How to Gently Handle Aggression in Young Children

Hitting, biting and kicking all happen with young kids. Even though we know this, it never makes it easier to deal with or handle as parents. I know for me, I firmly believe in gentle parenting. I follow attachment parenting techniques, positive discipline etc. However, aggression was the only aspect of parenting that made me second guess myself.  I’ve lived through it, I’ve read the books, and I’ve had the education, and I’m writing this article on how to gently handle aggression not to lecture, but to help. Try some of these techniques and change the way you view your child’s aggression, and help them, the gentle way.

As parents it can be difficult to know how to respond to your child's anger and aggression, here are some tips to gently handle aggression. Help your kids learn to calm down, manage anger and provide effective communication skills, while minimizing overstimulation.

Gently Handle Aggression in Kids

Re-framing ‘aggression’

There are a number of reasons that kids engage in ‘aggressive behavior’. The word aggression comes with quite the negative connotation, after all, the aggressor is causing pain or harm to the recipient of the aggression right? What if we start by re-framing ‘aggression’ in kids by instead saying to ourselves that they are ‘having a difficult time’. In doing this, we can better parent them through this difficult time, after all, hitting, biting, kicking, etc. in kids often stems from this, having a hard time. By looking at the behavior in this way, we can better react gently by helping them cope what that which they are having a hard time. They are not ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’, they are having a tough time. 

Reasons Kids Might be ‘Having a Difficult Time’

Lack of communication skills. In my experience, one of the primary reasons kids lash out is from communication frustration. Imagine just how difficult it must be to feel anger, frustration, pain and not be able to effectively express it. Even in very verbal children, finding the right words can be incredibly difficult especially when heightened emotions come into play.

Anger. When kids are mad, it becomes incredibly overwhelming for them. Often, kids don’t know how to deal with this. There are a number of ways that kids can learn to calm their bodies without hitting or kicking. See my 8 Ways Kids Can Calm Down Anywhere here.

Related: Best Resources for the Angry Child

Overstimulation. When kids become overstimulated, they can get scared and don’t always know how to respond. Often this fight or flight response can result in hitting, kicking, biting or any other method of re-gaining control of the situation.

How to Gently Handle These ‘Difficult Times’

So what can you do? How can you react and respond to your child when they hit you or a friend or a pet gently? It seems that some people perceive gentle parenting as permissive and without correction. Punishment does not always work, in fact it might exacerbate the situation, however, this doesn’t mean that you ‘let it go’ or ignore the behavior.

Understand why. Take a breath and ask yourself these questions. Has your child had enough sleep? Have their been any major changes in their routine? Do they have the proper verbal skills to express themselves? Once you understand the root of the behavior, you can address that, in turn, addressing the behavior.

Re-direct. If the child is upset or angry, validate their feelings, connect, and re-direct. For example,

Johnny wants a toy but his friend Bob has it. Johnny hits Bob. Get on Johnny’s level and say firmly, “We don’t hit our friends. Hitting hurts. I understand you are frustrated because you want that toy, let’s talk to Bob and play with cars while we wait our turn.”

A good tactic for facilitating turn-taking and sharing among friends is to use these words, “Bob, when you are done can I have a turn?” Prompt your child to use these words, and then re-direct their attention to something else while they wait.

Provide alternatives. Given the reasons listed above for why kids might be having a difficult time, lack of communication, anger and overstimulation, find alternatives. This is the best way that you can help your child. Once you can identify what is it that causes the hitting or the biting, you can focus on that. Feeling overwhelmed like you understand why it is happening but don’t know how to help? Let’s brainstorm.

  • Lack of communication: You know your child better than anyone else. Give them the words. Tell them that you understand how they are feeling. “I see that you are mad.” “Mommy wouldn’t give you another chocolate and that made you SO mad.” Kids want to know that you understand how they are feeling. Give them the words to do so, even if they can’t fully express it themselves.
  • Anger: Print this poster of ways kids can calm down anywhere, or read the article here. Set up a calm down corner to help deal with big emotions. Help your child find ways other than hitting or biting to handle these really intense emotions.
  • Overstimulation: Identify precursors to overstimulation. If you know that loud noises or a lot of people are difficult for your little one to handle, remove them from these situations before they become overstimulated. If leaving these situations is not an option, give them coping skills. Maybe it’s sensory fidget toys, headphones and music, or deep pressure. Find what helps keep them calm in overwhelming situations.

Summary

Tell your kids that hitting or biting or kicking is not ok. Be firm, let them know that it hurts and we do not hurt one another. Show them with your facial expressions that you are serious. But, punishment won’t help and reacting with anger won’t help. Identifying triggers, providing coping skills, and responding with connection will help to gently handle aggression. And remember, they are not ‘bad’, they are just having a hard time, they trust us to help them through these hard times.

As parents it can be difficult to know how to respond to your child's anger and aggression, here are some tips to gently handle aggression.


Photo Credit: Deposit Photos; mother comforting crying child, calm a crying child

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