Aggressive behaviour means children behaving aggressively towards other children or adults by hitting, shoving, scratching or spitting, or by throwing things at them.
Aggressive behaviour is unacceptable and adults should therefore help children learn to modify such behaviour. One way to understand aggressive behaviour in children is to think that it happens because the child has not yet learned to handle feelings of anger and disappointment in a more mature manner.
Responding in a more mature way to anger and disappointment is a behavioural skill that can be learned with the help of Kids’Skills.
The skill of telling an adult
A four-year-old girl had the bad habit of hitting other children in kindergarten. Her teacher said: “When you become angry, you must not hit other people. I have a suggestion for you. Whenever you get angry and feel like hitting someone, rather than doing that, come to me and tell me you’re angry. Together, we’ll work out what to do about it. What do you think? Would you like to learn to do that? I think you’d make many new friends and have more fun here.” The child understood that learning to do what was suggested would benefit her and the Kids’Skills steps were used to help her learn the new skill.
One way to understand aggressive behaviour in children is to think that it happens because the child has not yet learned to handle feelings of anger and disappointment in a more mature manner.
The skill of letting other children come close
A six-year-old boy hit and kicked other children in kindergarten. The problem was so severe that he had been removed from his original group and placed in a special needs group. The teacher met his mother to agree on which skill her son should learn in order to stop him attacking other children. Because the boy’s aggressive outbursts seemed to come out of the blue – he would hit or kick other children without any apparent reason just because they happened to be nearby – they concluded that he needed to learn the skill of allowing other children to come close. He practised this skill in the kindergarten and his aggressive behaviour gradually ceased.
A better response
An eight-year-old boy attended a special school where the Kids’Skills steps are in regular use. He had the bad habit of losing his temper and attacking other children. It was a serious problem as the parents of some other pupils had demanded that the boy be expelled. The school principal talked to him about how he was behaving, saying “As you know, you’re not allowed to hit other pupils in this school. If you do, you won’t be able to keep coming here. If something makes you angry, you need to learn to do something other than hitting. You cannot hit others, but you could do something else that will help you calm down. What could that be? What would help you cool down?” The boy thought about it and came up with the idea that in the heat of the moment, rather than hitting people, he could run into the nearby music room and beat the big cushions that were there.
“Show me how you would do that” said the principal. “Let’s pretend you’re mad at me right now and, instead of hitting me, you run into the music room.” The boy did as suggested and ran at full speed into the music room to batter the cushions. The principal then said “That could work, but to make sure you remember to do this in real-life situations, you’ll need plenty of practice.” On the same day, the boy showed his new anger-response to his teacher, then to other staff and finally to his classmates. He also showed it to his parents after school when they came to pick him up. Showing the new response to others gave him several opportunities to practice this new behaviour pattern. His teacher and his classmates also agreed with the boy that they would remind him to use the new response whenever they noticed he was on the verge of losing his temper.
During the course of that semester, the boy ran into the music room to batter the cushions many times, but never again hit or kicked any of the other pupils.
A six-year-old girl had the habit of hitting other children in kindergarten. She had been told to stop doing this on many occasions and knew full well that it was both wrong and forbidden. Her teachers had taught her to apologise to the children that she hit and she had become good at doing this. She continued hitting others but was always ready to apologise afterwards to those she had struck. She had even learned to ask her victims if there was anything she could do to make up for her misdemeanour.
When the kindergarten teachers were brainstorming what more they could do to help her, they came up with the idea of asking the hitter to apologize, not only to the children she hit but also to each child’s parents. The teachers presented this idea to the girl’s father as he was the adult who usually picked her up at the end of each school day. The father accepted the proposal even though he understood that there could be times when he would have to stay and wait with his daughter for the parents of the affected child to arrive to pick up their son or daughter. Over the next two weeks, the girl apologised several times, to both the child she had hit and the child’s parents. It’s worth noting that on most occasions when the hitter apologized to the parents of children she had hit, her father was present as a witness. This small but significant change in the way the girl apologised lead to positive change in just two weeks.
Learning the skill of apologising helps children overcome aggressive behaviour, but it’s important to understand that apologies only work when they are made sincerely and in an appropriate manner. To discover more about the power of apology, read the section titled ‘Alternative to punishment’.
Self-control is a skill that all children benefit from acquiring. Small children seldom exhibit self-control – they cry, shout, hit, kick and throw things whenever they are frustrated. As they grow and mature they learn self-control – the skill of reacting in more mature ways to feelings of anger and disappointment – by, for example, expressing their rage in words, talking with an adult about their disappointment, or responding in some other way that helps them avoid aggressive expressions of anger. If a child has difficulty learning to control their behaviour, take time with them to discuss which skill or skills they need to acquire in order to avoid hitting out or kicking someone, then help them learn those skills with the help of Kids’Skills.
If a child behaves aggressively towards other children and prohibiting, explaining, punishment and threatening the child with severe consequences does not help, take time to discuss the skills they should learn in order to overcome their aggressive behaviour. The skill that will help them depends on the child. Possible skills include techniques for calming down, leaving the scene and telling an adult what has happened, or doing something completely different such as counting to ten or pushing your hands deep into your pockets.
Make sure the child fully participates in discussing what could help them control their temper, and make sure they have plenty of opportunities to practice the skill they decide to learn.