Children's parks are the best place to observe child behavior and psychology! Some children push their way ahead, get what they want, some always stay behind and need their parents for everything while some don't even look for their parents! Recently, I was at a park and I saw a child pushing and hitting others, oblivious to the fact that another child was getting hurt. My friend asked me, ‘how can a four year old be so aggressive?'
To answer her question, we need to understand the meaning of aggression. Aggression is a feeling of anger resulting in hostile or violent behavior with an intention of inflicting damage. And yes, children can very well be aggressive. But what separates aggression from playful fighting is the ‘intention to cause harm.' Some children are very boisterous and over active. They perpetually land themselves or others in trouble but they may not intend harm. This behavior should not be confused with aggression.
Biting, hitting, pushing, are all expressions of aggression. But aggression is not only physical, it could also be verbal in the form of name calling, ridiculing or criticizing. A few studies have shown that there are gender differences in the expression of aggression, with boys being more physically aggressive and girls being verbally aggressive. Both can be equally harmful.
Aggression does not have one single cause and it could be a result of the interplay between two or more factors.
Like maternal stress, alcoholism and smoking by mother could be one factor. A low frustration tolerance level, disturbed family, parental conflict, faulty disciplining techniques, aggressive parents, over exposure to violence through media and disturbed neighbourhood are other factors which could lead to an aggressive personality.
The causes are endless and at times some could be out of our control. But what are the steps that I can take as a parent to stop my child from being an ‘aggressive child'?
It is a very common practice to soothe a crying child by mock hitting a chair or any other object that caused it to fall. Very early, children learn that if things do not go their way, they can hit or kick their way out. Do not do that. Help the child to understand that he alone is responsible for his actions. You do not need to lecture an infant or toddler about being responsible, but you do not need to hit the chair too! There are other ways of pacifying him.
Research has shown that heavy use of corporal punishment by care givers, non responsive parenting, using shame and humiliation to discipline, inability to control are all factors that could lead to aggression in the child. Similarly, do not give in to all demands immediately. Be rational. This will help in increasing the frustration tolerance level of the child, which is extremely important especially in today's indulgent nuclear family structure.
Television cannot be a baby sitter-
Even if your child is watching ‘safe cartoons' sit with your child. Always discuss advertisements or cartoon shows with them. Talk about what is shown; ask them if it is right and what they think about it. Tone down the aggressive content through your conversation.
So next time a character gets hurt on television, you could say, ‘Ouch that must have hurt!' The child is gradually learning to be more sensitive towards others.
Be good role models
Don't Scream!' Don't we all do this some time? We scream out our lungs to tell our child to stop screaming!! If we as parents stop hitting, slapping, shouting, ridiculing, we will surely have fewer aggressive children in society. Arguments between partners and other adult family members should not take place in the presence of children.
Talk about alternatives
There is always more than one way of doing anything. Talk about other options. ‘Ok, he irritated you, you hit him. Now can you think of some other way of dealing with this situation, which does not land either of you in trouble?' A word of caution here- such a conversation can and should take place only when the child has reasonably calmed down.
Understand the cause
Children are not very apt at expressing their emotions. Sometimes, aggressive behavior could be a manifestation of sadness, boredom, guilt or envy. Talk to your child and help him verbalize his emotions. Be extra affectionate. Be unconditional. Distinguish between person and behavior. Try not to be judgmental!
Trust your child
Is your child aggressive only in specific situations or with specific people? There lies your answer. There is a specific trigger here. Some children love to tease, others slyly and innocently get away with it. But the provoked child's aggressive reactions are visible to all. If such is the case, you need to take a proactive role here. Depending on the age of the child, this is also a good time to talk about essential life skills about dealing with difficult people.
Tell your child in clear terms that any kind of aggressive behavior is simply not acceptable and he or she needs to look for options towards problem solving. Assure them that you are there with them but the wrong behavior should not be condoned.
In spite of our best efforts, there could be instances when we have to deal with aggressive children. If the frequency, intensity and duration of such instances is high and none of the above factors help, it is probably time to take professional help.
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