How parents can deal with children when they behave aggressively

A little boy with blond hair, two years old, is lying on the floor and crying hysterically after kindergarten at home. Parenting.

How can you help a child process their anger? (Picture: Getty Images)

We all experience bursts of anger and frustrations but for most of us; there are easy enough means to convey what we are upset about and what we want.

We can talk things through, vocalise our emotions, and process hurt in our own way.

For a young, developing mind, there are limited ways to express these complicated emotions.

From birth to teens the brain is forming new ideas and ways of dealing with a world that can be seriously difficult to navigate – and this can manifest itself in tantrums, explosions of anger, tears and sometimes aggression.

Issues such as a broken toy, a denied treat or even the first dose of heartbreak in school may seem completely insignificant to us as adults but these developing minds are experiencing this for the first time, so we need to cut them a little slack.

Every child is different and will deal with new situations and emotions in their own way, but we can ride with them through their storm, helping develop their personality, validating their emotions but encouraging them not to behave violently without punishing them for their feelings.

Here’s how to handle a child when they’re expressing their anger through aggression.

Teach the child that their feelings are valid

Most importantly of all is teaching both child and adult that what they are feeling is a completely valid emotion. This will open up a safe line of communication for the child, so they know they can trust the adult’s reaction.

Stay calm

Lead by example and stay calm, speak softly and never raise your voice. If their aggression is met with conflict rather than an element of understanding, the situation is likely to become more fraught.

Don’t use fear

Don’t use violent behaviour as a form of punishment – this normalises hitting and creates generational cycles of violence. There is never a reason to hit anyone, and the same goes for aggressive shouting.

Frightening your child into an obedience is a tried, tested and largely debunked method of upbringing and feeds into resentments and adverse child experiences (known as ACEs) that stick with children as they grow.

Remember that emotions are valid (Picture: Getty Images)

Recognise early signs of negative feelings

Most of the time children showing aggressive behaviour are trying to communicate something that they don’t quite know how to yet.

Talking about our feelings and sharing experiences is such a good tool to use to gain our children’s trust. If they feel they don’t have to hide things from you then together you can tackle anything.

This will involve intervening in violent behaviour and discussing how it is wrong but also making it clear that you understand their upset, and are much more likely to be able to help if you can find a better way of them expressing it.

Pay attention

Look out for changes in friendship groups or school work – if you can prompt a discussion and help lead them to tell you what’s wrong, then this can open the chat.

Pick your battles

As an attachment nanny, my philosophy is always that it is our job to guide our children through feelings – but it’s important to work out when to conserve your energy.

They may be having a massive tantrum about having to put their coat on, but for their (and your own) mental health, is it really worth a full hour long conflict or is it better just to say “okay, well take it and see if you get cold”? Nine times out of 10, they put their coat on 15 minutes later and then we spend the rest of the day building happy memories at the park.

By not making a huge deal out of a tantrum, we slowly introduce the notion that there doesn’t have to be a huge drama and fight to introduce compromise.

Communication is key (Picture: Getty Images/EyeEm)

Give them a safe place

Teach your child that in the outside world, some people have rules that we have to follow, but at home we can be ourselves completely. This helps them understand and evaluate why they have different snack and TV rules.

It is important we teach our children to be polite and show manners and respect with other people and in other environments but perhaps allow them a little more slack at home. This is not to say they should not be challenged on bad behaviour, but they should feel safer to express the more feisty aspects of their developing personality.

Praise the positive

Notice everything your little one does and promote the positive.

For example, let’s say they drew a beautiful picture but they got pen marks on the sofa. Make a big deal out of the picture, put it on the fridge, talk about it, and just casually mention ‘oh whoopsie’ (which is my favourite word as a nanny), we got some on the sofa. We can sort that later and explain to them that sofa is like your favourite toy so we like to keep it nice.

Getting down to your child’s level of logic, you are going to reduce tantrums by having a conversation about taking care of nice things rather than punishing them for an accident.

Name emotions

Something I do as a starting point is when a child says to me they have a sore tummy I ask them to describe the feeling. Sad tummy is worry, for example or sore tummy if it’s a physical pain. Your child might not know what the feeling is and that is often the trigger for an outburst – the uncertainty and lack of control they feel can lead to anger. If we can identify what they are feeling before it gets to that stage you could ward off an outburst entirely.

Guide and reassure

Sometimes as adults all we need is a hug and with the person we love. Children are no different. Through building positive feelings, children will be able to differentiate the negative ones and the more we all talk about it, the more we all can be understood.

Don’t punish yourself

It’s surprisingly normal for children to lash out and while it’s not a pleasant thing to witness and be a part of, it is very rarely a reflection on you as a parent.

Try not to be frightened or horrified if your child shows aggressive behaviour on occasion; you don’t want to instill the fear in them that something is wrong when chances are they are expressing a normal emotion. Instead, we can talk to children about how we feel angry sometimes but always feel much better having talked things through.

As with all childcare and development, the keys are love, compassion, understanding and communication. While we must have conversations with children about aggression they show, we should treat it as a normal aspect of their development and work with them.

Don’t put yourself in crisis mode, children pick up on that. A child will have a tantrum, will lash out and will push boundaries – getting on their level, not making a huge deal of it, explaining ulterior ways of dealing with these confusing emotions and showing them you hear them but will respond much more favourably to a calm conversation, is a strong and important journey to take.

You will make mistakes – and your child will too – but don’t we all? Very often, a child getting angry is borne from confusion and frustration. The first step is clearing that away and validating those feelings.

If behaviour doesn’t worsen and gradually improves – and it can be gradual – there is generally nothing to worry about but if ever you feel out of control or that it has become far too much, seek help from experts, school staff and loved ones. This is not an end of the world situation – it can be stressful and daunting but entirely manageable and there’s no reason that through dealing with it the right way that harmony can be retained.

However, childcare is chaotic, family life is not perfect, tidy, quiet or subdued.

You are not the only parent experiencing behaviour issues and challenges from your child. You and your child have got this – it is all part of the journey.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.

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