Child Anger: How to Manage Aggression in Children
We all get angry every now and then, but most of the time we’re able to keep it under control. Children, on the other hand, need a little more help when it comes to emotional regulation. Often times, children aren’t able to process negative can emotions like frustration, fear, disappointment, hurt or anger, and they may act out in some form of aggression. But there is hope! Teaching your child how to cope with those negative feelings is key to managing aggression in children.
What causes aggression in children?
There are many different reasons for a child’s aggression. In the end, it all comes down to biology. Whether its the brain patterns or the genes that cause the aggression, the important thing to remember is that the child doesn’t have much control of their behavior.
As we grow, the experiences we have can change our brain patterns and shape the way we react to the world. This is referred to as plasticity, or the brain’s way of adapting to your environment and experiences. With that being said, the experiences a child has influences their bad or “naughty” behavior. Trauma or stress, whether its a single event or chronic, can trigger brain patterns for the “fight response” where a child will act aggressively towards a perceived threat. These stressful situations can include family conflict or disruption, school conflicts, or conflicts from peers. Not having an outlet to relieve stress can cause pent up anger and frustration to be released in the form of aggression.
Children can have genetic predispositions to anger and aggression. The environment around the child can trigger their anger and cause them to lash out. Think of it like a cup filled halfway with water. The water you’re starting out with is like your genes– it determines how you express your anger and aggression. Then let’s say we added smaller amounts of water to this cup- that’s all of your experiences. A bit of family stress here, a little bit of bullying in school, and before you know it, the cup is overflowing! That’s when you might start to see aggression in your child.
This cup of water scenario is part of a larger theory in psychology known as the Diathesis-stress model. It’s often used to explain the relationship between predispositions and stress, and is helpful for understanding the underlying causes of behaviors and mental illnesses.
Parenting style and attachment
There are different types of parenting, known as authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and neglectful. The most effective and widely used one is authoritative, meaning that there is a balance between structure, high expectations and understanding between the parent and child. Authoritarian parenting is marked by strict rules and expectations for the child to abide by. And while passive parenting involves more nurturing than discipline, neglectful parenting involves little or no parent to child relationships. Strict, controlling, coercive, or overindulging parenting styles can cause and even encourage aggression in children.
Brain injury or mental illness
Since the frontal lobe of the brain plays a large part in impulse and emotional control, injury to this area can be an underlying cause of a child’s aggression. Some forms of epilepsy can also cause explosive behavior, though this is not always the case. Other mental illnesses that can be an underlying cause include conduct disorder, which involves intentional aggression, and ADHD, which involves poor decision making and impulsivity.
Keep in mind that when it comes to children, it best not to assume there is a brain injury or mental illness. Remember that your child’s brain is still developing, and it’s going to take some time and patience to teach them the right way to control emotions. If you’ve exhausted all possibilities, seek professional help.
How to manage aggression in children
There are many different ways to manage your child’s aggression. The most important thing to remember is to stay consistent and patient; Teaching a child how to control emotions will take time. Here are some tips to get you on the right track.
Be a role model
Kids model the behavior they see. Parents who use verbal or physical aggression are likely to have kids that will have aggression issues. Teach your children anger and aggression control by modeling the behaviors yourself. This includes sticking to your ground, and only giving them attention when needed. For some kids, getting the attention when they’re doing something wrong is better than no attention at all. It might be funny to some the first time your child shows aggression, but this only tells them that their behavior is okay. And at times, it may be really frustrating and you might feel like you want to give up, but just remember it’ll all be worth it in the end! If they learn the right way to manage their emotions from the people they admire the most, then you’re that much closer to managing their aggression.
Avoid reinforcement of aggressive behavior
While we’re on the topic of model behavior, keep in mind this includes any toys, video games, or television shows. Studies show that violent toys and programs can increase a child’s aggression. Monitor your child’s play environment, and know how a toy is used before allowing your children to play with it. Try to watch for any signs of aggression in the environment. If possible, try to rid of the violence or aggression, and replace it instead with positive programming and toys.
Make learning fun!
What kid doesn’t like to have fun? Constantly lecturing a kid about why his behavior is wrong is will not likely be very effective and could cause even more behavioral problems. Try bringing in a little bit of their imagination my playing make believe. By participating in your child’s pretend fantasies, you can have control over any aggressive turns the story might take. You can also teach them techniques to control their emotions, by having the characters have a proper conversation about their feelings, or by providing the characters healthy ways to release their stress.
Understanding where your child’s aggression comes from can really help you to tackle the issues. Teaching children the right ways to manage their emotions sets the building blocks they need to be emotionally healthy throughout their lifetime.
Jessica is a student studying neuroscience and psychology. She is fascinated with all things people, from the way our brains work to how we think. She is always looking for new things to learn, and is eager to help others be inspired.