Junior’s getting aggressive ― what should I do?

Is your child’s aggressive behaviour with playmates, siblings and you really just a phase? We talk to a psychologist…

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Just like adults, kids have bad days, so they act up and express their temper. But could this anger become a habit and become something worse? We talked to psychologist Daniel Koh of Insights Mind Centre, about what to do when your child is frequently towards others, and towards you…

Some young children seem to hit each other or their parents — we’ve been told it’s a phase or because they don’t know how to communicate.

A child who has poor communication or social skills may tend to be more physical when expressing themselves. Also, if they have poor impulse control, are feeling sensitive or under some emotional distress, or impatient — they can also get more physical and aggressive.

Plus, we know that children learn to behave from watching adults. How do you yourself behave under stress? Warning signs you may want to pay attention to: If your child is impulsive, always impatient, pushing boundaries, defiant — with angry outbursts, demonstrates mood swings or very physical behaviour, is unwilling to communicate and compromise, or keeps challenging others.

When a child shows such behaviour, it is not so much about just talking but rather, who is willing to engage the child in safe and stress-free communication.

Remember ― it is not about fault-finding or blame, rather, it’s about you and your child coming together to understand each other, the situation and how to solve it. Avoid reinforcing physical aggression like punishment or scolding.

Be specific as you explain why their aggressive behavior is not what you want.

Can you suggest strategies for talking about aggressive behaviour to a 5-year-old and a 12-year-old?

For the 5-year-old: Be specific (one instruction in one sentence to aid concentration and decrease misunderstandings) as you explain why their aggressive behaviour is not what you want. Make sure you explain thoroughly if the child looks confused; you may want to ask him to repeat what you say, to see if he understands you.

For the 12-year-old: When you talk to them, put your points in as positive a light as you can. So, instead of saying “Your room is dirty! I want you to clean it!” (negative and commanding and may end with a child sulking or yelling), try, “I know that you can clean your room and it will help you sleep better…” — something more positive and the child sees a good reason for doing so.

Also be realistic and be aware of expectations. Reinforce and praise positive behaviour as your child will like to feel his effort is acknowledged.

Click for more tips on dealing with a belligerent child…


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What about offering them something nice — or would that be just bribery?

You cannot keep upping your offers/bribes ― at some point in time, everything will have less value to your child. You want to decrease the negative behaviour and let the child see that the behaviour does not have any effect any more.

So, if he gets angry, tell him, “I am not happy with you for getting angry [focus on behaviour and not the child] and I will only talk to you when you calm down [set boundaries and expectations — that the child can and will calm down].”

Then walk away and keep an eye on the child from a distance to make sure that he is safe but has no audience to “perform” or keep up appearances for. And when he calms down and you can talk, reinforce the positive behaviour and remember your rules for communication.

Say “I can see that you are not feeling good, would you like to talk about it and see if I can understand what you are going through?”

What about saying something like “why don’t you cheer up?”

That doesn’t acknowledge the child’s real and valid feelings. Say, “I can see that you are not feeling good, would you like to talk about it and see if I can understand what you are going through? Then if you like, we can discuss it.” This shows that you acknowledge your child and his emotions; you give him some control in the situation, and that you are willing to work with him as a team in setting expectations — and most of all, that you care and love him enough to listen to him.

If junior doesn’t want to talk straight away, this keeps the door open. Just telling him “put on a happy face (or whatever)” statements may come across as cold or emotionless and that you are making a promise that you may not be able to keep — which isn’t behaviour that you want your child to learn.

Okay, what if you just leave them alone to “get over it”?

For a younger child, if their behaviour is not corrected immediately, once it becomes habitual, it will be harder to change or correct. Also as they become stronger and bigger, there may be more danger and risk to others as well as your child. I do not think that aggressive reactions will just go away or be a passing phrase — especially if it is affecting the child and his daily routine.

If you feel unable to cope, try to get a neutral, trusted relative or friend to talk to your child. Or seek professional help.

Photos: iStock

Also check out…

Why you should teach kindness and compassion to kids

How to raise a kind and caring child

He’s hitting another child, is my child a bully?