Aggression in Children

Some aggression in young children is normal!  Children seek control and aggression is one way to get it.  Aggression is common in two to four year-olds and when children have siblings.  Culturally, parents in the United States tolerate more aggression than parents in some countries.  However, when children do not learn self-control by age five (with the help of adults), it is a problem.  Children can be helped to learn to use words and to resolve conflicts.  Adults can help children handle stress and reduce children’s anxiety.  Children can be taught to handle aggression by others.  Children who feel safe, respected, and cared for are able to learn and mature emotionally.

What is aggressive behavior?

  • Direct: hit, push, bite, pinch, kick, spit, pull hair
  • Indirect: bully, tease, ignore or defy rules, spread rumors, exclude others, name-call, destroy objects
  • Relational – “You’re not my friend”

Why are children aggressive?

  • Frustration, Anger
  • Imitate what they see, hear
  • Stress, Anxiety
  • Social information processing problem
  • Get what they want, need

Appropriate ways to help children reduce aggressive behavior

  • Establish rules and routine
  • Distinguish between fantasy play and violence
  • Emphasize the difference between feelings and action
  • Teach strategies that help control anger and frustration (stop, calm down, think, empathize, solve problem)
  • Give reasonable choices and jobs
  • Play outside, Enjoy nature
  • Allow sensory play: play dough, water, sand, etc.
  • Books and stories, including your ones you and your child write
  • Play scenarios with puppets and little people
  • Magic wands, swords, and make believe toys that give power
  • Rough and tumble play with limits

When aggression happens, here is what to do:

  • Stop the action and restore safety
  • Pay attention to the child who was aggressed upon first
  • Acknowledge aggression and state what you will respond to
  • Set limits
  • Follow through with consequences
  • Help the aggressor know what words to use
  • Forgive
  • Be careful that you are not giving positive attention to negative behavior!

Help your child handle aggression by others

  • Boost your child’s social skills to feeling of competency
  • Empower with words to speak up, assertive skills
  • Help your child have empathy
  • Know when to step in and when to let child handle
  • Help your child know the difference between tattling and reporting
  • Let your children know who they can report to

How do we know when aggression is a problem?

  • Continues for a long time and occurs frequently
  • Happens across settings, home, school, friends
  • Atypical for age of child
  • Gets in the way of learning new skills
  • Children who plan to hurt or destroy
  • Cruelty to animals

Where can parents get help?

  • Call 2ll Info Line or go to
  • (will find information on Help Me Grow)
  • Child and Family Agency, 860-767-0147
  • Clinton Youth and Family Services, 669-1103
  • Early Childhood Consultation Partnership, 203-235-2815
  • Pathways Center: Learning, Behavioral Health, 860-767-1277
  • Pediatrician (will provide list of psychologists, social workers)
  • Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, 203-432-9993

Information compiled by Linda N. Stuhlman for use at Best Beginnings workshops

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