Are you struggling with a child who bites and throws toys? Do you get frequent calls from school about your son’s aggressive behavior in the classroom and on the playground? Do you feel like screaming at your daughter when you see her hit a sibling? Do you see the hitting, kicking, and punching between your children day after day and fear that it won’t ever stop? Are you tired of having to tell one of your children to leave the other alone? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, please read on.
The fact is that if something isn’t done soon to stop the aggressive behavior, it will only get worse. Children don’t simply grow out of aggressive behavior, and they don’t just figure out how to manage their aggression on their own. They need assistance and guidance from the adults around them, and they need it now.
Managing aggression is a skill that your children can learn. But in order to learn it, they need to be taught. That’s where you come in. Your role and that of other parents, teachers, and administrators is to teach children aggression management. Following are four steps you can take right now to begin the process.
- Turn off the television and the video games.
Abundant research points to the negative effects of television and video game exposure on children. Children are being overexposed to aggressive and even violent behavior through both television and video games. This exposure promotes aggression in children first by showing them that violence is a way to resolve conflicts. Second, children become less sensitive to violence when they view repeated images of aggressive behavior. Third, violent and aggressive behavior encourages a belief that the world is “mean and scary.”
Don’t be fooled by ratings or by the time slot on the TV schedule. Just because a program appears on Saturday morning or a game is rated E doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Review and preview everything. Sit and watch television with your children. Play their video games and watch them play the games. You may be amazed at the content.
Find alternatives to television and video games. Refrain from using them as a way to entertain or “babysit” your children. Get them active in reading, art, and music and engage them in good old-fashioned conversation about the world around them.
- Stop modeling aggressive behavior.
When you attempt to stop a child from being aggressive by overpowering him, by taking a position of authority, or by intimidation, you are using aggression as a way to stop aggression. You teach the very behavior you’re attempting to eradicate. Eliminate the “Do as I say” attitude. Find alternatives to yelling, taking an aggressive stance, and spanking.
Remember that ninety percent of all aggressive acts are a child’s attempt to have a need met. The aggression is the instrument used to meet the need. Examine the situation closely to discover the need. Explore with your child alternate ways to get what he or she wants. Teach your children how to use words to help satisfy their needs.
- Stop teaching aggressive behavior.
Aggression can be taught. One research study found that seventy-five percent of aggressive acts by children ages six to sixteen were committed in an attempt to obey parents. The children were following the directions of parents who encouraged them by saying, “Stand up for yourself,” “Hit them back,” or “Prove you’re a man.” Parents who use words such as these are teaching their children to use aggression to stop aggression.
Instead of teaching aggression, teach children the power of their words. Help them discover a language of boundaries. Equip them with the ego strength to say, “I don’t like it when you say those things to me,” “I won’t play with you when you treat me that way,” or “I won’t let you do that to me anymore.” Help them learn to use the resources of the school and the community to report violent acts.
- Stop reinforcing aggressive behavior.
Aggression is a sure way to get attention. The person who commits the aggressive act ends up receiving a considerable amount of attention. Most of the time we go straight to the aggressor, saying, “Cut that out,” “You know the rules,” “Get over here,” “I told you to stop that.” We chase after the perpetrator and leave the victim, who is often attended to only after the aggressor has been corrected, chastised, or disciplined. Over time, this reinforces aggression.
Go to the victim first. Take care of their hurt or sadness. Help them process what just happened. Let the aggressor see you taking care of the other person. You will have time to address the aggressive act later. By going to the victim first you show your children that you value healing over attacking.
Remember, how your children handle aggression in their own lives will be based partly on what they learn from you. You can leave them with the images and tools that a violent culture provides them with or you can model gentleness and security while teaching them new skills. The choice is yours.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
CHICK MOORMAN and THOMAS HALLER are the authors of The Abracadabra Effect: The 13 Verbally Transmitted Diseases and How to Cure Them. They are two of the world’s foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish free parent and educator newsletters. To subscribe to the newsletters or obtain information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com.