Hitting, Kicking, & Biting… Oh My!

How To Confidently Help Your Child Reduce Aggressive Behaviors

“What is my child doing?!” 

“Where did they learn this?” 

“This is all my fault!”

“How do I stop this?!” 

These are all thoughts that run through a parent’s mind when they see or hear about their child engaging in aggressive behavior towards their peers, siblings, or family members. You blame yourself for their “bad” behavior. You blame them for being “bad” on purpose. You compare yourself to other parents. You compare your child to other children. Sound familiar? We want to assure you that there are solutions to successfully removing aggression from your child’s behavior.

Let’s talk about some of the reasons behind your child’s aggressive behaviors.

Young children do not have reasoning skills. As they mature, they will learn to regulate their emotions. This usually goes beyond teenage years. They need time for their developing minds to mature.

Young children (ages 1-5) are in an ego-centric stage of development. It is extremely hard for them to empathize, so they will typically think of their own needs first.

Children are exploring their sense of control and independence. They will test their boundaries and see how far they can go and what they can get away with.

These all contribute to your child’s aggression, but they are not the only factors. Let’s talk about the ways your child learns aggression so that you can help them to transition their aggression into affection. Every great strength also has a weakness. If you remember this as parents, you can really make a difference in your children and help aid them in becoming socially aware of their behavior.


A child merely does what they have seen others do and has learned from that behavior. This can be from parents, teachers, siblings, classmates, social media, etc. This being said, get to the root of what your child is watching and who is an example to them in their everyday lives. Carefully watch behaviors exhibited in the movies and shows they are watching. Many times, aggressive behavior stems from seemingly innocent moments in TV shows or movies that, when translated by a child’s mind, become aggressive and harmful when acted out in real life.

As a counter, make it a point to monitor what your child is watching and applaud the positive behaviors shown on the screen. The more mindful you are about modeling non-aggressive behavior, the less aggression you will see from your child.

Adult Attention

Aggressive behaviors usually require an immediate reaction and intervention from adults.  Usually the more aggressive the child, the more yelling, lecturing, and adults become involved.  If children do not receive a lot of adult attention for behavior appropriately, or if they do not know how to ask adults for attention, they may engage in aggressive behavior so that they see a big reaction from adults.  When you are dealing with aggressive behaviors, as with all problem behaviors, stay calm and make sure you do not give the child more attention than you give them for the great things that they do.

Social Reinforcement

A child may feel a sense of pride when they are “cheered on” by their classmates for fighting or talking back to the teacher. This peer attention for aggressive behavior could be encouraging them to continue. In order to reverse this, it would be good to have a meeting with the teacher and let them know you are aware of your child’s behavior and want to work with them to rectify it and turn it towards a more positive behavior. It’s always a good idea to have a talk with your child and let them know that their behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated even if you are not present. Ultimately, consistency is key and being on the same page with all caregivers is imperative to positive changes in your child’s behavior.

Social Skill Deficits

A child may not understand how to control their impulses during high-stress situations which will lead them to use their instincts. For some children, this will naturally result in aggression. Although the natural reaction from a parent to these negative behaviors is to respond with negative discipline procedures (spanking, yelling, reprimanding, etc.), the best thing you can do is stay calm. Your children learn from you so the way you respond to high-stress and emotional situations will show them what is okay for them to do in return. Be mindful of your response and try to help your children positively problem-solve the situation. Empower them instead of overpower them. Remember that your actions are their biggest example and greatest teacher.

Sometimes when children act out in anger amidst social situations, they get labeled “the bad kid.” This can lead them to subconsciously think they are a bad person. This can in turn create and establish negative relationships with adults and peers around them. In order to change this mentality and aggressive behavior, you must get to the root of the behavior itself. What is making them angry? Start a conversation with your child and speak slowly and calmly and repeat back what they say so that they feel heard. Allow them to be open and express how they feel. Once you understand the root of the problem, you can start redirecting their anger and aggression into a more positive direction.

Environmental Changes

Another common reason children act out in aggression is because of big changes in their lives. Sometimes children are unable to handle the big emotions of what is taking place around them. This could be a death in the family, gaining a new sibling, parents divorcing, or starting at a new school. Whatever it may be, the best thing you can do is to make your child feel heard and adequate. They should feel supported and listened to during these big life events and gain as much positive reinforcement from home as possible. They need to know that it is okay to feel these things and the best ways to transition their anger is to talk it out.