How to Tell If Your Child’s Aggression Is Normal or Needs to Be Addressed

Most of us have seen a child in a grocery store throwing a temper tantrum or being downright obnoxious and unruly.  Do we immediately blame the parents for allowing this to continue, or do we have sympathy for their situation?

The fact is most children will at some time behave inappropriately. The dilemma is knowing how to tell if your child’s aggression is normal or needs to be addressed.

How to Define “Normal”

All children act up and do unacceptable things that make our frustrations bubble up. They’re kids after all, and there’s no such thing as a “perfect” child. But where do you draw the line when it comes to aggression?  All humans need parameters, rules and consequences, and an understanding of what is considered to be socially acceptable behavior. Little ones especially need these rules.

Consider behaviors like hitting another child, biting, scratching, temper tantrums, defiance, destroying property, or threatening other children. A child who behaves this way occasionally is less concerning that one who consistently and frequently exhibits this conduct.

Look carefully at the frequency, the intensity, and the duration of your child’s aggression. Is it is happening on a daily basis, or once a week, and is it becoming more intense?

Addressing the Issues

There are three main ways in which parents can address their child’s aggressive behaviors.

angry child holding mirror and yelling

The first is consistent discipline. Define the rules of what is acceptable and choose specific strategies to correct their behavior in the following ways:

  • Never resort to anger or yelling. This only provides negative feedback to your child.
  • Always offer positive feedback for all good behavior.
  • Sometimes it’s best to ignore minor issues. Pick your battles.
  • Set expectations and show your child how to behave.
  • Reinforce good behavior with immediate responsive, “Good job.”
  • Help them problem solve an issue. If they are frustrated, ask how they could handle it better next time.
  • Avoid big punishments. Choose instead an understandable short-term consequence.
  • A “We don’t hurt each other” discussion is always better than a quick punishment or spanking.  

The second course of action is to determine if there is some specific cause.

Are they acting this way due to some physical issue causing excessive frustration? It could be a hearing problem or an inability to communicate properly. Could it be due to anxiety or depression? Sometimes impulsive and uncontrolled behavior is due to ADHD. Discuss the possibilities of a behavioral disorder with Dr. Leamor Buenaseda. The sooner a source to your child’s aggression is found, the sooner you can start teaching them life-long skills in managing their emotions.

The third way to address your child’s aggression is to seek help.  If they continue to be sent home from preschool or from the neighbor’s house due to behavior, it may be time to ask for help from a licensed professional.

When to Seek Help

If your child continues to behave in an aggressive fashion, and you have tried all the typical disciplinary norms, it may be time to take action.

If you have concerns about possible injury to himself/herself, attacks on you or other adults, or you fear for the safety of others, it is time to ask for help. Health professionals are there to assist with social skills training, and Dr. Buenaseda can make a referral to the appropriate provider.

Don’t wait to ask for help, and don’t be embarrassed if you feel your child’s behavior is not normal. Consult with Dr. Buenaseda about your child’s aggression to receive early intervention and a recommendations for you and your family.