As the Center Director I am always being asked by parents why is my child acting out? I often explain to parents that children resort to aggressive behaviors because of a lack of wisdom, self-control or words to express how they are feeling. It is not a sign that a child is hateful or mean. Kids are human beings and human beings will get angry, we can’t prevent that. What we can do is teach our children how to handle their frustration and anger in appropriate ways. If your child uses physical acts to express her feelings, use some of the following tips to change their behavior.
Stop behavior before it happens: Watch your child during playtime. When you see them becoming frustrated or angry step in, coach them through the issue. Teach them what to do, and what to say to their friend. Or if your child seems too upset to learn, redirect their attention to another activity until their emotions level out.
Use the situation as a teachable moment: It’s one thing to tell a child what not to do or to step into an argument and solve it yourself. It’s another thing to teach a child what to do in advance of the next problem. This can be done through role-play, discussion, and reading a few children’s books about emotions.
Examine hidden causes: Is your child hungry, tired, sick, frustrated, bored or scared? If you can identify any feelings causing your child’s actions you can talk about those along with the aggressive behavior.
Give more attention to the injured party: Often the child who hits gets so much attention that the action becomes a way of gaining the attention. Instead, give more attention to the child who was hurt. After a brief statement, “We hurt our friend when we hit!” turn and give attention to the child who was wronged or hurt, “Come here friend, let me help make it better.”
Teach positive physical touches: Show your child how to hold hands during a walk or how to give a back rub or foot massage. Teach a few physical games, like tag or Duck Duck Goose. Under direct supervision, children who are more physical can gain a positive outlet for their energy.
Give your child a break: When a child acts out aggressively, consider having your child take a break from the activity they were engaged in. Tell the child that he or she may return to the activity when they can play without hurting their friend.
Avoid play hitting and wrestling: Young children who roughhouse with a parent or sibling during play time might then use these same actions with their friends. It can be hard for them to draw the line between the two. If you have a child who has trouble controlling his physical acts then avoid this kind of play.
Don’t lose control: When you see your child hurting another child it’s easy to get angry. This won’t teach your child what they need to learn: how to control their emotions when others are making them mad. You are mad at them, so they’ll be watching how you handle your anger. Remember you are your child’s first teacher.
Don’t let your child watch violent TV: Children can become immune to the impact of violence, and they may copy what they see on television. Avoid viewing shows that portray aggression as an appropriate way of handling anger.
Don’t assume your child can figure it out: If your child comes to you about a difficult situation, don’t send them away for tattling. But don’t step in and handle it for them, either. View their call for help as an invitation to teach them important social skills.
Don’t focus on punishment: More than anything your child needs instructions on how to treat other human beings, particularly during moments of anger or frustration.
Children are always learning, they look to adults to teach them how to respond to situations, how to act when they are both happy and sad. Remember the old saying rings true “Someone is always watching.” Especially when you have children looking to you for instruction.
The No-Cry Discipline Solution (McGraw-Hill 2007)