Many children go through phases when they exhibit aggressive behaviours. Hitting, pushing and even biting can be developmentally normal, especially for toddlers. As a mother, it can be a challenge to deal with this type of situation, because you want it to stop.
It’s especially difficult if another child has been hurt; you want to teach empathy, and of course, it’s horrible to see your kid inflict pain on someone else. Having an aggressive child may leave you feeling anxious, embarrassed or stressed when your child is in social situations.
First, try to figure out the underlying purpose of your child’s aggression. What are they accomplishing or hoping to accomplish by acting this way? “Analyse the behaviour by looking at what happens before the behaviour and what happens after the aggression.
Some children use aggression for attention, access to preferred items and activities and to escape tasks or demands. Some children even bite and injure themselves to self-soothe. It’s important for mothers to look at each situation and intervene according to the function or purpose of the behaviour — not just the behaviour itself.
After you have figured out the function of your child’s aggressive behaviour, it’s time to ensure the acting-out is futile. Render the aggression ineffective. If your child bites to get access to something, don’t give it to him. It seems simple enough, but of course it’s difficult to follow through on. If your child bites to get your attention, immediately stop giving your child attention. Simply remove any positive association with the aggressive behaviour.
While dealing with aggressive behaviour, take your child’s age into account. For instance, when a seven-year-old bites, it’s very different than when a non-verbal two-year old, who may not feel she has other options to communicate what she wants, bites. The younger the child is, the more your reaction should be focused on skill-building and proactive interventions.
With young children, aggression is often a strategy used due to their level of brain development and functional skill deficits (e.g., they are learning to talk). Your young child doesn’t know and isn’t able to independently use alternative strategies yet. Coach your child to use alternative strategies, praise them when they try to use those strategies and provide lots of opportunities for practice.
As children enter ages five to seven, the developmental expectations have shifted. For this age group, focus on setting limits and boundaries and following through on consequences. Use incentives or token systems to help motivate your child to change his or her behaviour.
It’s important that the expectations and consequences for aggression are clear and consistent across the child’s environment. And don’t forget to include all the adults in the child’s life when it comes to managing aggression at home and at school.
A common misstep in dealing with aggression is using too many solutions. Don’t go overboard even if you are angry. Don’t try so many different strategies. Be consistent in how you deal with the aggression in your child. Be strategic in your approach. Be consistent and give your intervention time to work.