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Sunday November 3, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday November 3, 2013 MYT 9:20:21 AM
by positive parentingby assoc prof dr m. swamenathan
Many children go through aggressive behaviour at different stages or ages. Here are some tips on how to manage and care for your child when he behaves aggressively.
EVER had the experience when one moment, you’re happily playing with your child, and the next, he smacks your face? Such episodes may be shocking to you, but aggressive behaviour is actually part-and-parcel of a toddler or pre-schooler’s development.
The period between the ages of 18 months and five years is when your child will experience great developmental changes.
Aggression vs anger
It is important to differentiate the two; aggression is an intentional behaviour, while anger is an emotion. Aggression can come in the form of mental, physical or verbal abuse, which causes pain to a person, whereas anger is a negative emotion that results from feelings of frustration, stress, upset or irritation.
If your child is acting aggressively towards you or another child, it is important that you recognise the specific age and stage of development your child is at.
For instance, in:
Toddlerhood: From 18 months to three years of age, toddlers are just learning to use words to communicate, and they rely heavily on their actions to tell you what they are thinking and feeling.
For example, when a child wants a toy from the cabinet, he will gesture or point towards that toy, or when he is angry or uncomfortable, he may react by pushing, hitting, slapping, kicking or even biting, to tell you that he is upset.
Pre-schoolers: Children between the ages of three and five exhibit more aggressive behaviours, such as fighting with siblings and other children over toys, playing rough-and-tumble games, and are generally more aggressive on the playground or in the classroom.
Whether they are toddlers or pre-schoolers, your little ones are becoming eager to assert themselves to communicate their likes and dislikes, and to try to act independently without your help.
However, they still have one limitation at this stage: self-control. Toddlers and pre-schoolers are just starting to acquire social skills like waiting, sharing, and taking turns to talk. However, when they are unable to communicate their wants and needs to you and other children through words, or feel a lack attention from you, your little ones may act out in an aggressive manner.
For example, your child may lash out if he feels cornered by another child, or may even hit a sibling when he is unable to accomplish a task. Sometimes, your child may just be tired or hungry, and not knowing how to deal with this, may respond by hitting or punching.
Your role is to help him realise, sooner rather than later, that there are better ways to solve a problem instead of hitting or punching another child or person.
Dealing with aggression
Here are some helpful tips when dealing with your children’s aggressive behaviours.
1. Immediate action required
If you see your child becoming aggressive, respond immediately. Let your child know that his aggressive behaviour is not acceptable.
However, wait until your child has calmed down before you discuss the event that has transpired – preferably around 30 minutes to an hour later.
2. Be predictable and consistent in your reactions.
Always react or respond to your child’s aggressive behaviour the same way each time. The more predictable and consistent you are, the sooner your child will come to recognise your reaction and what to expect (e.g. a timeout or no more play time for the day).
3. All actions have consequences.
If your child damages another child’s toy or property, explain to him why this is wrong and how he can help make it right again. Try not to hit or yell at him as this will only teach him that verbal or physical aggression is the way to solve problems when he is angry.
4. Give rewards for good behaviour.
Praise is a powerful motivational tool; instead of only paying attention to your child when he misbehaves, make sure you take note when he has been good or does something nice, and praise him for his good behaviour.
5. Monitor TV shows.
Many programmes on TV nowadays are excessively violent or have aggressive scenes that show a lot of negative behaviours.
Always make it a point to monitor the programmes that your child views, or watch them with him while explaining why certain behaviours are wrong or unacceptable.
6. Impose discipline, not punishment.
Disciplining your child should involve the use of logical and natural consequences. The use of positive and negative consequences (the desired and undesired outcome of an act or decision) is a great way to teach your child about decision-making and allows him to learn from his mistakes, and to ultimately take responsibility for them.
Punishment, on the other hand, may yield negative results as it usually does not address your child’s misbehaviour and can result in him directing his anger on his parents, instead of reflecting on his misbehaviour.
When to draw the line
Some aggressive behaviour in children is acceptable (according to their age and stage of development). However, where do you draw the line between acceptable aggression and a real problem that needs professional attention?
Certain toddlers or pre-schoolers have more trouble with aggression than others. If you feel that child’s aggressive behaviour is frequent and severe, interferes with school or other organised activities, and results in physical attacks on other children or adults, consult a medical or mental health professional immediately. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help.
As your little ones grow older, they will likely outgrow their aggressive behaviour when they discover how to use words instead of their fists and feet to solve their problems.
The key is to help them realise that instead of pulling another child’s hair out or hitting their siblings, there are other ways to solve their problems and get better results.
Assoc Prof Dr M. Swamenathan is a consultant psychiatrist. This article is a courtesy of Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please visit www.mypositiveparenting.org. The Positive Parenting E-magazine is also available at http://fatherhood.about.com/od/discipliningfordads/a/childaggression.htm. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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