One of the most common referrals to child psychologists is early childhood aggression. Even healthy kids can get aggressive.
It helps for parents to know that your child's brain connections grow a lot between ages 0-8. By age eight, most children are able to use their thinkers (frontal lobes) to calm their cavemen (limbic systems). But in the meantime, your child needs your help learning new words and actions to get out of aggression and into communication. Knowing the triggers, then implementing these brain-based solutions will help your child grow to be skillful, calm and competent.
Know the triggers! Knowing the causes of your child becoming upset helps you prepare for fitful moments. Every child is different, so anger-causing triggers may shift from child to child.
Some possible triggers to look out for:
- Difficult situations: When children are unable to cope with the situation that is occurring in their life, they may easily become frustrated and soon that frustration evolves into tantrums.
- Flexibility: Sometimes the occurrence or nonoccurrence of events cause anger in children. Whether it's playing a game a certain way or being unable to secure a toy, cognitive inflexibility can make a child "spill over".
- Loss of Security: When children sense a loss of security, they may act out. For instance, a child may feel that mom is too busy to interact with them and provide them attention. This feeling may lead to hitting, kicking, biting, or breaking things in order to get mom's attention.
- Excessive Energy: Some kids just have a lot of energy and if not utilized, this energy can build into aggression.
- Emulation: Kids are very impressionable and will do as you do, so be thoughtful. You can't ask a child to make good choices when you are making bad ones.
- Loss of Memory: A child may become angry if they are having a difficult time remembering the past, lessons learned in school, how to tie shoes, etc. Prompt your child with a question to help him out.
The best motivation for a child to learn is through reinforcement. Commenting on and complimenting all the "green light" behaviors your child exhibits increases the likelihood that they will repeat those behaviors. Be specific and honest in your praise. "Thank you for giving your sister some of your steak, she was hungry." Remember to give your kids the gift of your time and attention when they do really well. After all, there is nothing your child wants more than your love and approval.
Your child looks to you as their finest role model. So how you handle frustration counts. If a child sees how calm, cool, and collected you are when anger strikes, the greater the chance that he or she will model that behavior in the future. Another way to teach calm behavior is to notice the prosocial behavior in other kids. "I see James staying calm even though Jason just got in his way." A side note, remember violent TV is a no-no, just turn it off.
You may also shape your child's behavior by setting boundaries. Talk with your child about your expectations. When you tell a child what you need of him or her, he'll usually comply. Be succinct and clear. "We can have strong feelings, but we cannot chose to hurt others. " Let your child know that "it’s okay to be angry, but hurting others is not ok and I expect you to use your body safely".
Frustration that turns into aggression will require empathy, re-shaping and guidance. If you feel that your child is aggressive, because of an underlying emotional issue or if your child seems to enjoy hurting others, consider professional help.
Take the time during these emotional outbursts to help develop your relationship with your child. Offer him help and strategies to overcome frustration. Patience is the key when handling children with aggression. So, keep your cool, remain calm, and in no time you will see the positive difference in your child's behavior as well as in the relationship you develop with your child.