Childhood is full of wounds. Not just the cuts, scrapes, and bruises of explorative play; kids’ feelings are routinely hurt, whether from rejection by others,…
By understanding aggression and the role it plays in human nature, adults are in a better position to help change the behaviour at a root level. The good news is there a lot we can do to support a child in developing self-control over their big emotions.
In short, it is hard to change a child’s behaviour when you don’t grasp what fuels it.
When we shift our perspective on aggression, we are more likely to gain insight into the emotions that are driving the child and focus on helping them develop emotional maturity. Our children’s emotions are the way their brain moves them to solve problems, and they are hard-wired to demand expression.
Too often we take our children’s emotions personally instead of seeing them as a means of communication.
Rather than just focusing on getting a child to stop the behaviour, the trick to dealing with aggression is to focus on the feeling behind the action.Frustration in the child is where we need to pay attention and recognize what we may have missed, like a child who is tired or hungry. A child’s frustrated actions are a call to us to take the lead and change what isn’t working, rather than just engaging in a head-to-head battle. Sometimes it’s as simple as providing a snack or instigating naptime, but there are also times when we can’t change what isn’t working and need strategies to help them accept the limits and boundaries that come with life.
Handling an aggressive situation when your own reserves are drained can be hard to do, not just for you, but also for your child. In a worst-case-scenario where patience is stretched to its thinnest, aim for doing no harm to the relationship before you attempt to quell the storm. To keep everyone’s dignity intact, it’s okay to wait until emotions have discharged before talking to your child about what was driving them and what your expectations are. We all know (or have been parented by) parents who dismiss, suppress, or debase their children’s feelings. While in the short run it might produce a docile child, muzzling the emotions can lead to problems with emotional and behavioural combustion down the road. Rather than using logic to convince feelings to go away or denying the realness and legitimacy of emotions, children need the opportunity to express, recognize, and mature into their feelings. The real answer to aggression is supporting a child’s healthy emotional development and to grow within them the ability to control, reflect on, and find civil ways to deal with their big emotions. • Dr. Deborah MacNamara is the Director of Kid's Best Bet counselling center, she is on Faculty at the Neufeld Institute, the author of Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one), which has been translated into 9 languages, and a children's picture book The Sorry Plane. This article first appeared in EcoParent Magazine Winter 2019, www.ecoparent.ca
By coming alongside the child and acknowledging that they are having a hard time, you help reduce the aggression and keep the relationship healthy.