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Should I be worried about my child’s aggression?

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Even for some adults, mastering the ability to control one's emotions can be challenging.

Between the ages of 1 and 3, your child is just beginning to experience these emotional ups and downs, with 2 being the most typical age for aggressive behaviors. However, it is important to keep in mind that young children are still learning how to control their own emotions, which might result in violent behavior. It is normal as a parent to be concerned about your child's aggressiveness and to question when to worry, how to handle it, and when to ignore it.

Your child's refusal to do anything, like going to bed at a set hour, can occasionally cause rage. Or it could be that you have a child that is asserting their individuality and is strong-willed. Let's examine the factors that lead to aggressive conduct in children and how to deal with your child's distressing feelings to lessen hostility.

Why Do Children Become Aggressive?

Your young child is developing at a rapid pace. As their bodies and intellect continue to develop different emotions will show up in different ways; what may appear insignificant to you may be catastrophic to your child. Your child can be unfamiliar with and perplexed by emotions you can identify, such as shame, embarrassment, and pride.

Furthermore, young children often lack the maturity and self-control that older children and adults do at this age, so the intense emotions they experience as young children might result in aggressive behaviour.

For instance, as you start to encourage your child's independence, clingy or more dependent toddlers may display hostile behaviours. They may experience thoughts of abandonment if you don't carry or hold them all the time, which may also manifest as anger. You fully comprehend as an adult that this is not an instance of abandonment. However, your child is going through these new feelings that they might not be able to communicate in a respectful and acceptable manner to you.

How should I respond to my child's aggression?

Most parents frequently struggle to discipline their children in an appropriate manner during this stage. We would suggest that you take a moment to relax and acknowledge that your child is not being violent on purpose sometimes. Simply put, they don't know how to handle the intense and frequently erratic emotions they experience from moment to moment. Here are a few constructive strategies to handle your child's hostile conduct.

1. Empathize with your child.

Many times, a child's violent behavior results from their inability to make decisions for themselves. You know what's best for your child as a parent. But also make an effort to put yourself in your child's shoes. A child who feels coerced into circumstances they don't like may act out by becoming aggressive because it appears to be the simplest way for them to convey their feelings.

Empathizing with your child is truly one of the simplest methods to help them with regulating their emotions. You can say that you sympathize with their rage and that you, too, detest being compelled to perform tasks. Try to convince them that if they complete an unpleasant task, like getting ready to run an errand, they will be rewarded with something pleasant, like a treat or snack when they return home.

2. Discuss their feelings.

Even though discussing painful emotions with your child might be difficult, there are a few things you can attempt to make the conversation go more smoothly. A child's aggressiveness can be effectively directed in a different direction by reading books. Additionally, many books instruct children on how to recognise and handle unfavorable feelings. Read a favorite story, but pause occasionally to talk about how the characters feel.

For instance, if a character is sad because their beloved item is lost or destroyed, talk to your child about the feelings that character could be experiencing and the appropriate response to the situation. It may be simpler to teach your child the appropriate and inappropriate ways to express their feelings if they share those emotions with their favorite book character.

3. Help them express strong emotions.

Intense feelings experienced by many young children can occasionally be overwhelming. When things don't go their way, assisting your child in expressing these deep emotions can greatly reduce violent actions. You can label the feelings your child may be experiencing.

Consider providing your child with a different approach to expressing their feelings physically when developing behavior management techniques for a combative child. Physical hostility may be reduced as a result. Show your child that they can express their anger by doing these things rather than yelling, kicking, punching, or biting. Rather they could:

  • Squeeze a stress ball

  • Jump on a trampoline

  • Tear playdoh

Teach your child that it is unacceptable to physically harm oneself, other children, or animals. They can express their rage in a variety of ways without hurting themselves or others.

Keep in mind that children, especially toddlers, frequently lack the impulse control needed to correctly handle strong emotions. Therefore, assist your child with breathing exercises and remind them that striking hurts, but don't forget to compliment them when they get calm.

When should I seek help with my child's aggression?

Your child should never get so violent that they are physically hurting someone else or themselves.

While some aggression that seems to show up for no reason is a normal part of children learning to regulate and voice their emotions, you should worry if:

  • Your child physically injures himself or another child, adult, or pet in the household.

  • They are removed from public settings such as school due to aggressive behavior.

  • Their outbursts last for weeks or are extremely frequent with high intensity.

The best course of action may be to seek help from a therapist or child development professional if your child exhibits signs of self-harm or is physically harming other children and you are unable to control their hostility. Children of all ages, and even some adults, find it challenging to navigate the world of new emotions and how to deal with them, therefore getting expert aid should be taken into consideration if the situation gets too bad.

How does Play Therapy help?

You may have heard of the concept of Neuroplasticity. In fact, you may have heard scientists refer to the brain as "plastic". Meaning that it changes in response to social and environmental experiences. This enables us to learn, form relationships with people, and develop new skills. When children experience safe, stable, and supportive environments it can lead to positive changes in the brain.

Your child's brain is made up of three distinct brains. The reptilian brain, the limbic brain, and the thinking brain. The way to think about this is to ask what is each brain doing in your child’s head.

  • Firstly, the reptilian brain is always asking “Am I safe”?

  • Secondly, the limbic brain is always asking “am I loved”? and

  • Lastly, the thinking brain or neocortex is always asking “what can I learn from this?”

As play therapists, we create an environment so your child’s brain can answer those first two questions satisfactorily because if the first two questions are not answered properly then the thinking brain goes offline until the first two questions are fully satisfied.

And as those questions don’t get answered instantly. There is a lot of thought that goes into setting up the Therapy Playroom. Play is the way your child may put into words their experience. Children need to know they have an impact. That they matter and that they are heard and understood. This is how we start the healing process toward children becoming emotionally regulated. The one thing I have learned and continue to see in my practice, especially so for children that have had a traumatic experience or have special educational needs is that play is their talk and toys are their words.

Do you think your Teen or Child could benefit from therapy? Speak to a qualified Play therapist to learn how your Teen or Child could benefit from play therapy, Click here to get in touch today, or if you want to know if Play Therapy could be suitable for your Teen or Child, click here to take our quiz!

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