There are times when even the most docile children appear to have the aggressive tendencies of a professional wrestler. While a certain amount of pushing and shoving is to be expected from all children, especially when they are very young, there are a few for whom aggression becomes a way of coping with almost any situation.
These overly aggressive children are not bullies; they often get into fights with people who are stronger than they are. They face problems not because they are aggressive, but because they become aggressive at times that are inappropriate and in ways that are self-defeating. They routinely argue with teachers and wind up in far more than their share of schoolyard scraps.
In some cases, this pattern of easily triggered aggression appears to be rooted in the children’s developing nervous systems. They appear to be physiologically unable to control their impulses as much as other children their age. For others, it is often a matter of needing to learn and practice social skills.
Aggression is one of the first responses to frustration that a baby learns. Grabbing, biting, hitting, and pushing are especially common before children develop the verbal skills that allow them to talk in a sophisticated way about what they want and how they feel.
Children are often rewarded for their aggressive behavior. The child who acts out in class generally gets the most attention from the teacher. The child who breaks into the line to go down the slide at the playground sometimes gets to use the slide the most. One of the toughest problems parents and teachers face in stopping aggressive behavior is that in the short term it gets the child exactly what he wants. It’s only after a few years that inappropriately aggressive children must cope with a lack of friends, bad reputations, and the other consequences of their behavior.
For some children, this tendency toward physical aggression and other difficult behaviors appears to be inborn. There’s some evidence that a proportion of these children may be identified as restless fetuses that kick significantly more than other fetuses. Many very aggressive children are noted to be restless infants even before they begin to crawl and walk.
These overly aggressive children appear to have less mature nervous systems than other children their age. This shows up in a variety of problems with self-control. They cannot sit still for more than a few minutes. They are easily distracted. Once they begin to get excited or angry, they have difficulty stopping themselves. They are impulsive and have trouble concentrating on a task for more than a few minutes or even seconds.