“My son is just 5 years old, but if he gets angry if we don’t listen to him and then he just starts throwing his toys around the house aggressively!”
“My teenage daughter has decided to be a rebel and would just be so stubborn and rigid if I ask her to do something.”
“I frequently keep getting notes from Kunal’s teacher that he gets involved in physical fights at school. I don’t know what to do with him!”
Did you also recall your child’s aggressive behaviours while reading the above statements? Getting worried about your child’s rough and resentful behaviour can be very tough. Things might be different when you were a child. You may not recollect getting aggressive in front of your parents maybe because you were scared of what your parents might say or maybe because there could have been many distractions to make you forget about your anger in your childhood. But why does this keep happening with children today? Does that question often pop up in your mind? Let’s find the answer to it:
What is Aggressive Behaviour in Child?
To understand aggressive behaviour, let’s first understand what is the difference between anger and aggression. Everybody feels angry, right? It is one of the prominent emotions that every human feels. Now anger can be felt in many forms- it can come on the surface as anger but deep down it could be hurt, sadness, feeling of not being understood etc.
Aggression, on the other hand, is behavioural outcome of anger. You may observe that your child may storm out of the room if they aren’t allowed to watch the television. In this example the storming out part because they weren’t allowed to watch television can be termed as aggressive behaviour. Aggressive behaviours are usually hostile and high in intensity.
Few examples of aggressive behaviours in children are- verbal hostility, sending threatening messages, hitting, kicking, banging their own head, stomping, biting, shouting and screaming agitatedly, bullying other kids, holding grudge against friends or parents etc. Apart from that aggressive behaviour can also be seen when the children wilfully destroy items at home, school or anywhere else out of rage.
What Causes Aggressive Behaviour in Child?
1. Exposure to violent series or movies:
Violent TV series with fights, abusive and foul language, killings and violent video games can have harmful effects on everybody’s mind, but children’s minds are fragile and can absorb whatever they are shown, hence the risk of such violent content is more when it comes to children.
The famous psychologist Albert Bandura had conducted an experiment on children between 3 and 6 years of age to check if aggression can be learned through observation. Although it was an elaborate experiment to check various factors, to check aggressive behaviours few children were shown some aggressive models, other were shown non-aggressive models and there was third group (control group) in which the children were shown nothing. The results were that children who were exposed to aggressive models showed extreme aggressive responses/behaviours later. This shows that being exposed to violent content does affect children and encourages them in adapting the same kind of behaviour.
Now, the question comes that why does this happen? Watching something so disturbing, so frequently, makes the child’s mind immune to such violence and aggressive behaviour can be perceived to be the solution for inconveniences. Hence, it is extremely important to be aware of what your child is watching.
2. Parental behaviours:
Another example of learned or observed behaviour that occurs in a child is due to observing parents or primary caregivers. Parents or the primary caregivers are the first and very important people who are introduced in a child’s life. For children, their parent’s behaviours form the core of their own behaviour without understanding whether it is healthy or unhealthy or without even understanding whether it fits the societal norms. For example- if a parent has a habit of talking in a high pitch voice when they are angry, the child might think that this how one is supposed to talk when they are angry because they are not yet exposed to the outside world where talking calmly or assertively can also be a way of communicating one’s anger.
Let’s have a look at this another interesting example- A 10-year-old girl started showing irritating and aggressive behaviours towards her family members. The same behaviours were seen in her school too. After the school counsellor took the case and got to know the family history, it was observed that the client’s father had the tendency of getting angry when nobody listened to him and giving the other family members cold shoulder. The client thought that if she did the same, she would also get whatever she wanted from the family members by either getting extremely angry or by not talking to anyone of them, just like her father.
So, do you see how parent’s behaviour can affect the child and make them behave in the exact same way? Hence to make a change in child’s behaviour, it is important that parent’s check their behaviours at home first.
According to the ‘frustration-aggression’ hypothesis, aggression is a result of frustration in us human beings. This ‘frustration’ is an emotional response where one is unable to attain their goal. In terms of children, the frustration can come up to the surface when they are not able to communicate their wants or needs.
Let’s take an example of toys- a child wants a toy and the parents aren’t paying heed to their request. In this situation the child might not be able to tell the parents why they want the toy, this will lead to frustration in the child and then the child might start screaming or they might get resistant and not move out of the toy store. In this situation, the child has not been able to attain their goal of having a toy which leads to frustration and they showed this frustration by screaming which is one of the aggressive behaviours.
In some cases, frustration might rise up in a child because they feel misunderstood or they might not feel understood at all. This especially is seen in the cases of parental divorce or separation. Here the child may feel that their feelings towards their parents’ separation are not being understood. This can lead to frustration and then they might indulge in behaviours such as not listening to the parents or doing exact opposite of what they are asked to do etc.
Transitions or sudden major change in a child’s life may also cause frustration. For example, moving to a new city, new school can make them feel lonely at first. This loneliness can lead to frustration if they are not able to form friendships like they had in their previous city and thus, this frustration may lead them to behave aggressively.
4. Neurodevelopmental disorders:
Neurodevelopmental disorders are disabilities related to the neurological functions such as motor functions, speech, language etc. Attention Deficit/Hyperactive disorder, Autism, Learning Disability are some of the neurodevelopmental disorders.
With Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, the impulse in the children is so strong that in that state they tend to be aggressive. In younger kids with ADHD, physical aggression can be seen more. On top of it, it becomes tough for children with ADHD to manage their emotions. Therefore, they can tend to get frustrated easily then other children. If you want to know more about ADHD then you might want to check this out this article Does Counseling Help Children with ADHD?.
Talking about autism, the autistic children have a very hard time understanding what is going on around them. On top of it, communicating their wants and needs becomes extremely difficult for them. They also have sensory sensitivities (being sensitive towards all the information they get through the 5 senses), like being sensitive to loud noise, being sensitive towards a specific fabric etc. All these lead to their aggressive behaviour because showcasing aggressive behaviour is their way of communicating and making others understand how they are feeling.
Similarly, there are different causes for aggressive behaviours when it comes to different neurodevelopmental disorders. Understanding the cause of behaviour can help parents or primary caregivers to handle the aggressive behaviour in a better way.
5. Stressful Environment:
Earlier, on an average, stress used to get introduced into one’s life, for the first time, when they used to appear for board exams. But currently ‘childhood stress’ has lowered the age group for stress to get introduced in the person’s life. And we cannot blame the children. So many exams, the pressure of performing well everywhere, the extra curriculars and so much more! Now, is stress always bad? No. Some amount of stress helps us to get motivated for a task. But when this intensity of the stress increases, then it can be unhealthy.
Children may feel stressful due to changes that occur in their life, may it be positive or negative change. This stressful environment can make a child feel unsafe, confused and bewildered. Not understanding how to handle all these emotions can again lead to frustration and then to aggressive behaviours.
How to recognise this stress? Observe your child’s eating pattern. Check if they have suddenly lost their appetite or have suddenly started binge eating. Then, bed wetting is one of the prominent signs of childhood stress. Along with these, other symptoms of stress are- upset stomach, sleep disturbances, getting nightmares, headaches etc.
6. Sibling Rivalry:
Sibling rivalry is when the older child feels threatened on arrival of the new baby, i.e., their sibling. In such situation, the elder child may feel that all the attention that they were getting, will be given to their younger sibling. This may give rise to feelings of fear and being unsafe. Due to this, they may tend to portray aggressive behaviours firstly towards their younger sibling; secondly towards their parents, to get their parents attention; and thirdly the child may also show aggressive behaviours towards themselves by indulging in behaviours such as not eating, intense crying till they feel tired, banging their head etc.
7. Family Dynamics:
Every family has different dynamics. Family members share healthy or unhealthy bonds with each other. While healthy bonds give way to foster growth in children and unhealthy relationships can lead to distress in children.
When there are unhealthy or toxic behaviours in family such as constant fighting, abuse, poor communication, excessive strictness or overprotectiveness, then the children may show many behaviours such as going into shell, keeping quiet or it can be the other extreme, that is showing aggressive behaviours.
Hence, if you want to know the cause of aggressiveness in children, then you might want to take a peek at the family dynamics.
How Do You Stop Aggressive Behaviour in Children?
We read about the root causes of aggressive behaviour, the ‘why’ of it. Now let’s have a look at what you can do as a parent or primary caregiver to handle and stop the aggressive behaviour in your children.
- Know the cause- I know, as a parent it would be difficult to go deep and know the root cause of your child’s aggressive behaviour, that’s the psychologist’s job! But being a parent, you might get to the surface of the cause. Once the cause for the aggressive behaviour is known, it becomes easy to get to the solution. And of course, feel free to take guidance from a child psychologist at any point of the time!
- Do not react- As a human being it is understood that you also might get frustrated with your child’s behaviour. But know that your unhealthy reaction will not help in handling your child’s aggressive behaviour. Stay calm and talk softly with your child while they are throwing a temper tantrum.
- Do not give in to their aggressive behaviours- It may happen that to avoid any social scene or to avoid embarrassment in public, you may give in to your child’s want but know that this will increase their aggressive behaviours and will not help you to handle it!
- Distract them- Try using distracting techniques when your child is throwing a temper tantrum. Techniques such as showing something else, changing the subject etc.
- Know the emotions- Help your child in recognizing the underlying emotions for anger (from which aggressive behaviours stem). It’ll will be of additional help for their own emotional regulation.
- Reward system- Create a reward system like a chart to track all the behaviours of your child. Add points for all the healthy behaviours they show and deduct points for the unhealthy behaviours. Make sure to reward your child with something after reaching a specific point limit! This is a technique practiced in behaviour therapy.
Is It Normal for Children to Be Aggressive?
Like we discussed above, aggression can stem out because of anger, frustration or other emotions. These emotions are experienced by everyone of us and so getting aggressive or acting out aggressively is also normal. Rather most of the toddler between the ages of 1 and 3 show many aggressive behaviours because they are unable to verbally communicate their wants and needs. This behaviour usually gets tapered off with age until the child turns 7 of years of age.
When does aggression become a cause for worry? When it starts showing in the child’s behaviour almost every day. When the intensity of the aggressive behaviour doesn’t taper off, but instead increases or stays the same even after trying all the things you could!
Aggressive behaviour is something that mostly everyone shows. These behaviours stem out from anger or underlying emotions of anger. Though it is seen in most of the children, it is important to know what is causing this aggressive behaviour.
Exposure to violent media, Aggressive behaviours of parents, frustration, neurodevelopmental disorders, stressful environment, sibling rivalry and family dynamics are few of the causes that can lead to such behaviour in children.
Once the ‘why’ is known then working on ‘how’ becomes easier. Hence, once the cause of aggressive behaviour is known, working on how to handle such behaviours of your child will be easy.
While aggression is normal, if its intensity and frequency increases then it can lead to being a habit in the child.
Book A Child Counselling Session
If you are a parent worried about your child’s behaviour, if you want help in knowing the underlying reasons for your child’s aggressive behaviours or if you want help in getting some guidance with your child’s aggression then you may want to book a session with WAITT’s highly qualified and professional child psychologist.
After reading this blog on aggression in children, if you feel that anyone that you know might benefit by counselling for aggressiveness for their children, then do not hesitate to share this blog with them
To book your session, jump onto https://www.waitt.in/therapy/, and follow the instructions and your session will be booked!
We wish you child a healthy childhood, and happy parenting to all you wonderful parents!