“I hate you! You’re the worst mommy ever! STUPID!” The words are flowing out of her mouth so quickly and powerfully that I almost let them hurt me. Then I remember that they’re coming from a four-year-old, frustrated that she can’t have a piece of candy before bed and unable to handle that frustration in any other way than with verbal aggression. Sometimes her words don’t feel like enough, and she starts throwing things or will tear a piece of her artwork off the wall. She can’t find the way to tell me how frustrated she is, and so she shows me instead. If this scenario sounds familiar, there are ways for you to help manage your child’s frustration and minimize aggressive behavior.
What is aggression?
Merriam-Webster uses the words “forceful,” “attacks,” “hostile,” and “injurious” to describe aggression. However, in one of the definitions, they go on to note that aggression is often caused by frustration. If you are the parent of a toddler, preschooler, or young child, you may find that it’s this frustration that prompts aggressive behavior. For these children, aggression isn’t an action-it’s a reaction.
What causes frustration and aggression in my child?
All children are different. My four-year-old, for instance, is often set off by issues of time management. She’s frustrated that we have to be out the door to drop her older sister off at school before she has finished her cereal, even though she had what I thought was an adequate amount of time to eat. She’s frustrated that she can’t play for just five more minutes outside before dinner. Your child’s triggers will be unique, but identifying them will make it easier for you to handle them and to curb aggressive behavior.
Should I minimize my child’s exposure to frustration?
Of course, not only will it be impossible to prevent your child from becoming frustrated all of the time, but you may not want to. Learning to manage frustration and anger is an essential part of life. The Bullies to Buddies Program even notes that aggression is normal and that learning to deal with those feelings can help your child to mature emotionally. The same is true of frustration. You don’t always have to think about elimination, but as parents, we can anticipate frustration and aggression and be better prepared to deal with it.
How should I react to my child’s frustration?
If you’re able to identify areas which specifically frustrate your child, you can work to minimize their frustration. My daughter, for instance, needs verbal and sometimes visual cues that time is running out. Sometimes that means that I’ll need to stop whatever I’m doing to make sure she is on task, even if I think she should be able to do something independently. If I do see that she is getting frustrated, the best thing I can do is to handle it calmly and coolly. If your child’s frustration frustrates you, an episode will quickly turn into something aggressive. Stay calm. Talk with your child.
What if my child does become aggressive?
If your child becomes aggressive, for any reason, try to stay calm. Take a deep breath and be patient with the tantrum-know that it will pass. If your child is being verbally aggressive, you may be able to ignore it. If they are being destructive or violent, you’ll need to intervene. Dr. Sears notes that with young children you may want to try a holding restraint, where you gently hold your child and tell them that you are helping them get control of their body. I’ve tried this technique with my four year old with much success-once she loses control, she needs a loving touch to help her get back on track. If your child doesn’t respond well to this, or is older and you aren’t able to use this technique, many individuals, including Dr. Sears, suggest removing your child from the situation completely (without giving in).
Most importantly, recognize that how you handle your child’s frustration and aggression teaches them more than you may realize. Stay calm, be patient and be proactive.
Dr. Sears; Discipline and Behavior; Temper Tantrums; http://www.askdrsears.com/html/6/t063300.asp#T063303
Merriam-Webster; aggression; http://mw1.meriam-webster.com/dictionary/aggression
Bullies to Buddies; Our mistaken attitudes towards children’s aggression;http://www.bullies2buddies.com/OUR-MISTAKEN-ATTITUDES-TOWARDS-CHILDRENS-AGGRESSION
Read more by this author:
Curb Aggressive Behavior in Your Preschooler
4 Tips for Handling Frustration in Toddlers
Tips for Helping Your Toddler Become Confident and Independent