a situation, there will be no need to express their feelings in a physical manner. They will learn to deal with their frustration in socially acceptable ways. As parents and teachers, we will help them learn to deal with their aggressive feelings. We must model this through healthy means.
For the child experiencing aggression at this level, empathy and redirection are helpful. The behaviour should not go unchecked. But there is no reason to label the child as aggressive. Parents should always try to respond with gentleness and love, even though this can be difficult! Especially when, for example, a child has hurt another. But this is very important.
When should a parent become concerned?
In the case of most children, they will outgrow aggression by pre-school. If a child hasn’t outgrown their aggressive behaviour by early primary school, it is time to take a deeper look at the situation. There could very likely be deeper issues. Be on the lookout for frequent aggressive outbursts. The occasional tussle between siblings is normal, especially when one sibling has been mocking or otherwise provoking the other. Don’t be surprised if a child slams a door or kicks a couch when they don’t get their way. This is still in the realm of normal. The behaviour needs to be addressed, but these are still normal levels of aggression.
The child who has crossed the line and needs attention is that child who is losing their temper almost every day. They get very frustrated: often, and without provocation. He gets very angry, not only annoyed. She would have trouble focusing. He is awfully irritable a lot of the time. She has on-going sullenness. These are patterns to look out for.
Frequent disruption is a red flag. Argumentativeness is another. This could be at home, or in the classroom, or on the playing field. An inability to join in organised activities is a warning sign that there could be a deeper issue here. This could be in or out of the classroom. Poor performance at school could be the result of an aggression problem. (But it could also be contributing factor to this behaviour – feeling pressure to perform and failing to perform at peer level can lead to expressing frustration through aggression.)
Fighting and arguing with siblings and parents all the time would signal a problem with aggression. Aggressive children don’t listen to their parents or accept their authority. They will often be at loggerheads with any authoritative figure, not just at home. Continual refusal to obey rules would be an unsurprising part of the pattern.
Kids who pick fights are showing aggressive behaviour. This can be with other children or adults. These attacks could be verbal. A sure sign of aggression is when they are making physical attacks on other children or even adults. Several of these factors will also be at play in a child who bullies others. But it is worth noting that not all aggressive children are bullies.
A child who behaves like this would have trouble making friends. Taking part in social situations would be difficult. There are times when these difficulties lead to aggressive behaviour.
If many of these issues are an enduring pattern, the child is in all likelihood an aggressive child. Aggressive children will also almost always blame the victim of their aggression. Taking responsibility is not what they do. Accusing others and saying it’s not their fault are usual for these kids.
There is debate about the interaction of factors that lead to and cause aggression. But some patterns have been noticed and some causes identified.
What can cause aggression in children?
If a child is facing emotional tension, aggression can be the result. Family difficulties can lie behind a child’s aggression. If a close family member is suffering a serious illness, the stress can be expressed aggressively. Emotional trauma can also be a cause. A more specialised reason can be neurological problems. A chemical imbalance would require an expert to diagnose and treat.
Learning disorders are very often linked to aggressive behaviour. For example, about twenty-five percent of children who display aggressive behaviour struggle with dyslexia. (But this is only true in one direction. Most children with dyslexia are not aggressive.)
A delay in speech development could hinder the ability to express feelings. This could lead to aggression in young children being prolonged. There are also other sensory processing issues that might play a factor.
Certain behavioural disorders carry with them the likelihood of including aggression. Almost half of the children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) also have oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Someone with ODD will exhibit aggressive behaviour.
Remedial learners and aggression
Students in need of remedial attention are doubly vulnerable to aggression. They are likely to have their own issues with aggression. This is due to learning challenges often fostering aggression in children. They are also vulnerable to being on the receiving end of a bully’s aggression. Especially in a mainstream schooling environment, remedial learners can be targeted for bullying.
How can parents and teachers deal with aggressive children?
Knowing why an aggressive child is behaving the way they do is important. It will help adults to respond in an appropriate way.
It is important that we make it clear that we don’t accept the behaviour of an aggressive child. But we do accept the feelings. We all get angry, but we cannot behave in the ways described above.
Responding to aggression with further aggression is also unhelpful. The response must be firm, but calm and loving. If the response is aggressive it will send mixed signals about aggression being wrong. This often encourages future aggressive behaviour.
It is important that children be clearly taught what the rules are when interrelating with others. In aggressive moments, tell the child to stop immediately. Get them to repeat the rule. For example: “Stop! We don’t hit others!” It is important to be on your child’s side, even while expressing disapproval.
Give the child a chance to cool off. This will allow them to think clearly about what they have done. It will allow them to respond in the appropriate way. Now is a good time to make sure the other child is ok. For aggressive kids, seeing empathy offered to that child is very beneficial.
Talk through everyone’s feelings. Help the child find the word to express themselves. If appropriate and possible, have them make amends with the other child. In situations where this proves too difficult, it is appropriate for them to see you making right on their behalf. They need to see what should be done in this situation. This could be the first step to teaching them how to behave.
Japari’s help with aggressiveness
As a remedial school, Japari is well aware of aggression in the lives of remedial learners. As seen above, learning challenges can foster aggression. Conversely, children in need of remedial help can find themselves the target of bullies’ aggression.
We offer a safe and encouraging learning environment. We have the expertise to assist aggressive remedial learners. We focus on the whole student, not only their academic performance. We work to equip children to manage their emotions too.
We are also there to offer emotional and other support to parents of remedial learners. We want to help them navigate the challenges of raising a remedial student. This includes assisting with the aggressiveness that their children might need to deal with as well.