Handling Aggression in Children

The subject of children with aggressive behaviors has become more common, and at Kingwood Pines Hospital we help children that may exhibit many different behaviors as a result of trauma or uncontrollable circumstances in their lives. Our children and adolescent therapists are very dedicated to helping this population – as well as their families – discover new ways of dealing with these difficult situations.

Due to the development of the brain, children and adolescents do not have the adult ability to respond appropriately verbally, physically, and emotionally. If a child has been through a trauma such as abuse or neglect, certain triggers can cause episodes of explosive anger, extreme physical outbursts toward others, or even trying to hurt themselves. It is the job of adults around them, including parents, teachers, therapists, etc., to help them learn healthy ways to express these emotions. Here are some suggestions to help caregivers of children struggling with aggressive behaviors:

1. Identify the feelings behind their actions. Most children are looking to meet one of four needs when they behave defiantly: Attention, Power, Revenge, and Feelings of Inadequacy. By identifying exactly what the child is searching for, it is easier to calm the child or deal with their behaviors. Most children know the words “angry, sad, and mad”, but sometimes a child is feeling frustrated or overwhelmed and does not know how to express it. Once the feeling is identified, acknowledge that you “understand that you are feeling overwhelmed”. The acknowledgement of their feelings, education about how to identify that feeling, and how to respond next time they feel it will have a profound effect on the child’s behavior.

2. Find something to replace the misbehavior, but make it something equal in energy. For instance, a child who chooses to throw his shoes when he is angry will not respond as well to a time out in his room. It may calm him for the moment, but the same energy he was trying to express is still there. Try an active activity like tearing up a stack of newspaper or hitting a designated pillow.

3. Seek help from a therapist trained in Play Therapy, (for younger children), or a therapist specializing in adolescents. Once trust is gained with a therapist, many children and adolescents can quickly learn to deal with their emotions related to their behaviors.

4. Get the child involved in problem-solving. If they are having repetitive problems with behavior, then the child is already aware they are getting in trouble and probably would like that to stop, but doesn’t know how. By discussing ways to understand their feelings, and then finding solutions with them to help the behaviors stop, the child will be more likely to “buy in” to the long-term goals. Choosing to tear up paper or hit a pillow can be the child’s choice of a substitute behavior that is acceptable.

Children with aggressive behaviors aren’t “bad kids”. They are good kids that are stuck in the pattern of making bad choices.

Kingwood Pines Hospital serves the crisis mental health needs of people ages 5 and up. If you or someone you know needs an assessment, or if you need more information, call our number and ask for admissions, 281-404-1001.