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 Taming Your Child's Aggression

By Kristen Abbondante, Ph.D.

Child Aggression Image

​Some aggressive behavior is a typical part of child development, especially between the ages 3-9. A limited vocabulary, poor emotional regulation, and poor coping skills, along with a child’s growing independence, can cause communication frustration. Often a child uses aggressive actions to communicate their strong feelings to compensate for their limited verbal and reasoning skills.

Understanding how to respond and minimize your child’s aggression can teach him or her how to communicate positively and help curtail future outbursts.

Aggressive Behaviors

Aggressive behaviors can change as the child grows and develops. Parents should understand that childhood aggression behaviors vary per child. Some common aggressive behaviors a child may display include:

  • Biting a parent or child
  • Throwing objects at others
  • Playing rough with others
  • Screaming and yelling
  • Hitting others or himself
  • Kicking
  • Pinching

Responding to Aggression

For parents who are experiencing frequent childhood aggression, Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health recommends:

Step 1:  Observing. Watch your child’s actions during aggressive outbursts and see if there is a pattern or an event that occurs before your child’s actions.

Step 2:  Heading off Aggression. You can help reduce your child’s aggression by setting expectations, providing clear and consistent consequences, and praising non-aggressive behaviors.

Step 3:  Responding. If your child becomes aggressive, it is important to provide consequences such as time out or privilege removal and to make sure you are not giving attention to the aggressive behaviors.

Step 4:  Catching good behavior. Reward and praise your child when they make “good choices” when they are frustrated and use their words vs. aggressive actions.

Children engage in aggressive behaviors because they have difficulties communicating and expressing their emotions. It is important that you help your child identify their triggers, anger cues, and prompt your child to cool down when they are upset. These strategies help build awareness and improve your child’s ability to regulate their emotion and ultimately reduce their aggression.

Minimizing Misbehavior

As much as possible, parents are encouraged to stay consistent in discipline. If your child is aggressive toward another child, provide immediate consequences. Eventually the child will associate the negative consequence with the aggression. Parents can minimize aggressive behavior with a few techniques that include:

  • Keeping your cool
  • Minimizing "high risk" situations
  • Avoiding negotiation (don't argue or explain too much)
  • Helping your child problem solve solutions to conflict
  • Rewarding good behavior
  • Making your expectations for behavior clear

When to Seek Help

If your child has frequent outbursts daily for several days or weeks, or is causing physical injury to himself or others, is being sent home by neighbors or school, contact your pediatrician.