Aggressive behaviors in children can be quite serious. Whether your child is biting, hitting, or breaking things, these sorts of behaviors require effective consequences. Discipline strategies need to focus on teaching children new ways to manage their feelings and behaviors.
Reasons Kids Behave Aggressively
There are several possible reasons that cause children to behave aggressively. It is important to examine some of the reasons for your child’s behaviors to help you determine the most effective discipline strategy.
Toddlers sometimes behave aggressively because they lack the language to share their feelings or get their needs met. So instead of being able to say “Give that back” when his brother takes the toy out of his hand, he may hit or bite.
School age children sometimes behave aggressively because they lack the ability to regulate their emotions. When they are angry they don’t know how to calm down and may lash out. They too, may lack the ability to say, “I’m really angry right now” and might show their anger with their behaviors.
Sometimes kids behave aggressively because it actually works for them. For example, if a child bullies his brother, his brother may give him what he wants. This can be true of school age children and even teenagers. Learning how to deal with sibling rivalry effectively involves working with both children to ensure that aggression does not work.
Provide Immediate Consequences
If your child is exhibiting frequent aggressive behaviors, it is important to develop a behavior management plan that can help you determine how to respond to each aggressive behavior. It is important to provide an immediate consequence after each incident of aggressive behaviors.
Use age appropriate discipline strategies. Young children, up to about age 10 or 11, can benefit from a time out. This can provide an immediate consequence and can also teach them how to calm themselves down. A time out alone is likely enough of a consequence for preschool children. Older children will likely require an additional consequence.
A logical consequence for an aggressive act is to have to do something nice for the person that you’ve hit or bitten. This may include having a child loan his favorite toy to his brother for the day or having to do a chore for an adult that they’ve hurt. This lasts longer than a time out and can be quite effective.
Loss of privileges is another great disciplinary strategy for aggression. Taking away your child’s favorite activity for 24 hours can be very effective. For example, remove all electronics for one day.
Natural consequences work well when destruction of property is involved. For example, a teenager who kicks his foot through the wall will have to do chores to earn enough money to purchase the materials to fix the wall and then participate in repairing the damage.
Make sure that the consequence constitutes discipline and not punishment. Shaming or embarrassing your child can backfire and may lead to increased acts of aggression.
Positive discipline strategies can be effective in reducing aggression as well. For example, praise can motivate children to keep using their pro-social behaviors. Reward systems can also motivate children to “keep their hands to themselves.”
Teach New Skills
Pay attention to your child’s behaviors to take note of any skills your child may be lacking. For example, does your child lack social skills? Sometimes kids who lack social skills may do things such as grab toys from other children which can eventually lead to aggressive behaviors.
Teaching children new skills should be part of the discipline process. If your child needs to learn about feelings, find ways to incorporate more feeling words into your daily vocabulary.
Teaching new skills should model to children what to do instead of behaving aggressively. For example, telling kids to “use their words,” or problem-solving with them when they have a problem can be helpful.