Understanding Aggression in Young Children
Recent studies show that long hours in childcare and too much television can cause a child’s behavior to be more aggressive. While today’s children are exposed to ever-increasing amounts of violence in our society, having an aggressive child is not inevitable. As a parent there is a lot you can do to teach peaceful ways of resolving conflict.
Many factors impact whether or not your child will have aggressive tendencies. The key is to understand why your child may have problems with aggressive behavior so that the strategies you choose will be most effective.
Age: While never acceptable, it is developmentally expected that children age two, three, and four will have more issues with aggression than an older child. To some extent, your child will struggle to communicate his needs to others because of his emerging language skills. Your child may also struggle with aggression because he has limited experience resolving conflict.
Gender: While not always true, more boys than girls have issues with aggression. Still, some experts argue that the way we play with boys may be more of a factor than gender alone; it is the age-old nature vs. nurture argument.
Temperament: Each child is born with a different set of strengths as well as different elements of temperament that need to be refined. Your child may be more intense, more sensitive, or more persistent, leading to more issues with tolerating frustration.
Family dynamics: Your child learns so much from watching you. The way conflict is handled in your family will become the way in which your child will resolve conflict with siblings and friends.
Parenting style: Whether too strict or too lenient, the way you provide discipline can be a factor in your child’s aggressive behavior. The key to effective discipline is firm limit-setting and consistency.
Physical/neurologic conditions: Some health-related problems or chronic conditions can include an inability to handle frustration or anger. It is important to form a strong partnership with your pediatrician if you suspect physical reasons for your child’s behavioral issues.
Sleep patterns: Daytime behavior is a direct result of nighttime sleep. If aggressive behavior during the day is an issue, it may be helpful to increase periods of sleep and rest.
Toys: The kind of toys your child plays with can sanction aggressive behavior. However, even though your child may use a stick as a gun, that is not the same as having an arsenal of toy weapons at his disposal.
Media: The television your child watches and the computer or video games she plays clearly illustrate what behavior is considered acceptable. After all, if her favorite TV character hits a friend or shouts at her mother, your daughter will learn that that must be allowed.
Friends: Your child will be influenced at an early age by her peers. The behavior friends engage in and the consequences they receive will have a definite impact on your child.
Childcare: Regardless of a recent study’s findings, you are your child’s first and best teacher. The behavior you sanction and the actions you role model will go a long way in shaping your child’s behavior, wherever he may go.
Experience with real violence: If your child has experienced violence or someone close to him has, aggressive behavior may be his way of working out his feelings. Seek the help of a professional if you are concerned about how to help your child deal with his experience.
Is There Any Good News?
The good news is that there is so much that you can do to teach your child how to get along in the world in calm and constructive ways. Showing your child that there are more effective ways of getting his needs met can be done by choosing just the right strategies—including strategies to be used before your child loses her temper as well as strategies to use in the heat of the moment.
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