It is a tense and frustrating experience for parents when their child strikes out physically at them or at others, without any provocation or clear reason. Any restraint or reasoning only tends to multiply the child’s aggression exponentially.
Sometimes it is just a phase but sometimes it lasts longer, creating extreme anxiety in both the child and the family. What could be the reasons?
- Negative emotion: At the root of all aggression lies some negative emotion that has gone unresolved for long. A child who strikes out is provoked by feeling of sadness, fear or loneliness.
- Triggers: Every child feels differently and therefore reacts differently to different things. Observe the situations when your child gets aggressive and try to avoid them. Maybe the child becomes aggressive when left alone to play with a sibling or a friend. Or maybe he is scared when mom isn’t around. Observe and act accordingly.
- Too much to handle: More often than not, a toddler bites or pinches when he is swamped by a tide of emotion. A toddler doesn’t have the emotional maturity or the tools to understand, express and deal with intense emotion. It could be excitement or extreme love he is feeling and doesn’t know how to express. So, he just bites out to vent that emotion.
- Recent upheaval: An upheaval for a child could be anything from the birth of a new sibling, a shift to another apartment or city, a new school or instances of aggression within the household. These changes in a small child’s life can cause havoc at times.
- Bad example: Children are incredibly observant. If they see you or anyone in the family solving problems or handling situations with aggression, they are more likely to adopt the same behaviour. So set a good example. Deal with stress calmly and your children will follow suit.
How can you deal with it?
- Special time: In cases of recent upheavals, children need some special time from parents or the caretakers. This weaves a blanket of warmth and security around the child and equips him to deal with the transitions/changes, if any.
- Inspire trust: You should be emotionally and physically approachable for the child to come to you and share his anger or the emotion causing it. If he expects you to get upset, he will avoid talking to you and the matter will remain unresolved.
- No cause and effect: Time-out, rewards, blaming, shaming, enforcing consequences or any kind of aggression from parents do not help. Cause-and-effect doesn’t work with an upset toddler. If anything, it may further aggravate the child.
- Connect: What helps is a warm connection. When your child is going through a bout of anger and aggression, make eye contact and create a physical connection. Hug your child and make him feel loved. Say things such as, “I understand how you are feeling.” Or “It’s alright, no one is upset with you.” Or “I want to know how you feel.”
- Vocabulary: Parents can give words to the child to help her understand what she is feeling. The cause of anger could be rejection by a fellow kid or embarrassment about something. It’s important to let the child know it’s alright to feel that way but it’s not OK to lash out in anger.
- Listen: Once the child has calmed down, listen to him. Listening attentively to the child gives him a sense of security and connection. It also gives the parent a perspective and understanding of how the child is feeling and what triggers his physical aggression.
- Help them vent: Children usually know how to offload their feelings by crying or throwing a tantrum. When they are stopped from doing that, their emotions are channeled out through physical aggression. So find a way for him to expend his aggressive energy. Let him cry or throw a tantrum. Maybe he can play a sport to channel his aggression. Or he can be close to nature and find some calm. When a child fails to vent his emotions, he is like an angry volcano waiting to erupt unceremoniously.
- Talk to peers: Parents of aggressive kids often find themselves in the throes of anger, fear and guilt, which make them cold and indifferent to the child. This worsens the child-parent bond making the child more susceptible to behaving aggressively. So share your feelings with friends and family. Vent out your feelings so you can be calm and prepared to deal with your child’s aggression.
- Professional help: Sometimes, aggression can be part of a bigger picture. If your child continues to behave aggressively despite your best efforts, you may want to consult a therapist. Chemical imbalances, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and behavior patterns such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder could be the possible culprits.
At this tender age, it’s easier to mould your child any way you want. So take some time, calm and patience to help your child achieve expression, security and serenity. These three are after all the antidote to aggression.