Aggression during childhood is a normal phase of growing up. It is their non-verbal way of coping with situations, testing boundaries and conveying feelings. Handling it calmly and maturely will help shape their self-esteem and build their own little individual identities in the future. Here are a few pointers that will help:
Aggression, today, is just one of the seemingly limited vocabulary of emotions we adults seem to be using to express ourselves. Take the recent case of an irritated young father punching his son in the face in a UK supermarket, or people’s unprovoked use of cuss words while encountering annoying traffic snarls, each of us when faced with a potentially stressful situation, seem to find it the best way to let out pent up emotions or show frustration and anger. Yet, how do we interpret this very same emotion and behaviour when displayed by our children.
How do we understand what it means and what are they trying to convey?
Aggression is a part and parcel of a child’s growing up years. It is a way for the child to cope with situations, test boundaries, display emotions and basically convey feelings. Many parents are shocked and worried when they see their child attempting to hit and kick them or other kids. Most deal with it aggressively, punish their kids or even discuss medical intervention. Every case of aggression is different and each should be handled according to the child’s age and as per the contributing factors.
Forms of aggression in children
Physical aggression in children, usually begins between 1-2 years of age, and increases significantly until 3-4 years. It begins as a response to frustration, a reaction to an action, and is displayed by pulling toys from other children’s hands, hitting, punching and kicking. By the age of 2 years, it declines considerably, since the child begins to understand his emotions, control them and use verbal language to convey his needs. If physical aggression extends beyond the age of 5, then chances of it becoming chronic and extending well into later adulthood increases considerably.
Numerous studies have shown that primary aggression when not handled effectively, leads to secondary aggression. Also factors such as conflicted parenting, substance abuse during conception, and undetected structural and neurological problems such as ADHD and Autism aggravate it. An important thing to remember, is that children pattern their early behaviour on watching parents/guardians, and if they see elders displaying aggression in dealing with everyday situations, the child will but naturally follow the same behaviour.
Parenting is a huge responsibility, and this becomes obvious in the actions of our children and the emotional faculties they develop. Empowering our children begins with our response to their behaviour, and below are some pointers that can help.
1. Show consistency in behavior
Young chidren recognize consistency. Ignoring their behaviour one day, and responding by yelling and time-outs the next, gives out mixed signals. If you find your child hitting you for no reason, look him in the eye, and vocalize what you feel. Make him understand that his behaviour is unacceptable, and try asking him to explain reasons for his behaviour. Hitting him in return or ignoring him, will just encourage him to continue.
2. Respond calmly and remove the child from the situation
As difficult as this sounds, temper tantrums are a part of your toddlers growing up phase, and even though we don’t understand it, they have a purpose for exhibiting it. If you’re at the grocery store, and your child is acting up because she didn’t get what she wanted, tell her that crying isn’t going to get her what she wants. Remove her from the situation if required.
3. Pre-empt an emotional outburst
If you know that your child is going to be in a situation which will make her act up, try talking to her about it well in advance. If for example, she always ends up snatching her cousins toys at your sisters place, discuss with her about this behavior. ‘You need to play nicely with your cousins or we will have to leave immediately if you don’t, understand?’ goes a long way in preparing her for it.
4. Practice ‘Time Outs’ or ‘No-Talk Time’
Young children need to know and understand what you are trying to convey. This happens when you explain to them how time outs will help calm you and them down, so that the situation can be resolved amicably. ‘I want you to calm down and sit quietly for 2 minutes. You can’t hit your cousins when you get angry. Once you have quietened down, you can come back and play with them again’, will help resolve the situation. Talk as little as possible, but give clear instructions.
5. Their behaviour is the issue and not they themselves
This is perhaps the most important point to remember. When dealing with a child, it is important to treat them as an individual, get down to their level, talk precisely and measure your words. Always emphasize, that it is their behaviour that you have an issue with, and not them as individuals. Refrain from name calling, shaming and personal attacks. Remember, that the way you deal with them now, will shape their self-esteem and their own individual identities in the future.