In a perfect world, our children would be well-liked among their peers and welcome additions to any classroom. However, children who have trouble controlling their emotions frequently act out, and this often leads to frustration and embarrassment for parents—not to mention negative consequences for the child at school. A child with behavioral problems may also have trouble making friends if their behavior makes them unpleasant to be around. If your child has ever acted out in school or in public, you understand how frustrating it can be.
Here, we’ll discuss the best ways to deal with a child who frequently acts out at home and school.
Dealing with Aggressiveness at Home and School
For children who frequently raise their voices or physically lash out at others, curbing this behavior may seem like an impossible challenge to overcome for parents and caregivers. Regardless of perceived difficulty, it’s important to recognize that these behaviors are fairly common, and younger children do not always have the reasoning skills, empathy, or capacity for self-regulation that older kids have. Young children may resort to pushing, hitting, or yelling at others as a way of problem-solving because they lack the emotional intelligence to think of more constructive ways to resolve conflict.
While it is definitely important to recognize how prevalent this type of behavior can be, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored or excused, or that parents should think that kids will naturally “grow out of it” without intervention. As parents, here are a few things you can do to help curb overly aggressive behavior before it gets out of control:
Talk to your child: Talk to your children and help them understand their aggressive actions or outbursts are not acceptable. Be clear and direct; you can intervene in the moment, but it’s also helpful to sit your child down when they are calm and talk at that time.
Don’t be afraid to levy consequences: One of the reasons children feel comfortable repeatedly acting out is because they have been conditioned to know that there are no consequences for their actions. Giving children clear consequences and sticking to them will help them understand that if they act out, they will be disciplined. Some experts advise keeping consequences short-term and levying them as soon as possible after the negative behavior. For example, if you pick your child up from school on Tuesday and learn that they hit another child, you might tell them, “Hitting is not OK. You cannot play video games tonight,” rather than deferring the punishment (e.g., “No video games this weekend.”)
Come up with alternate reactions: If your child has an incident in school or at home, always make sure to discuss how things could have been handled differently. Give them ideas on how to handle situations in the future without resorting to verbally or physically aggressive behavior. Encourage young children to use their words instead of lashing out. You can even give them a phrase to say when they are angry—something simple like, “I don’t like that. Stop!” You can even role-play situations with your child, switching between roles to model different behaviors.
Collaborate with Teachers
For parents, one of your best lines of defense against your preschooler’s aggressive behavior is collaborating with their teachers and the Program Director. Preschool teachers spend a lot of time with your child every day, so they tend to pick up on what may be triggering your child to have an outburst and can offer guidance on how to help your child outside of school. Always ask your child’s teacher how you can assist them in helping your child display appropriate behavior in the classroom; listen to their suggestions and take them to heart.
Reward Good Behavior
Although it is common to focus solely on bad behavior when dealing with a child who displays aggression frequently, this is not the most effective approach. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that rewarding good behavior—or even just pointing it out—can do a lot to counter the effects of aggressive tendencies.
Praise your child for what they do well, because this serves to help them regulate their emotions and boost their self-esteem. You might say, “I saw that you were mad when Emily took your toy, but you used your words. I’m proud of you!” Children who often feel they cannot do anything right tend to lash out, so be sure to recognize when your child is doing something right, or when they have had a particularly good day or week at school. Rewards do not always have to be big; just simply pointing out that you recognize your child doing well can go a long way.
Don’t Shy Away from Help
The tips outlined above can help when it comes to working with your child to minimize aggressive behavior inside and outside of the classroom, but sometimes outside help is needed. Unchecked aggressive behavior in childhood can lead to bigger problems down the line as children grow older and enter their teen years. If your child’s behavior is having a detrimental impact on their academic progress, or it is negatively affecting their classmates or siblings, seek the help of a professional who can help you determine if your child’s behavior is simply growing pains or a symptom of a deeper issue. Never be afraid to seek help if the tips above do not seem to be working.