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Children Who are Aggressive: How to help

Some young children are very aggressive, even as toddlers and preschoolers. Many need extra attention from parents and caregivers to learn less aggressive ways of behaving. Here are several tips to help you manage a child's aggressive behaviour:

  • Try to figure out why your child is being aggressive - for example, is it an attempt to assert independence, a response to frustration or is your child learning aggressive behaviour by watching other children be aggressive with one another, or perhaps even becoming aggressive because other children are "starting it first?"

  • Make it a rule that there is "No hurting" others. "Be gentle" is something most young children have to learn - with pets, toys, friends and people in general.

  • Try to anticipate trouble and change the situation in advance to avoid unnecessary frustration.

  • When your child does become aggressive, try and stay calm yourself, even though this is often difficult.

  • When you discipline your child for being aggressive, be firm and consistent, but don't use physical or verbal aggression as part of your response. Stopping the behaviour by taking your child aside or by withdrawing a favourite toy is a better approach with a child who is already inclined to be physically aggressive.

  • Try to help your child put his feelings into words if you think your child is being aggressive because he can't communicate feelings of frustration. This simple approach can reduce at least some of the aggression with many children.

  • Try to give your child as many choices and decisions to make as you can, such as which T-shirt to wear or whether to have toast or cereal. This will help your child feel she has some control in life.

  • Always, always make a point of complimenting your child's behaviour when he is managing well. Children with aggressive tendencies can go a long time between compliments if the adults around him don't take the time to recognize good behaviour as well as the aggression.

If your child is three years old, and still isn't learning to control her aggression or doesn't seem to care about the feelings of others, it is important to get some help. A pattern of aggressive behaviour is easier to change at a younger age than if it is ignored until your child is older. Also, seek help if the quality of your family life is really suffering because of your child's aggressive behaviour. Consult your child's doctor for an appropriate referral if you have any concerns. If you are in Canada, and you wish to speak to a counsellor about this, contact Parent Help Line, 1-888-603-9100.

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