How to Teach Young Children to Manage Their Aggression

Finding ways to help your child manage aggressive impulses, without completely losing your mind, takes serious skill. You need patience, above all, and a strong will to succeed at this crazy game called parenting!

Even if there are some days without a push or a pull, scratch or a bite, it’s never easy to find the right balance between too much and too little aggressive behavior.

For most parents, the right balance is a fine line. We don't want our kids to be pushovers. We want them to be able to standup for themselves when others treat them roughly. By the same token, we don't want them to start fights but, if attacked, we want them to be able to deal with it on their own.   

"Children use their bodies and express their feelings by pushing, grabbing, and fighting. This is age-appropriate for young children  they are in the motor stage of development. Teachers and parents need to help children find ways to resolve these conflicts. But the problem isn't that boys have these impulses and interests; the problem is that we over-react." Joseph Tobin, Ph.D., Professor of Early Childhood Education, ASU

What I’ve done with this post is to create a list of 5 parenting strategies for managing aggression in young children. This doesn’t mean you’ll be able to handle every aggressive behavior situation with ease. What it does mean, however, is that these strategies will put you on the right path for dealing with it and more, in a healthy and proactive way. 

1. Show Don't Tell 

Actions speak louder than words. It’s more power to demonstrate how to handle a situation rather than bark orders at your child to 'stop it'. Yelling without explanation doesn’t fix anything. You may feel better to let out your frustration. But, all the child learns is that yelling is how to deal with frustration  Yikes. Children need specific suggestions and visual demonstrations. A 2-year-old can be shown to use his words instead of pushing or crying when another child tries to take a toy. Teach them words that will help them avoid or settle a conflict on their own. For example, show them how to hold onto a toy and use the word “no” or “this is my toy” and reenforce not to push or cry if another child tries to take it.   

2. Get on Their Level

Create a sense of equality. There's nothing more powerful than facing a child, eye to eye, when correcting behavior. Making direct eye contact, at his or her height, gives them a sense of equality. It gives them an opportunity to relate to you rather than feeling overwhelmed. By creating a level playing field for your child, they have an easier time explaining how they are feeling. And, by understanding what they are feeling, they can better cope with it. If they refuse to talk, then offer them your words to explain. For example, “I guess you’re upset because you can’t go to play with Billy. I understand how you feel, but it’s time for lunch now.” (or whatever the reason is).

3. Be Concise

Don’t lecture. It’s important to tell your child what you want him to do or not do without belaboring the point. I know it probably makes you feel better to repeat yourself, but at the end of the day this is wasted energy. They know you’re angry; they hear it in voice’ they see it in your face. Being clear and concise will help you to hold their attention and issue quickly. Make sure the punishment fits the crime and will help teach them not to do it again. For example, taking away TV from your 4-year son will not teach him not to hit baby sister. But explaining to him that it’s not okay to hit baby sister because it 'hurts her’ is more effective. 

4. Don’t Hit 

Practice what you preach. If your child decides to bang a play hammer into the TV, don’t slap their hand away or swat their behind. Instead, get down on their level and explain what they did wrong. Demonstrate how to use the play hammer. Show them where the right place is to bang the hammer. It’s important to be a role model. Kids learn behavior from what they see you do and by how you treat them. If you smack your child, think about what he or she is learning from that.

5. Use Redirection

Punching bag to the rescue. I’m a big fan of redirecting behavior. Kids hit and punch. Kids get aggressive. They’re continuously learning limits and understanding boundaries. If your child is displaying aggressive behavior, give them a better place to discharge it. I love a good old fashion punching bag for this purpose. I set our portable punching bag in the corner of the living room. I say, for example, “If you feel like hitting, go and hit your punching bag”. And, I clearly explain that it is not okay to hit the cat or smack sister or whatever bad behavior just happened. Utilizing a portable punching bag helps a child to understand that there can be a time and place for such behavior. It needs to come out, not be buried inside. 

As a mother of two high-energy boys, I needed to create a safe place for them burning off energy, dispelling aggressive impulses, and dealing with their all around craziness. The trouble is none of the portable punching bags or inflatable bop bags could outlast my boys. In fact, most inflatables broke within the first hour! So I decide to make it myself, using high-performance urethane for the inflatable and adding a sturdy fabric 'skin' that easily slides overtop ... and the skin is customizable. My product is called Bonk Fit and it is awesome, if I do say so myself. 

I tell my boys, “Bonk the Bonk Fit not Brother.” They use Bonk Fit on the driveway before school, in the living room during Saturday morning cartoons, in the backyard after homework is done. The best part is their getting in some physical exercise without even knowing it. We like to say Bonk Fit is fitness in disguise. Bonk Fit is a traditional portable punching bag with sturdy fabric cover that easily slips over top. And, you can design the cover to be anything you want! Choose from a gallery of award-winning designs or create your own from any photo in less than 5 minutes. Make your job easier as a parent or grandparent with Bonk Fit. Click here to learn more.

Conclusion

When it comes to helping your child to manage their aggressive impulses, there’s no simple way to achieve parenting perfection. 

The best thing you can do is show don’t tell, communicate eye-to-eye, be concise, don’t hit or swat, and swiftly redirect aggressive behavior, and you’ve got the best chance for giving your kids the right way to deal with their feelings through life. 

Would you add any other ways to correct behavioral issues to this list? Please share your favorites in a comment below.

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