When we hear the term “child aggression”, a scene of a child throwing a tantrum may come to mind. While tantrums are a common display of aggression in children, there are actually many more forms of aggression that some people may not even interpret as such. Almost every child will exhibit signs of aggression as a part of growing up, but prolonged aggression in a child can cause a number of societal problems with the parents, teachers and other peers that interact with the child. If these children are not taught to control their temper at an early age, they may grow up to be involved in more serious forms of aggression, such as antisocial behavior or other mental pathologies.
Aggression in children can take place in several forms. According to the authors Tobeña and Aroca, there are generally three main types of child aggression: physical, psychological and economic or financial.
Physical child aggression involves acts of aggression or violence directed against other people, objects or the environment. For instance, a child may hit someone they are having a quarrel with, or attempt to damage that person’s belongings.
Psychological child aggression involves mental-related acts of aggression. Examples include mocking or insulting others, intimidating them, running away from home, lying, making unreal demands or threatening to commit suicide.
Lastly, economic or financial child aggression involves money-related actions, such as stealing another person’s possessions, selling someone else’s belongings or incurring debts that their family may have to bear.
These three types of child aggression are not mutually exclusive, meaning that a child can exhibit multiple types of aggression at the same time. Aggression is usually the precursor of violence. Violence typically begins with the economic stage, before progressively advancing to psychological and then physical. At an advanced stage, all three types of violence can be present at once.
To address aggression in children, we first have to understand the root causes of it. While there can be many factors contributing to early onset of aggression, these can be categorized into several groups.
Children may be suffering from mood disorders or other personality disorders, which can cause them to become aggressive. For example, a child suffering from bipolar disorder may be more impulsive during their manic periods, which frequently leads to aggression. When in their depressive stages, they may not be as aggressive, but can still become irritable and lash out at others.
Children dealing with schizophrenia, paranoia or other similar disorders are commonly struggling with their own distortions of reality that can be very disturbing or confusing to them. They may feel mistrustful or suspicious of other people, which can lead them to display aggression if they feel threatened or provoked.
Much like children in the manic stages of bipolar disorder, those who are impulsive, hyperactive or have an attention deficit often come across to others as aggressive. In reality, these children are usually not even considering the consequences of their actions. They simply act on their whims and do not possess good discernment, which can lead them to make poor decisions. As such, others may think that they are being aggressive when there is really no thought behind their actions.
Aggression is a common response for children who feel frustrated, because they may not know how else to express their dissatisfaction of being unable to solve a problem that is too big for them. If a young child does not get what they want, the only responses that come naturally to them may be to cry or throw a tantrum, as they may not have learned an appropriate level of self-control yet. As we get older, we begin to pick up more socially acceptable ways to deal with frustration, such as talking it out, calming down or removing ourselves from the situation.
Children with cognitive or communicative impairments, such as autism, may also experience frustration regularly because they are unable to deal with their own anxiety or have problems communicating what they need to others around them. These children commonly have difficulty verbalizing their thoughts, resulting in frustration at others not understanding what they want.
Children with conduct disorder are intentionally aggressive. They may appear to have a blatant disregard for societal norms and find it gratifying to engage in behavior that inflicts harm on others. Although most children go through stages of their lives where they attempt to defy authority or cause harm, children with conduct disorder demonstrate a prolonged and persistent aggressive behavioral pattern. Aggression is a huge part in conduct disorder, causing affected children to engage in callous or malicious behavior, including extensive bullying, physical violence, harming others for the sake of it, lying for no apparent reason and destruction of property. Conduct disorder left untreated in children often develops into antisocial personality disorder in adulthood.
Children are often influenced by the environment they grow up in. If they grow up being exposed to displays of aggression around them, it is likely that they will be more prone to aggression too. Additionally, early life stress has been shown to increase the chances that a child will develop aggressive behavioral problems. The parents, teachers, peers, home, school, culture and media that a child grows up with all play a part in influencing child aggression.
Dealing with child aggression may be tough if a child will not listen in the first place, but fortunately, it is not impossible. The earlier child aggression is addressed, the easier it is to deal with the problem and the better the outlook will be. To fix the problem, we must find out the root cause. In most cases, the best method of solving child aggression depends on individuals, but it is almost always improved when the caregivers change their outlook on the child’s aggressive behavior.
Engaging in positive parenting involves not just maintaining positive exchanges with the child, but also requires the caregivers to take care of themselves. If the caregivers are clouded by stress, the child will pick up on that. The caregivers may also be more likely to make poor decisions and cause the relationship with the child to deteriorate.
Six separate studies showed that when parents were given practical training and moral support, they could learn more effective tactics for handling aggression and thus were better able to intervene. The parents were also able to change their outlook on their parent-child relationship. Instead of dwelling on the stress of dealing with an aggressive child, the parents were able to take it easier and avoid feeling demoralized or drained. This afforded them a closer relationship with their child, and made correcting their behavior more effective. Over time, the child was able to change their behavior and became less aggressive.
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