Helping a child with aggressive behavior (part 1)

“My child hits me every time he can’t have what he wants,” “George kicks his sister and grabs her toys.” These are some of the common phrases we hear about parents’ daily lives with their children.

What lies behind this aggression that children manifest either in individual cases or continuously, and how can we help them?

Many times, at tender moments with their babies, parents can pinch them, bite them, suck them; although all these cute little things are well-intentioned by the parents, they are still considered as a form of “violence,” as they cause pain – even small – in the children’s bodies. Children get used to this manifestation of “violence” combined with pain and discomfort from the children and joy from the parents, so they may resort in the same way to relate/interact with other peer children.
Moreover, although physical abuse is considered to injure both mentally and emotionally the child, there are not a few parents who claim that “What harm can cause a beating to the butt?”. The little rap to the butt, to the hand, to the head, however small, is neither funny nor natural; this is a form of violence too, used by parents mainly to “teach” the child not to hit. They convey to the child the message, “I hit you to learn not to hit.” The baby, however, since he is not yet able to control the movements of his limbs, but wants to get in touch with his mom, can perform some awkward body movements that look like hits. It is better to tell him that “It hurts” or “I do not like your sister to be hurt” than to hit him “for his good.”

Aggression often starts with emotions that children cannot manifest themselves. A child might externalize his “forbidden” anger by hitting either himself or other people in his environment. “You’re too young to put on your shirt,” “It’s stupid to cry for an excursion,” “Come on, don’t be angry about a car! That’s all you got!” The key here lies in accepting children’s feelings and intensity; no emotion is irrational, excessive, or untimely; everything has its reason for existence, even if we cannot detect it. “Are you having trouble wearing your shirt?” “Are you sorry we didn’t go on an excursion?” “Are you disappointed that the car is gone?”

Children act like their parents’ mirrors. If the father screams and destroys what’s around him when he’s angry, so will the child. If the mother beats the child for any damage he does, the child will start by hitting his toys and then hitting his classmates or other children. Therefore, by changing our behavior, we will help the child change his own. Long “sermons” and advice do not help as much as we are a remarkable example to emulate.

Every time the child hits us, we could interpret it as a call for love, for communication, for touch, for more approach, to get closer to him, discover his needs, and help him by showing him interest and love.

To be continued…