Aggressive behavior in a child

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Have you seen children do things like snatching toys or hitting others? These behaviors are frequently overlooked and dismissed as a “phase.” These behaviors are called aggressive behaviors which are actions that can cause bodily and psychological injury to oneself, others, or environmental items. 

For example, Children’s aggressiveness has been shown by Ishaan in “Taare Zameen Par” and even the younger Krishna in “Nirbhay”.

Aggressive behavior in a child:

Many children are exposed to violence and will face aggression at some point in their lives. The extent of exposure to aggressive events and the levels of expressed aggression in young children are determined by social and cultural contexts such as a violent circle of friends, boys being expected to be powerful and dominant, and unhealthy family practices such as regular disputes between parents or sibling bullying are prevalent. 

Children’s aggressive behavior is expressed physically (bullying, hitting, kicking) and verbally (cruel gossip, manipulation, calling names etc). You may have seen children fighting with chairs and verbally insulting one other, as well as their teacher, Rani Mukerji, in the film “Hichki”. It is important to differentiate between playful and aggressive behaviors – jab voh jaanboojhakar aur baar-baar karte jaate hain to voh khel nahin hote hain.

What causes aggressive behavior in children?

Aggression in children can be a symptom of many underlying concerns. Sometimes it can be due to internal factors like hunger, fear, embarrassment, or attention-seeking. There are a few other factors that can cause aggression in children, some of them include:

  • Family violence exposure includes hitting, pushing, or choking a child, as well as violent behaviors by a caregiver or sibling directed toward the child or another family member. For example – When a child witnesses his father hitting his mother, he acts out the same behavior with his peers. 

One of the public service advertisements showed this clearly, how a child who witnessed his father abusing his mother as a child ends up repeating the same behavior with his wife. Click here to watch the full ad.

  • Through the media – watching violent shows involving fights and the use of foul language. Children pick up on what they see and hear and copy it.
  • Violent peer group – copying violent behaviors of their friends circle like bullying, just to get approval from them. In the movie “Chillar Party” – all the kids start to talk like “tapori” after they become friends with Fatka, this helps you understand the relationship between a child’s behavior and their peer group.
  • Spanking or punishment at home – child repeats the same actions towards others. As a result of your hit, the child bullies another child. 
  • Genetic factors – include changes in serotonin (happy hormone) levels.
  • Having a sibling – serves as a target (bullying or getting bullied by a sibling).
  • Victims of sexual or physical abuse – unwanted touching, forceful sexual acts, etc. In the series “Tribhanga,” Kajol was molested by her stepfather as a kid, which led to her violent personality as an adult.
  • Violent neighborhood – verbal and physical fights – While observing you argue with your neighbor, your youngster may begin to insult or despise them.

Some of these factors can be observed and eliminated to control aggression. As a caretaker, talk to your child and help them to deal with the conflict.

Ways to handle an aggressive child:

You’ve probably dealt with your fair share of tantrums, meltdowns, and freakouts as a caregiver. Regulating your emotions by practicing meditation, naming what you are feeling, or creating space(stop and breathe), is a skill that all of us must learn, and some children take longer than others to master self-control.

Physical aggression is said to reduce by the time your child is old enough to communicate their feelings verbally, if it’s not then that should concern you. 

Here are some of the warning signs you can watch out for in your children:
  • Intense rage – throwing objects or fighting without any reason.
  • Frequent outbursts of temper – hitting and shouting at others.
  • Irritation to the extreme – screaming and using harsh language.
  • Extreme impulsivity – destroying objects, pinching and slapping themselves or others, difficulty in calming down, etc.
  • Being easily irritated – easily getting angry at jokes or any labels like ‘bad boy.
  • Causing problems at home – bullying their siblings, purposely ignoring, kicking, or beating another person or object.

Here’s what you can do during a tantrum:

  • Keep ground rules: setting guidelines can help children stay in control, and they should be made to understand what went wrong every time they break one. For example, setting a ‘no hitting’ or ‘shouting’ rule while playing with their friends.
  • Don’t give in to the tantrums: this can act as a reward for them.
  • Stay calm: try to regulate the child’s emotions by distracting them or helping them name their emotions. Guide them in understanding different emotions like ‘anger’, ‘happy’, ‘sad’, etc.
  • Praise their good behavior: rewarding the ordinary behaviors of your child helps its repetition. If their playtime is problem-free, tell them ‘I really like how you get along with your friends’ – ‘mujhe khushi hua ki tum apne doston ke saat achhe se khel te ho’
  • Help them to understand and name their emotions: you can say, ‘I see that you’re feeling a bit down today’ – ‘neenu evattu beejarallidiya, yenadaru ayta?’. This helps in acknowledging what your child is feeling and encourages your child to express verbally.
  • Identify their triggers: triggers activate an individual’s past fearful or humiliating experiences, for example hitting someone in response to an insult, tension with friends or school stress. Triggers are the root cause of certain aggressive behavior. Find ways to detect, handle or eliminate these triggers by observing, talking about their feelings or helping them connect the dots, for example – ‘I’ve noticed that if you fail to complete a task, you throw stuff around’ – ‘maine dekha ki jab bhi tum diya hua kaam acche se nahi karte, tum cheesy fekte ho’.

What can you do when you can’t handle the child’s behavior?  

There are times when the child’s aggression goes extreme and the strategies in this blog might not work and may end up disturbing the surrounding people. In this case, it becomes very difficult for the caretaker to handle the child. The effective way to handle this situation is to look out for the potential problem areas given below and reach out to a professional:

  • Often feeling angry or resentful: always in an angry mood, shouting at others instead of talking normally, etc.
  • Persistent irritable mood or anger: most of the time irritability happens due to lack of sleep but it shouldn’t be for a longer time. Check-in on what might be the reason for their irritable mood.
  • Showing bitterness toward others: constantly thinking bad thoughts about others and expressing dislike for them, which may lead to harming them.
  • Angry verbal and behavioral outbursts: regardless of who the child is speaking to, he/she uses extremely harsh words and even hits and kicks people and objects.
  • Aggression towards people or animals: trying to kill a butterfly or a bug, hitting/throwing stones at a dog or a cow, always getting into a fight with others, etc. 
  • Bullying, threatening or intimidating others: calling names, hitting or smashing other kids, etc.
  • Destruction of property: intentionally destroying things and even other people’s belongings.
  • Deceitfulness or theft: every child engages in this behavior, but at some point, they learn their lesson, and it should not be taken to extremes, such as a large amount of money.
  • Serious violation of rules: children engage in activities that they are not permitted to do, such as walking near water or touching dangerous objects when they are not supposed to.

As a caretaker, you can begin by scheduling an appointment for your child if you see any of the above symptoms.  Following an initial assessment, he or she may recommend you to a mental health specialist who can assist in making a diagnosis and developing a treatment plan for your kid, if necessary.  

Need guidance to understand your child’s behavior? Ask your queries or book an appointment with a mental health professional who can help at BetterSpace


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