How to Deal with Child Aggression

Aggression at any age isn’t acceptable but child aggression can be especially distressing. It can also be a sign of something more. Dealing with childhood aggression may not always be easy, but it needs to be managed. If not properly managed it can lead to serious problems and issues with leaving it behind as you age.



To start dealing with child aggression it is important that this is most commonly being used as a method of communication. Either a child is too overwhelmed and lashes out or they have yet to learn a way to communicate what they are experiencing.



Many people view physical aggression as a sign of manipulative behavior. That isn’t what the child is trying to do. They are trying to reach out in a way that they understand, just not one that is appropriate. It is a chance to educate your child and help them grow.



Starting to manage aggressive behavior early is important. As soon as you notice it, you should start taking action. There are many ways that you can address aggression in children, but we are going to address some of the most effective ways.



Learn Methods To Stay Calm



The last thing you want to do when your child gets aggressive is to lose your calm. Losing your calm will further their aggression. Turn to professionals or self-help guides to learn calming techniques such as deep breathing and mindfulness meditation. The more methods you learn, the more likely you will be able to keep calm.



You can teach these skills to your child to help reduce their aggression. This alone is usually not enough but it can be a good tool for them to have. It will also help them as they grow during difficult situations.



Don’t Give Them What They Want



If the child’s aggression is a desire to get a specific thing, don’t let them have it. When you reward aggressive behavior, you are teaching your children that it is okay to act that way.  Instead, have your child ask for the item more appropriately.  Modeling for them an appropriate way to make a request might be helpful.  For example, ask your child to make his/her request in a calmer tone- “mommy, can I watch TV a little longer”, instead of reinforcing a tantrum or aggressive outburst when the television is turned off, reinforce them if they adhere to positive communication.


Let Them Know When They Are Well Behaved



Children won’t know what behavior is appropriate and what isn’t if they are only ever being told what not to do. Make sure that you let your children know when they are well behaved and praise them for it. Try to let them know specifically what they are doing that is good.



Discover Triggers and Causes



Usually there is something that triggers aggressive behavior. It can be a specific emotion or a type of interaction.  Pay attention to when aggressive behaviors occur and how often.  There are sometimes also noises and sights that could trigger bad behavior. Identifying these triggers can be helpful in stopping aggression.



Sometimes childhood aggression comes from something more than not being able to express themselves or communicate. It can come from a mental health condition. Ruling out a mental health condition is also important. You can speak with a professional such as a social worker to start that process.



Some common childhood mental health conditions that can cause aggression include:






Bipolar Disorder

Learning Disabilities

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Personality Disorders

Psychotic Disorders (more common in teens)

Sensory Processing Conditions



Avoid Triggers



While it isn’t possible to avoid all triggers, it is a good idea to manipulate your environment in an effort to avoid triggers while you work to teach them the skills they need to overcome aggression.  For example, lower noise levels, speak in calmer tone, model frustration tolerance for your child.  You can also reduce triggers by breaking them down or simplifying them. Such as giving time warnings, specific instructions, using timers or working step by step.



If triggers are something that they will encounter throughout life, they won’t be able to avoid them forever. Prepare them for these triggers and work with them to come up with better solutions.



Nurture Problem Solving Skills



A lot of childhood aggression can be countered by good problem-solving skills. Parents can help nurture problem solving skills in their children so that they can think on their feet. This will help them think about how to express themselves when they are encountering a difficult situation. A good way to help with this is to throw theoretical problems at them to solve, ask them how they would communicate when they experience a specific emotion.



Develop A Timeout System and Include Incentives



Timeouts are a great strategy for children with aggression because it separates them from the situation, giving them time to calm down. Work with your child to develop a timeout and incentive system. It may help to look at systems that other parents have in place.



Therapy For Anger Management and Aggressive Behavior



A number of therapies have been utilized to combat aggressive behavior and help manage anger.   Different age groups require different strategies.  Some are better used in really young children, such as play therapy, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and other forms work best for teens, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).  However, all types of interventions can be used with children as they grow. Parent-child interaction therapy for example works to address how you interact with your children, how you respond to both positive and negative behavior.



Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used by therapists for a number of situations. It works by teaching children (and adults) to identify problematic thoughts or behaviors. Then cope with them and/or regulate them.



Two other therapies that might be used are parent management training and collaborative and proactive solutions.



Present A United Front



It is important that you work with the care givers and educators that work with your child in order to develop a complete solution. If one side slips up, your child will notice it and abuse it. Sharing notes and communicating regularly will help to establish a united front.



If possible, make sure that you share the same timeout and incentive program among places that your child goes. At the very least, make sure that the behavior is universally not tolerated.



In order to help your child overcome aggression it is important that you be calm and collected. It may be challenging but it is what your child needs and you can learn to do it. If you make a mistake, regroup and come at it again. Don’t be afraid to seek help from a professional if you feel you need it.