Aggression in Childhood
Aggression in childhood is when a child behaves negatively towards another either physically or verbally.
Aggressive behavior can include verbal insults, name-calling, hitting, kicking, and fighting.
Aggression in early childhood can be a normal part of development, depending on the severity and frequency of the behavior.
What Causes Aggression in Children?
Here is a list of some of the causes of aggression in childhood.
- Lack of impulse control: a child may feel intense emotions quickly and react before thinking about their behavior
- Challenges with mood regulation: a child may experience frequent and intense emotions and struggle with knowing how to regulate their emotions
- Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder: a child who is aggressive may have a mood disorder but this is very rare. A child who has DMDD will almost constantly experience ongoing irritability, anger, and frequent, intense temper outbursts, making it difficult for a child to control their emotions. To learn more about DMDD check out this article from the National Institute of Mental Health.
- Poor conflict resolution skills: a child may need to learn and practice the skills needed for resolving conflict respectfully
- Modeled behavior: a child may have witnessed repeated aggression as a way to solve conflict
- Unable to express feelings: a child may not have the verbal capacity to share what they need or experiencing and may act out aggressively to get their needs and wants me
- Low frustration tolerance: a child who struggles with being able to handle and manage disappointment, stressful situations, and difficult feelings, may be aggressive at times
Ways to Deal with an Aggressive Child at School
Tips for in the classroom
Create a chart of desired behaviors. Reward behaviors.
- Make a list of 2 to 3 behaviors that are the opposite of aggression that you would like to see the student demonstrate.
- Create a chart of desired behaviors and have the student earn a point or a sticker every time you see the desired behavior.
- Allow the student to earn a prize after they have earned a certain amount of points.
With preschool children, read story books about anger management skills.
The advantage of reading stories together (also called bibliotherapy) is that the child can learn from ‘a distance’. That is, they can see story characters struggling and identify themselves without having to be ‘called out’ so directly.
These books share the proper use of hands and feet and strategies for managing strong emotions.
Have a calm-down corner in the classroom
1. Have a space in the classroom where children can go if they need to calm down.
2. Teach students how to use the calm-down space.
3. In this space, have tools the child can use to calm down.
4. Have a list of self-regulation skills.
- Square breathing
- Glitter jars (A child can watch the glitter floating down and take deep breaths)
- Storybooks on calming down
- Feelings journal. Have sheets of paper students can use to write or draw what they are feeling.
- List of different emotions. The students can identify the emotions they are feeling. Cadey has a great feelings wheel you can use by clicking here. Student calming down
Read books to your class on managing emotions and social skills
- Soda Pop Head by Julia Cook
- Thanks for the Feedback by Julia Cook
- Calm Down and Work Through Anger by Cheri J. Meyers
- Priscilla and the Perfect Storm by Lisa M. Griffin
- Listening to My Body by Gabi Garcia
Have a class marble jar
When working with an aggressive child, we tend to notice and pick out negative behaviors. To help reinforce positive behaviors, have the class earn a marble for positive behaviors noticed in the classroom.
1. Purchase a jar and enough marbles to fill the jar
2. Share with the class how they can earn marbles
a. What positive behaviors are you wanting to see demonstrated
3. Decide on a class prize once the marble jar is full
4. When you see a child demonstrating positive behavior, call it out and add a marble to the jar
5. When the jar is full, a class prize is earned
6. It is important to include everyone in the class prize.
a. The goal of the classroom jar is to call out positive behavior and give attention to positive behaviors.
b. By implementing this strategy, you are focusing on positive behaviors you want to see demonstrated.
Tips for parents when working with your child’s school
If you argue or become aggressive with your child’s teacher or administration, you will likely not be heard.
Work with your child’s teacher to create a behavior plan
It feels scary to be getting calls during the day about your child’s behavior. It can help to work with your child’s teacher to create a reward chart for positive behaviors.
Do this by:
1. Identifying positive behaviors your child’s teacher would like to see in the classroom
a. Pick no more than 3
2. Create a chart that lists positive behaviors. There is a section where your child can earn a point for that behavior every 1 to 2 hours
3. For each time period your child demonstrates that behavior, they get a sticker
4. If your child gets 70 percent of the stickers possible, they earn a prize
a. Your child does not lose stickers already earned
5. Be part of the rewards at home
As a former school counselor, I saw that the behavior plans that worked best were positively reinforced at home. For example, if your child earns 70 percent of the stickers on their rewards sheet, they can earn a small prize, extra video game time, a special treat, or something similar that is provided at home.
Make a big deal out of successful days.
When it has been a rough day, simply say, “We will try again tomorrow.”
Additional tips for success
- If your child earned a prize for positive behavior at school, provide the prize at home even if your child’s behavior declined at home. This will keep your child motivated to demonstrate positive behaviors at school. It may take a while for your child to demonstrate positive behaviors in all environments. Sometimes, kids can learn to hold it together at school and then lose it at home. This is a bummer. Know this is not uncommon.
- Have a chart at home where your child can earn prizes for positive behaviors, or try the marble jar technique.
- If your child earns a point or a prize, they do not lose it. If your child is struggling with their behavior, they simply do not earn a point for the current time period.
- Your child will not be perfect, especially if struggling with negative behaviors. It helps to have a percentage of stickers earned, such as 70 percent.
Tips for outside the classroom
Help for a child who is aggressive at school happens outside the classroom, too. Here are some tips you can use at home with your child.
Work with your child to teach mindful strategies. With mindfulness, your child can learn to pause before they are tempted to respond aggressively. Learn more about teaching mindfulness in Cadey’s ebook.
If your child struggles with aggression in extracurricular activities, here are a few things that can help.
1. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. It is harder for children to control their impulses and solve conflicts peacefully when tired.
2. Increase the amount of healthy foods your child is eating. This does not need to be a battle. Small changes can help, such as having protein at breakfast or for a snack before an activity.
3. Make sure your child has downtime, time they have for themselves to do the things they like. If a child has too many activities, they may feel stressed. It is harder for children to make positive choices when stressed.
4. Watch how you are responding to setbacks and disappointment. Praise effort over achievements. You praise effort by giving praise for practicing, trying again after a failure, being kind to participants or teammates. When you praise effort, you are increasing your child’s resilience and increasing their frustration tolerance. Children with low frustration tolerance are more likely to act aggressively.
5. Keep a check on your emotions. If your child sees you screaming at the coach, umpire, or another parent, this is modeling aggression for solving problems.
Keep Coming Back to the App
If you are a teacher with an aggressive child or a parent, we here at Cadey understand how challenging this is for everyone. Keep returning to the app to learn useful tips for aggressive kids in under 2 minutes.