Play nicely – tips for managing aggressive behaviour in children

Aggressive behaviour in very young children is not uncommon. Toddlers are struggling with a gamut of emotions, experiences and desires but don’t yet have the vocabulary to articulate these. Consequently, many use physical expression and actions to get their message across. Obviously, pushing, hitting and biting are not socially acceptable behaviour, so it is important to understand why children may behave aggressively in order to address it.

A young child’s behaviour is strongly connected to her or his language development. By the time a child is two years of age, they have usually grasped a collection of simple words and can string some words together, such as “I-want-apple.” The total of their vocabulary, however, is far from complete, often leaving the child stuck for words to express what they are feeling. Instead, they may simply point to the apple, or loudly announce the word “apple.” If this technique doesn’t work, combined with a growing sense of frustration, the child may decide that the most logical outcome is to give you a hard push and scream “apple!” In the child’s sense of logic, this gets the message across quite nicely!

managing aggressive child behavior - sage child care

When playing, the lack of available vocabulary and expression can also lead to aggression. If a little girl wants a paintbrush that another child is using, a request such as “please may I use that paintbrush when you’ve finished with it” is not likely to be within her ability. Slapping at the other child’s arm may be a much clearer and easier way to deliver the message. In these instances, it is simply a matter of behaviour modification (teaching what is and isn’t acceptable), helping the child with their vocabulary and patiently realising that socialisation is a developmental skill that will take a little time, improving as the child matures.

Frustration, as well as a lack of words, can also be a source of aggression in children. For example, at a day-care centre, if the child feels that they don’t have enough space, they want to play with a particularly popular toy, or there aren’t enough adults around to help them out with their activities, aggression may start to show. By understanding the drivers, and giving the child what he or she needs (as long as this is appropriate), you may be able to remedy or prevent physical aggression.

Having adequate supervision for toddlers is vitally important: it will not only help detect reasons for aggressive behaviour, but will also enable carers to patiently help children to learn to use their words rather than their fists, be patient, wait their turn, and generally manage their frustration.

dealing with child aggression - sage child care

If a child is exhibiting behavioural problems, it’s important that language development is examined and where necessary, addressed. A speech therapist can help determine whether a child’s behaviour is related to language development issues. Usually the therapist will watch the child at play, as well as encouraging them to undertake a number of activities under observation. It is recommended that one or both parents is also present at this time to provide more input about the child’s behaviour for the therapist. After all, the parents see the child’s behaviour at home and know and understand the child best.

If it is established that the child would benefit from assistance with their language development, this can be addressed through speech or language therapy. Methods of appropriate communication can also be taught. Not only will this remedy the aggressive behaviour, the ability to articulate their thoughts and desires in non-aggressive ways will also make the child happier and more relaxed.

Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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