It is often very difficult for parents when they see their child behaving aggressively. Sometimes it is even more difficult than your child being hit. We would often rather our child was the innocent victim than the bully!
So what practical measures can you take when children behave aggressively?
I have broken the following ideas down into

  • Hitting
  • Biting
  • Sibling fighting

As each of these areas need a slightly different approach.

Hitting

Prevention:

  • Have a rule in your household that ‘You can be angry, but you don’t hurt people or property’
  • Make sure you set a good example by not hitting your children.
  • Notice when children are playing nicely. Tell them ‘You are playing nicely with each other. No one is shouting or hurting’.
  • Give children small rewards and attention for behaving well. (It is much better to give them good attention for doing the right thing than rewarding them with attention for hurting another child)
  • If your child has a disagreement and manages to sort it out, notice that too. ‘You both wanted to play with the train, but you managed to sort it out without hitting.’
  • Help your child understand that the feeling they are experiencing is anger. Say to them ‘You are feeling angry, but you are not hitting, that shows a lot of self-control’ ‘It is much better to solve arguments with words rather than hitting’
  • If your child tends to get angry, consider having an angry corner with paper and pens to do ‘angry drawings’, bubble wrap to stamp on, a pillow to punch, a mini trampoline to let off steam, or anything you think would help them express their anger.
  • Help your child learn how to behave when they are arguing. Teach them to problem-solve and sort out how to share and what to do if the behaviour of another child is upsetting them.
  • Ask them to tell you what someone feels if they are hit –get them to understand the hurt and upset that hitting can cause.
  • Get your child to practice acceptable behaviour such as
    • Asking nicely
    • Telling the other child what they did to upset them
    • Saying loudly ‘That hurt, stop hitting me!’
    • Thinking of good ways to sort out the argument
    • Taking turns
    • Asking an adult to help or
    • Walking away and saying ‘I’m not playing anymore’.
  •  If your child is due to meet up with a child where there has been hitting in the past, talk through the situation in advance. Ask your child what they should do if there is a disagreement. If possible do a ‘role play’ with your child, where you do something that could annoy him/her, and she practices how to respond appropriately.’ Ask them several times in the day leading up to the meeting ‘What will you do if your friend hits you? /calls you names? /takes the toy you were playing with? / You feel yourself getting angry?’
  • Try to limit your child’s contact with children who obviously make them aggressive.
  • If friends or siblings make matters worse by teasing, name-calling, fighting etc. deal firmly with this behaviour too.
  • Only invite friends home who play nicely with your child.

What to do if you see your child hitting:

  • Take immediate action. Stop the behaviour and move your child away from the situation. Say ‘stop hitting, hitting hurts!’ (or ‘No biting’)
  • Ask them to wait.
  • Go to the injured child and comfort them. Take as long as you like.
  • Let the child who is hurt know you empathise with their feelings using phrases like:
  • ‘You feel sad because … hit you. It is a shame that they did that. Hitting is not nice. It is better to solve arguments with words rather than hitting’
  • Let the child who hit them see you give plenty of attention to the injured child (sometimes it makes them feel that the behaviour was not worth it!)
  • When the child who was hurt has calmed down and resumed playing go back to your child. Get down to their eye level and speak in a normal voice
  • Tell them they need some time away from the situation to calm down
  • Give them time apart, even if it is sitting on a chair in the same room

When they have calmed down, ask them:

  • What is the rule about hitting?
  • How were you feeling?
  • What mistake did you make?
  • How could you make up for that? (this may involve saying sorry to the other child, doing something helpful or kind.
  • What could you do differently next time? What can you learn from this?
    If possible, get them to practice the behaviour you want (for example, saying ‘Johnny took my train and I feel upset’)
  • Your child should be able to answer the questions to your satisfaction and do something nice for the injured child. If they can do this allow them to continue playing
  • Keep a careful eye on them and approach them if you see a situation which may upset your child. Ask them how they are feeling and how they want to deal with it. Stop play immediately if any aggression occurs.
  • After the situation has been resolved, do not bring it up again. If they have learned from the situation move on and don’t keep bringing it up.
  • If your child is too upset, you may need to remove them from the situation and talk about it when they have had a chance to calm down.
  • Good books to read are ‘A volcano in my tummy’ by Whitehouse and Pudney, and ‘Hands are not for hitting’ by Martine Agassi’

Biting

  • If your child has bitten another child, this behaviour is often impulsive and is rarely premeditated.
  • Read books such as ‘Teeth are not for biting’ by Elizabeth Verdick,
  • Have rewards (that your child really wants) for not biting.
  • Notice and comment on when they did not bite, ‘well done you played nicely with the children and you did not bite’. You get to have ten minutes playing dress-up with the sparkly shoes or ten minutes football in the garden with mummy.
  • Talk to your child frequently about what they will do when they are frustrated or angry. Practice it.
  • Never let your child get away with biting you. Squeal loudly and let them know that you are upset. Put them into Time out and ask for a sorry, and, if they are old enough, a better way to deal with their frustration next time.
  • When they bite, make sure they do not earn their rewards. Make a big show of saying ‘I really wanted to read you a second storybook but I can’t because you bit someone today’
  • If they need it, give them something they can bite such as a teething toy
  • When your child is playing with other children keep a very close eye on them. If they seem frustrated and you think they may bite go to them quickly. ‘You seem angry that Mary took the train. How are you going to deal with it?’ See if you can help the children sort it out, but If necessary move them to a different part of the room or distract them.

Sibling Fighting

  • With normal arguing, try to ignore it –think of your children as having an experience in ‘conflict resolution’
  • Remember children often fight to get YOUR attention. Try not to get involved in their fights. Ignore the noise if you can. Leave the room if it is annoying you or ask the children to go to an area where you can’t hear them. (Maybe the garden?)
  • If the situation is heating up and you feel you need to intervene:
    • Start by telling them you see how angry they are with each other – this should help calm them
    • Listen to each child’s side with respect, and repeat back to them what you are hearing.
    • Tell them that you appreciate how difficult the problem is
    • Tell them that you have confidence that they can work out a solution that is fair to them both
    • Leave the room
  • If one child is clearly in the right, support that child, but leave the final decision up to the children – ‘Well it is your doll, and your decision. But if you want to work something out with your sister, that would be between the two of you’. Then leave!

If your children are physically fighting

  • Ask the children ‘Is this a play fight or a real fight?’
  • Establish a rule that ‘Play fighting can only take place if both children agree – If someone is not enjoying it then it has to stop’.
  •  If you can’t stand it, respect your own feelings – tell them ‘you may be playing, but it is too rough for me – you need to find something else to do’.

If the fighting has got out of hand, you need to show that you care enough to protect them from each-other

  1. Describe what you see
  2. Acknowledge that they must be feeling furious with each other -(I see two very angry children who are about to hurt each-other)
  3. Tell them that ‘hurting is not allowed in our house- this has got out of hand’
  4. Say ‘It is not safe to be together – you need a cooling-off period. Quick, you go to your room, and you go to yours’

Prevention:

  • Make sure you give your children plenty of one to one attention (at least 15 minutes one to one time a day) so that they don’t need to fight to get your attention
  • Make sure you notice and remark on any time when the children are playing nicely or even sitting down and not hurting each other!
  • Talk to your children when they are calm and do problem-solving to deal with anything that is upsetting them about their brothers and sisters
  • If a situation is causing a lot of upset, have a family meeting where everyone gets a chance to talk, do a problem-solving session and then work out what you will do to sort out the difficulty
  • If it is an issue allow your child to choose some toys that only they can play with. But the toy must be kept in a special place, and if they leave the toy around then it is Ok for anyone to play with it.

Aggressive behaviour can affect your child’s friendships, self-esteem and future happiness. If your child has an anger management issues, and you need a child behaviour expert, book some tailor made parenting sessions to get this sorted.

The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

Need help now? Ready to explore whether investing in some tailor-made parenting sessions would be right for you and your family? Book your FREE 20-minute call with Elizabeth here