How to Handle a Children Aggression


Every child is aggressive at one time or another. Sometimes aggression is desirable (for example, when he has to protect himself), acceptable (for example, when he is trying to win a game), and sometimes it is unacceptable (for example, when he hits another child in order to grab a toy). Children must be taught how to judge when aggression is acceptable, and they also must be taught how to control their aggression.

Sigmund Freud believed that every baby is born with aggres­sive instincts, and that parenthood involves teaching a child to repress these hostile impulses. Freud also maintained that no matter how well parents do their job, such impulses are always there in the child, just lying under the surface waiting to be trig­gered. Yet we all know at least one child who is very docile, who would never fight back even to save himself from injury. Children like this seem to lack all aggressive urges, even when they themselves are at risk. If human aggression was solely a matter of instinct, then such children wouldn’t exist.

You may be worried that some television programs encour­age your child to be aggressive. Current studies indicate that you have cause for concern. Consider these basic psychological facts:

  • Young children model the behavior they see.
  • Young children are unable to distinguish fantasy from reality.
  • Young children do not understand the meaning of death.

Educators report that violence portrayed in the media con­tributes to violence perpetrated by children and against other children. Most vulnerable are underprivileged children whose caregivers often do not have the time or resources to supervise television viewing, interpret the messages given, or provide recreational alternatives. Often the TV set is the household baby sitter. Statistics indicate that the average North American preschooler watches twenty-five hours a week of television. This statistical average includes children who watch no televi­sion and children who live in homes where the television is never turned off.

Through mainstream television programs, children are exposed to attractive individuals, cartoon characters, and even toys that are violent and engage in acts of physical harm, sexu­al violence, brutality, and verbal abuse. Peaceful or intellectual people are usually portrayed as boring nerds. Think about some of the messages children may receive:

  • Violence is fun.
  • Guns are toys.
  • Problems can be resolved by violence.
  • You are only attractive when you are violent.
  • You are only attractive when you have a muscular body.
  • You are only attractive when you are thin.
  • Violence is entertainment.
  • Violence is attractive.
  • The more violent you are, the greater your prestige.
  • Being a caring or intelligent person or a negotiator means you are a loser.
  • Men only look and act in certain ways.
  • Women only look and act in certain ways.

Educators report children are confused when they receive conflicting messages once they get out into the real world:

  • In nursery school: “It’s not nice to hit Johnny.”
  • In kindergarten: “Kung fu and karate kicks are not allowed.”
  • In grade school: “It is NOT okay to swarm a child on the playground because he appears different from the others.”
  • In high school: “If you bring a gun to school you are expelled. Permanently.”

Whenever you allow young children to see violent televi­sion, discuss the violence and values presented.

Parents also influence the development and expression of their children’s aggression. Extreme forms of discipline at home—whether overly strict or overly permissive—are more like­ly to cause your child to be aggressive than are more-balanced forms of discipline. Children who are spanked when they misbe­have have a higher level of aggression. One study shows that hit­ting a child as a form of discipline gives the child a “hitting license”—the child learns behavior that is not tolerated at work, play, or outside the home. Physical punishment becomes an increasingly violent cycle that results in such long-term effects as physical damage, higher death rates, and stunted mental and emotional growth. Children who are hit are more likely to abuse their own children. In North America, spanking is becoming less and less acceptable as a form of discipline, and can lead to charges of physical assault against an abusing parent, with sen­tences of six months to three years.

Most children have aggressive emotions from time to time. This is normal. There is nothing wrong with your child feeling angry and hostile toward someone, especially when that person has deliberately hurt him. What is wrong, however, is for your child to act on these feelings. Your child must learn how to express aggressive urges in an indirect way, without assaulting other peo­ple. So never be outraged when you see your child angry. Instead, help him dissipate that fury without hurting anyone.

The most socially acceptable way for young children to release aggression is any form of physical exercise, such as run­ning, playing soccer, swimming, playing on playground equip­ment, playing catch, jumping, skating, and skipping. Other socially acceptable—and psychologically healthy—ways of releasing pent-up emotions include active playground games, such as tag, and all creative activities: painting, singing, danc­ing, playing in a sand box, playing with water, clay-modeling and working with Play-Doh. Every day in playgroups, nurseries, schools, and homes you will find children slapping clay around most vigorously, or perhaps enthusiastically splashing paint.

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About the Author: Alan Kennon lives a very happy life with two kids and a lovely wife. He likes to share his life time experiences with others about how they can improve their lifestyle and personality.

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