Categories: parenting

Fighting the Good Fight Against Child Aggression


I
t’s the moment we all dread, played out in real life: our child whacks another child—on purpose. Whether there’s blood and bruises or only hurt feelings, we can’t believe our eyes. Not only is the episode an ugly reflection on our parenting, we think, but now we have to figure out a way to get our child to kick the habit.

It might seem impossible, but there are plenty of positive strategies for dealing with child aggression. Not only that, there’s good news: it’s entirely normal. From the toddler who bops her older sister in an attempt to gain a sparkly fairy pony, to the 11-year-old who lashes out against his buddy who doesn’t want to play one-on-one basketball, virtually every youngster displays child aggression at various stages.

Child aggression can be seen in sibling rivalry scenarios or at the playground, but rest assured it’s not juvenile delinquency—it’s just something you’ll need to address before it becomes a bigger problem.

As the parent, your role is to be the calm in the aggressive storm. To do that, here are 3 battle-tested strategies to curb the child aggression in your home:

Don’t Blow it Out of Proportion, and Don’t Blow Up

When you witness child aggression, there’s no reason to make a scene—and in fact, some kids will thrive on that attention, raising the chances of another harmful encounter. Resist the urge to spank, slap or otherwise punish—no matter how upset you are—as it only models the behavior you’re trying to get your kids to avoid.

Instead, tell young kids, “Biting hurts,” or “Hands are for gentle touching, not hitting.” With older kids, you can say, “Wow. It seems like you all are having trouble getting along.” 

Even though you may have seen a child hit, don’t take sides. By assigning victim and aggressor roles in the aftermath of a fight, you increase the likelihood for a repeat performance.

Take care of the injured child, but don’t force a meaningless apology from either one.

They’ll learn more long-term if you hold them accountable when they’re calm by helping them make amends to the other child—which might mean sharing a favorite toy, drawing a picture for them or playing their favorite game.

Make a Plan for Peace

One of the most powerful ways to prevent future aggression from our kids is to give them plenty of positive alternatives.

Children of all ages will benefit from conflict resolution training during a calm moment (not when you’re still fuming).

For younger kids, use stuffed animals or action figures to talk about feelings and demonstrate how Mr. Puppy can ask for a turn on the slide from Stripey the Tiger instead of pushing him out of the way. For older kids, talk through various scenarios, and role-play strategies like using “I Feel” statements, problem solving, and just walking away.

Create Consequences

Make sure your kids know in advance that aggression is not okay—and you won’t be putting up with it. If your toddler lashes out at you, simply avoid eye contact and leave the room.

If you are holding your child, calmly put her down and leave the room. (Walking away doesn’t mean you are “letting her get away with it.” It sends the message, “I choose not to be treated in a disrespectful way.”)

When the child is calm, you can take time for training on what’s okay and not okay, but ignore the tantrum in the moment. For older kids, warn them in advance that while you have complete confidence in their ability to enjoy the playground (or playdate, or backyard, etc.), choosing to hit, bite, or kick another child means they’re choosing to leave. If, after having this conversation, they display child aggression, calmly say, “I see you decided to leave the playground,” and follow through.

With this plan in place, you can nip biting (and hitting, and kicking) in the bud.

Final Thoughts

We get it. This parenting gig is tough. And I know how incredibly frustrating and defeating it feels when our children are aggressive.

I wish I could tell you everything there is to know about child aggression in one little article, but there is so much to learn. The most important thing to do is discover the ROOT of the misbehavior, understanding that the aggression itself is just the symptom.

If you’re looking for more parenting strategies to help solve some of your other parenting problems, I’d love for you to join me for a FREE ONLINE CLASS.

I’ll teach you how to get your kids to listen—no nagging, yelling, or reminding required.

Wishing you all the best in your parenting journey!

About the Author

Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.
Amy McCready

Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.

View Comments

  • Hi,

    My problem is similar to some of the other posters' topics here: two brothers constantly hitting each other. The oldest one (3 years) usually starts, often seemingly out of nowhere. No reason whatsoever to hit his little brother (22 months old). I also started Amy's course a few weeks ago. I'm trying the Mind-Body-Soul time (because I thought that it would be an attention factor), but it doesn't seem to help at all, on the contrary, it seems to be getting worse.
    It usually starts a few moments after I have left them to play by themselves, or even when I let them play in the kitchen while I'm cooking lunch or dinner. I try to just pull them apart and tell them "no hitting", but then they continue to squabble. I must admit, most of the time my reaction is immediate, but I don't yell (even though I'm seething on the inside).
    Please tell me what I'm doing wrong. I don't know which "consequences" I can set in a home environment... And I'm desperate...

  • How about addressing the possibility that children who are aggressive on a regular basis may be showing signs of food or environmental sensitivities? Dairy, wheat and sometimes very random things like peas can cause aggressive behavior in children. As well as chemicals in cleaners and perfumes, have been found to cause some very intense behavior in children. We are living in toxic times and children often suffer without parents/adults recognizing the cause of their behaviors. Dr. Rapp is an excellent read if you have tried everything and can't seem to find a solution, or a cause, to the aggressive behaviors shown by your child/ren.

    • Thanks for the great addition to the conversation! Certainly another aspect for parents to consider. Thank you!

  • My problem is with our 4 year old son. He has been showing the aggressive behavior for almost 2 years now. Nothing seems to get him to calm down. It is so bad that he will scratch himself right now he is scratching his ears. I tell him looks like a cat scratching their ears. He does so much that he has left scratch marks behind his ears. He doesn't just scratch himself, when he is angry at me and I am trying to put him in time out or of I simply ignore him he will scratch my arms! I am a very concerned mom because I am afraid that is going to be a way bigger issue when he gets older. I am trying let him throw the temper tamtrums but when he is hurting himself I have to stop him. I am so at lost what to do with him. Please help

  • I get frustrated because my 6(girl)and 8 (boy) year olds will hit and kick one another. I'm at least thankful that they don't do this with other kids. I try to always explain that when they hurt each other physically or emotionally (name calling) that it also hurts me and their dad because we love them both so much. I also explain that we are family and will always have one another so it is important to be nice. That usually lasts for a couple of minutes. I'm getting frustrated and tired of the bad behavior towards one another. I'm so happy when they are getting along and play nice. Any suggestions?

  • Yeah, I agree, this is not positive parenting. Kids need to learn empathy to make them not want to hurt people. They don't learn it by parents walking away during a meltdown

    • I don't think in these times that teaching empathy is the answer. This can be taught through roll play AFTER everyone has cooled down.

      If they are being disrespectful, their behavior needs to be ignored. It has been the only way my children have actually "listened" to me. They know the attitude they need to have when coming to me, if it's aggressive, then I ignore. They certainly don't need attention when having a meltdown. When left to deal themselves they are learning that this behavior is not acceptable and LEARNING to deal with it effectively. I know all kids are different, but I can say this has worked WONDERS in our home.

  • I have in-home daycare, and I teach kids to "Say ok and walk away" regardless whether they are perpetrator or victim. It's like "Ok, I am not staying here and getting hit." or "Ok, I just hurt you, I'm going over there." The one who hurt on purpose takes a break and then checks in on the victim "are you okay?" etc. I find that expressing concern for the other child brings them into the other person's world and teaches empathy. They must care for the other child, as much as possible, until the other one feels better. Of course, this all depends upon lack of ongoing strife. I see no problem with walking away and indicating that you are not willing to remain in an unpleasant situation.

  • Children need live the most when they deserve it the least. This is horrible parenting advice, no child should be left alone to deal with such intense feelings. They won't learn how to work through their intense feelings, they learn to squash them to ensure mom doesn't leave them.

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Amy McCready

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