Have you ever asked yourself why has your peaceful and lovely child all of a sudden started to be aggressive? If you are a mom of a toddler, you know what I mean. Your sweet and obedient child wakes up one morning as a little tyrant, and you only can ask yourself over and over again – What is going on? Why is my toddler so angry and aggressive? Where am I wrong?
If this sounds entirely familiar to you, it means that you have a problem, like many other parents. Let’s see what the problem is.
Table of Contents
- Why Are Our Toddlers Aggressive?
- Scientifically Speaking, There Are a Few Causes of Aggression in Children
- Protective Factors Which Help to Prevent Aggression in Children
- Types of Aggression in Young Children
- Types of Aggression in Preschool Children
- Types of Aggression in Older Children
- Preventing Aggression
- What to Do?
Why Are Our Toddlers Aggressive?
It always seems shocking to face with our child aggression, but you need to understand that it’s just a usual and very common part of children’s development. That means that your dearest kid can start to be selfish and start to kick and hit their classmates or to grab toys from them. It doesn’t mean that your kiddo starts to be a monster. No! She merely needs to go through this stage of growing up.
There are a lot of reasons for aggression. When it’s about very young children, you can face with an aggressive 3-year-old child because she is just tired and hungry and doesn’t know how to handle a problem. In many cases, small kids respond by hitting and biting or even throwing a tantrum.
When your friendly kid attends daycare or preschool and at once turn herself in an aggressive preschooler, it can mean that she tries to get used to being away from home. If she feels neglected or alone, the typical reaction will be aggression. Since there is no any other way to express dissatisfaction, your child will show hostility to her peers.
Believe or not, even a school-age child may continue to be aggressive and to have difficulties to control her temper. The reason is her inability to deal with problems such as issues with keeping attention and troubles with reading or focusing, for example.
All psychological blows such as family member illness, quarrels between parents, recent divorce, abuse, or some serious problem(s) in the family can be a trigger for aggressive behavior. That only means that your kid is full of anger and too hurt than she can deal with.
Scientifically Speaking, There Are a Few Causes of Aggression in Children
There is not a simple answer to questions such as ‘Why is my four years old child so angry and aggressive?’ We only know that there are some risk factors which can increase aggressive behavior. Many experts try to explain reasons which usually cause aggression in children. It seems that there are a lot of definitions what is that crucial reason which makes a difference between a healthy child and aggressive one. Anyway, all of them agree that there is a template that most often leads to aggression. They include:
1 – The individual factors
- An intrauterine environment such as maternal prenatal smoking, prenatal exposing to alcohol, exposing pregnant women to violence.
- Gender – It’s important to note that girls are usually as aggressive as boys. There are only differences in the way of expressing aggression. Boys tend to show overt aggression and girls are engaged in relational aggression. But, be aware that both forms can be equally hostile.
- Emotional traits and individual temperament can cause that feeling of anger or shame in combination with lack of empathy, is one of the leading reasons for aggression among infants and preschoolers. One thing is sure. A bad-tempered infant is more likely to be aggressive in later childhood.
- Lower IQ, poor emotional control, mental health problems, or poor social skills almost always lead to aggressive behavior.
2 – Parental characteristics and disturbed family
If children grow up in aggressive surroundings, they will be more or less aggressive themselves. There are direct and indirect risk factors which affect kid’s aggression.
Many factors such as maternal age, the presence of siblings, mother and father’s antisocial history during the school, inter-parental conflict, tensions between a mom and her child, inability to control the nonresponsive child parenting, or parental mental illness affect child’s behavior.
Also, a child will be aggressive in cases of too harsh or too lenient discipline, lack of appropriate supervision, parents who are unsupportive, reject the child or use aggression to solve problems, family instability, abuse and (or) neglect, parents with alcohol and (or) drug addiction.
Children from socially and (or) economically disadvantaged family are more often aggressive than their peers from average or wealthier families.
3 – Exposure to violence including violence in the media
Except for violence within the family, which is definitely connected with the child’s destructive behavior, there are cases when emotional disturbances such as being a witness of parent’s illness or death can lead to developing of aggressive behavior. Even watching too much TV during a day and the violence shown on TV can be a reason for aggression in preschoolers.
4 – Living in violent neighborhoods
It is no rare situation that children who live in violent and unsafe neighborhoods or go to the unsafe school, behave as ones who live in war zones. Community violence (association with gangs, aggressive friends) almost always affects the violent behavior, especially in preschoolers. They have no the opportunity to develop self-control through appropriate play and an adequate role model. The absence of supervision leads to searching protection through antisocial groups.
5 – Relationship between a mom and her child
The connection between a mom and her child is an essential regulatory system for child’s future behavior. This connection enables developing a capacity for appropriate kid’s behavior. Every type of disturbance of the healthy relationship between parent and child or mother who suffers from depression will result in a disorder of the child’s behavior.
6 – Aggression related to mental issues
Some mental issues can cause child’s aggression toward animals, peers, and in the end toward adults. Unfortunately, in extreme cases, aggression in preschoolers can be caused by neuro-psychiatric disorders, autism, or Tourette’s disorder.
7 – Mother’s perception of the child
In the end, there are cases when a child isn’t aggressive at all, but parents for some reason perceive their kid as uncontrollable and even violent.
Protective Factors Which Help to Prevent Aggression in Children
There are also some protective factors which can decrease children’s aggressive behavior. They can be:
1 – Individual – empathy, optimism, higher IQ, high self-esteem, and strong cultural identity.
2 – Connected with the family – family stability, fair and firm discipline, adequate parental supervision, healthy and gentle relationship with parents.
3 – Connected with child’s environment – socially advantaged neighborhood, attachment to the community, success in school, extracurricular activities, and a stable relationship with caring adults (grandparents for example).
Types of Aggression in Young Children
As I already said, aggression in children during early childhood is considered a part of growing up, and often it’s not taken seriously. Only occasionally it can be a part of a child’s difficult temperament or personality trait of an individual. Cultural and social codes, as well as exposure to aggression, may also be the reasons for a demonstration of hostility among young children. All in all, there is a broad spectrum of aggressive behavior in the preschool age kids.
Experts believe that during early childhood, there are four types of aggression. It includes behavior which is intended to get something that doesn’t belong to them (ubiquitous among 2-years-old children); a physical or verbal impulsive retaliation for someone’s action; insults or rejection in order to harm the social connection between the ‘victim’ and their peers; and unprovoked attack.
Types of Aggression in Preschool Children
The fact is that a child can manifest aggression in different ways. In most cases, it’s about bullying and teasing peers, but in extreme situations, it can be revealed true peer violence, including high school shootings. Many experts including a psychiatry professor at Jefferson Medical College Henri Parens, believe that there are four types of children’s aggression
1 – Survival Aggression
It is a widespread type of aggression in young children. It’s connected with basic human needs such as a requirement for food. It’s the pure survival instinct essential for the adaptation. It seems that the only problem is the lack of this type of aggression.
2 – Non-destructive aggression
This type of aggression usually helps children in life, especially if they tend to be successful in sports and (or) academics. Directly speaking, the child can become aggressive while she attempts to reach something which is out of her reach. This type of aggressive behavior is the result of child’s desire to master herself and her environment. The important thing in the majority of cases like this is that parents recognize this type of aggression and to direct it in the appropriate direction.
3 – Aggression related with displeasure
It is malicious aggression stemmed from displeasure. You can undoubtedly find a connection between the way how parents treat their child and expression of the child’s aggression. Any parent’s abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) will be a trigger for an attack.
4 – Aggression related with a pleasure
If your child expresses this type of aggression, you should be seriously worried. In this situation, a child feels a pleasure because of manifested hostility. This type of aggression isn’t inborn. Emotional pain is always a reason and whether this type of aggression will show up depends on the parents. That means that the prevention is crucial.
Types of Aggression in Older Children
The best way to reduce aggression is discouraging aggressive behavior in very young children. But, if we fail in these endeavors, the problem will only grow. The result will be extremely aggressive behavior in older children, which will result in inadequate behavior in the teenage age and we will face the possible adolescent delinquency.
Types of aggression in older children include pushing, hitting, poking, tripping, pinching, beatings, shoving, kicking, spitting, or throwing things. More serious types occur among teenagers and include insults, manipulating friendships, threats, setting fires, cheating, teasing, lying, or even stealing, sexual acting without permission, and bullying.
It seems that the only way to reduce aggression among children is good prevention. It’s our responsibility to discourage aggressive behavior and to build appropriate relationships with our children. There are many things we can do to prevent aggression in our children. Remember, this is up to us!
We should set out clear expectations and solve smaller problems before they transform into bigger ones. Let your child know how you expect her to behave. Talk to your kid and try to boost a good relationship with her full of love and understanding. Always try to praise your child for positive behavior. Find a way to help your child manage her emotions which can lead to aggressive attitude.
In situations when aggression occurs, react immediately and adequately. At the first sign that your kid is about to begin to be aggressive, you should intervene and stop this behavior immediately.
Remove the child from the situation, don’t raise your voice and try to calm down the situation. Practice all possible ways to reduce your child’s anger from the very beginning. Teach your child that aggression is wrong and that ‘using bad words’ is not preferable.
What to Do?
There is no a prototype of an aggressive child. We can ask many questions and be aware that in most cases there are actually no real answers. The sad truth is that no one precisely knows why a healthy, smart, and well-cared child is aggressive from a small age.
But, one thing is certain – you should never hit back. I know that staying calm in these situations is very hard, but you need to try. You should talk with the kid and to explain why her aggressive behavior is not OK. Try to make sure that she understands the importance of saying ‘I’m sorry’ for her misbehave.
If you can’t find a way to help your child, ask an expert for help. In most cases, professional help is not necessary but can be a relief if you know that you don’t need to deal with this terrible problem on your own. Anyhow, some counseling won’t hurt but probably will help.
One of the options is to engage your child in a sport. It could be an elegant way to steer child’s aggression in the right direction. It sounds perfect to me. And, most importantly, it usually has effects!
The only possible way to successfully combat aggression is to take decisive steps while children are still small. The longer we wait and if we allow aggression to develop, it is all less likely that we will deal successfully with this serious problem. Let’s help our children!