Fighting the Good Fight Against Child Aggression
It’s the moment we all dread, played out in real life: our child whacks another—on purpose. Whether there are 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.
Positive Strategies To Counter Aggression
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 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. Rest assured it’s not juvenile delinquency—but it is something you’ll need to address before it does become a bigger problem. Follow these guidelines:
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.” Take care of the other child, but don’t force a meaningless apology from yours. 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 (so, 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.
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 their playground (or playdate, or backyard, etc.) time, choosing to hit, bite or kick another child means that they’re choosing to leave. If 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.
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.