Today, and mostly due to the heightened awareness of bullying and ADHD, there is a lot of attention being placed on aggressive behavior in children that has a lot of parents worrying whether there is something ‘wrong’ with their child. Was the fit at Wal-Mart where your toddler threw a can of corn across the aisle just a temporary toddler meltdown, or does it indicate the need for counseling or intervention? Is the fact that you 6 and 8 year old are constantly wrestling around, rough housing and hitting one another, a deep seeded emotional problem, or just a part of sibling rivalry? Is your teen’s anger and defiance a normal rite of passage for the teem years, or are they entering a dark period that indicates a downhill spiral is ahead?
Truth is that children can be and often are by nature aggressive individuals. If you ever watched a room full of kindergartners let loose to play freely with toys with no adult supervision you would witness varying levels of aggressive behavior. Some would grab toys out of classmate’s hands, others would push, and shove, some would shrink to the background intimidated by the aggressiveness of their classmates.
The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry Raine, A. (2002), cites that most children from the ages of 18 and under routinely show displays of aggressive behavior at some point or another. However, there are certain instances when the aggressive behavior becomes problematic, and signals thereof, that indicate parents should seek assistance from clinical professionals.
So how are you as regular mom and dad, supposed to know the difference? ‘
The first thing parents need to consider when trying to gauge aggression in their children is whether or not there are any reasons that could be causing the behavior. Life changes, such as the birth of a sibling, moving to a new home, starting a new school and even seemingly minor life changes such as potty training, weaning, or learning to drive can cause anxiety in children that rears its head via aggression. Psychologists abroad agree that aggression shouldn’t be ignored, and that parents should first look to what is going on in the present moment to see if the aggression could be pinpointed to specific life events. Aggression in children is often quite simply a way for a child to communicate with others. In young children, who often do not have the communicative abilities to talk about their feelings and describe or explain what might be bothering them the obvious outlet is for them to act aggressively.
So first, look for clues that they may be experiencing changes in their life or even changes in their social lives, that they may be causing them to act aggressively. If the aggressive behavior is sudden most parents can with thought, identify the reason why their child is ‘acting up’ and can help their child work through their problems. In other words, aggression is often triggered by frustration especially in young children under the age of 10.
For older children, the problem with aggression is normally a result of a lack of coping skills
‘ When your child doesn’t know how to handle a situation, they turn to aggressive behavior such as hitting, pushing or even getting into fights with their parents or other people of authority because they haven’t learnt proactive, amicable and acceptable ways of dealing with their problems. This isn’t necessarily a parental failure, but one that requires parental attention. Experts suggest that parents remain calm in the face of aggression, and try to slow the moments done and help their children come up with ways to handle problems. Whether it is your teen having problems with a classsmate at school or your 10 year old having problems with a coach on a ball team you should help your child come up with choices. Ask them first, what they think would be a better way to handle the situation. Then, ask them how they could go about doing that? In addition to their suggesstions, offer a few of your own that would be healthy ways to deal with a situation that is otherwise uncomfortable. This helps to empower them with the tools they need to cope in life and in situations that are frustrating.
Of course, there are also many disorders that are signified by aggression. ADHD, autism, defiance disorders, bi-polarism, cognitive disorders, brain tumors, impulse disorders, illnesses such as diabetes, and even certain types of epilepsy can trigger aggressive behavior in children. If you are a parent dealing with aggressive behavior that doesn’t seem to be rooted simply in frustration and is becoming a problem in both the familial and social settings then your best bet is to take your child in to the pediatrician and discuss the options. As mentioned before, aggressive behavior is considered normal in childhood especially sporadically. However, children that display constant aggression towards themselves or others or who seem to have anger problems that are not diffused with communication and empowered parenting methods may have a bigger problem on their hands that can be improved with therapy.
Parents need to remember to go with their gut when it comes to their children. If you are worried about something and cannot seem to get the thought out of your head that your child may have an emotional problem or underlying illness the best thing that you can do to ease your mind and help your children is to consult with professional.