How do I know if my child is aggressive?
An aggressive child is one who not only initiates what he or she wants and pursues it relentlessly, but who also will physically and verbally intimidate others to get what he or she wants. A child who does not respect the boundaries of others physically or verbally, but who is quick to protect his or her own boundaries, might be considered an aggressive child. An aggressive child may be quick to anger; argue loudly when asked to do something he or she doesn’t want to do; become verbally or physically destructive when angry; use insults, ridicule, guilt, criticism, and other forms of intimidation with adults in his or her environment.
Oftentimes, aggressive children will seek out aggressive play. You might see it in their choice of video games and television shows. Their play may include war games with guns and other weapons. They may choose activities that are more dangerous and active, such as motorcycle or car racing or skydiving. They seem to take things just a little further than other kids their age. They might be in frequent trouble at school or in other public places.
Is it bad to be aggressive?
It is not bad to be very active, outgoing, creative, or assertive. It is also not bad to be determined and focused to get what you want. The differences lies in the areas of boundaries and respect. Aggressive individuals have a tendency to dominate their environment. An aggressive child tries to dominate his or her environment by determining what will happen and who will do it. Because of this, rules usually have to be set up to protect the rights and freedoms of other individuals.
What should I do when my child is aggressive?
Determine if the aggressive behavior results from a recent occurrence or if it is a long-standing attitude.
Determine if the aggressive behavior is a general attitude, or if it is apparent only with one situation or one individual, for example, only at school, only with a sibling.
If the behavior is more situational and specific, you may be able to talk to the child about what hurt his or her feelings or what he or she fears that promotes the aggression. If the child’s vulnerable feelings can be resolved, the aggressive behavior will usually cease.
If the aggressive behavior seems to be related to the child’s general personality, then a longer training period is needed. In most cases, as a parent, you will help the child respect limits, have consideration for the rights and feelings of others, and develop patience and waiting skills. This cannot be done overnight. It usually takes consistent limit-setting, consistent and effective consequences (positive and negative), repeated explanation, and lots of repetition.
If you want a child to do something, here are several things to do:
Tell the child clearly what, how, when, and where you want something done. Suggesting to a child, It’s dinner time! can elicit many responses, such as, What are we having? or I’m not hungry. A clearer message is, Turn off the television and come to the dinner table now. Messages that are clear, complete, and time-specific leave less room for negotiation, misinterpretation, and argument. An indirect statement often invites resistance.
Follow through effectively:
Do not give a direction when you are unable to follow through, for example, while you are on the phone, talking to someone else, cooking dinner, and so on, unless you are willing to stop what you’re doing immediately and make the child do what you asked.
Do not tell a child to do something two, three, or four times, because the child learns that he or she doesn’t have to do what you said the first time. The child learns that he or she only has to do what you say one-half, one-third, or one-fourth of the time. And the child only has to do it when your voice reaches “that pitch” or when he or she hears you come down the hall, because then the child knows something is going to happen.
Do not answer the question Why? until after the child has done what you have asked. Tell the child, When you have (washed your hands, put your toys away, put your pajamas on, finished your homework) I’ll tell you why. Children rarely ask why after they have done something. In ninety-nine percent of the cases, Why is simply asked to get out of whatever was requested.
Do not get into an argument with the child. Use argument deflectors, such as, Nevertheless…; regardless of that…; or, be that as it may… For example, as you peel the child off the television and get him or her ready for bed, the child might ask you why he or she has to go to bed when a sibling is still up; or the child might tell you how much he or she loves the other parent more than you; or the child might point out your flaws so that he or she can get you angry and possibly engage you in an activity or discussion other than going to bed. The child is trying to avoid the request. If you don’t get into an argument, the child will have no choice but to follow through.
Be consistent! If every time you went one mile per hour over the posted speed limit on your local highway you automatically received a ticket for $100 or more, no one would even approach the speed limit.
However, because you only get caught and punished once in a while, you probably push past the limits. The same is true for our children. If we set rules with clear consequences, but we only enforce them periodically, we make our children test us twenty-four hours a day. If we don’t follow through consistently because we are tired, happy, having company over, or we are at the supermarket, on the telephone, etc., children will test us at each point. They also learn within the first four or five years of life that they can manipulate us by pleasing us; arguing with us; out reasoning us; guilting us; intimidating us; withdrawing from us; and more.
Show appreciation verbally and physically for completing an assignment quickly and well. Skip excessive praise for some children, because it sends the message that the behavior is more important to the parent than to the child. However, if your child beams when you give him or her praise, then by all means give plenty when he or she does the right thing.
Use “logical consequences.” Logical consequences are different from illogical consequences. Illogical consequences result when a parent is fed up with a certain behavior, such as leaving dirty dishes where they don’t belong; leaving book bags, shoes, and clothing in the wrong room; or leaving dirty towels in the bathroom. When a parent reaches his or her limit, he or she might blow up, giving the culprits various punishments. This type of discipline makes children view their parent as unpredictable. (She didn’t complain about it the last three times we did it.), overreactive, and responsible for the bad feelings that result. This type of discipline breaks down the trust between parent and child, does not encourage responsibility on the part of the child, and lowers the child’s self-esteem.
Logical consequences occur when a parent identifies the behavior he or she wants the child to display or the behavior that he or she doesn’t want the child to display. Second, a consequence is assigned to that behavior. The consequence has to be significant to get and keep the child’s attention. You have to find something that will motivate the child, whether it is the loss of certain privileges, like television, sports, friends, phone, desserts, etc., or the gain of certain privileges, like praise, money, allowances, treats, movie rentals, video games, toys, etc. Everybody is motivated by something.
Third, you have to enforce the consequence quickly and consistently. The younger the child, the sooner the consequence should be applied so the child makes the association. One caution about setting consequences: Never set a consequence when you are angry. Express your anger, but don’t set a consequence until you have calmed down, because you will usually have to stay at that level of intensity to enforce the consequence. Grounding a child for the rest of his or her life probably won’t work.
Whenever possible, have the consequence relate to the value that was missed by the infraction. For example, a child who leaves clothes in the wrong room may be asked to pick up all the clothes in every room, including the towels in the bathroom, every day for a week before he or she is allowed to play or watch television (depending on the child’s age). Or the child may be asked to neatly fold and arrange clothes in his or her closet or dresser drawers with daily inspection for a week.
Set up a chart and a reward system. Some children are motivated to work for stars, stickers, points, or allowances. The stars and points add up for special treats or privileges. Usually it is best to keep a written chart posted where the parent and child can see it easily. One rule of thumb is to require one chore or behavior for every year of the child’s age. Usually with a reward system, the parent has to consistently notice if the child is actually doing what he or she is supposed to be doing. In addition, the rewards will have to be renegotiated from time to time. A reward system does require some parental attention, but if it is done right, it can be a very effective way to manage an aggressive child’s behavior.
What if none of these work?
If you have run up against a brick wall, and you have tried the above suggestions, it is probably time to seek professional help. Ask the child’s teacher or the school principal for suggestions. They usually have worked with a number of child therapists and know who is effective. You might also ask your child’s pediatrician. There are usually many nonprofit organizations in the phone book that might be able to help. Don’t give up.
It takes time to change aggressive behavior. Try not to move too quickly.
Consider where your child learned this aggressive behavior.
A Word From the Author:
It only made sense that we parent as we have been taught, but I had never encountered such words of wisdom articulated so clearly and logically. Utilizing abundant scientific data, intelligent and sound analysis, as well as great wit, and yes, please visit my website about healthy living: www.cloversisters.com .