Coping with a Very Aggressive Child
It’s difficult for adults not to attribute malicious motives to children who consistently appear to be trying to drive their parents and teachers to distraction. Often it’s equally difficult for parents not to assume that children are behaving this way because of something the parents have done wrong or have forgotten to do right. Such casting of blame, however, is not only inaccurate but usually useless as well.
The first step in helping an overly aggressive child is to look for patterns in what triggers the assaults, especially if the child is a toddler or preschooler. The aggression may happen only at home or only in public places. It may occur mostly in the afternoon or when the child is frustrated. Also, most of these children go through a predictable sequence of behaviors before they lose control. It’s a bit like watching a car going through a normal acceleration and then suddenly kicking into overdrive.
Once you can determine the most common triggers and can spot the escalating behavior, the simplest thing is to remove the child from that environment before he loses control. Take him away from the sandbox or the playgroup for a minute or two until he regains his composure. As the child develops, he will become less frustrated and, therefore, less aggressive because he has a wider variety of ways to respond to a challenging situation.
It’s also very useful to provide these aggressive and distractible children with a lot of structure and routine in their daily lives since predictability helps children remain calm and in control. Tempting as it may be at the time, spanking these children for being aggressive often does more harm than good. It is simply modeling the very thing you don’t want children to do. It teaches them that big people hit when they’re angry or upset, and that is precisely the aggressive child’s problem.
For older children and adolescents, teaching new and more appropriate ways of getting what they want can be very helpful. These children often have not learned the skills that their classmates picked up years earlier. As with bullies, formal assertiveness training can be particularly helpful to overly aggressive children since they have difficulty distinguishing between assertiveness and aggression.
It’s also useful to help these children look at life from a slightly different perspective. Psychologists have found that both aggressive children and their parents tend to focus on what’s wrong with a situation rather than what’s right with it. That makes their respective problems all the more frustrating for each of them, since neither pays any attention to the children’s improvement when it occurs.