I’m starting to get a little worried about my son’s outbursts. He has always had a bit of a temper and has struggled with getting along with his sister. But now, as he starts to be involved with other kids I worry that his outbursts are going to cause him difficulty. At home he will yell, hit and throw things when he gets upset and I worry that if he starts to respond that way to other kids when he is at school we will have bigger problem on our hands.
It is often a surprise for many to hear that the incidents of aggression and the frequency of its display peaks around the age of two. In general we are most aggressive as toddlers and both the displays and frequency of aggressive behaviours decreases with age.
In children, aggression is often a response to frustration, yet-to-develop self-regulation skills, and unsophisticated coping strategies. It is often defensive and used to protect against a real or perceived threat. Not wanting to share a toy, feeling unfairly treated by another child or sibling, worried that one may not get what one wants, trying to control the situation or interaction are all examples of such situations.
Overt physical aggression is only one form of aggression. Equally important is relational aggression. Relational aggression is directed at harming others through the manipulation of social standing or relationships. Like physical aggression, the threats of that behaviour are also seen as aggression. Research is showing that both boys and girls use relational aggression although it is more commonly seen in girls just as physical aggression is more commonly seen in boys. Research is also showing that such relational aggression is equally as damaging and problematic as physical acts of aggression are.
We need to be concerned with all physical and relational acts of aggression. Children need parents to help them understand the impacts of their behaviour on others and they need their parents to set limits and boundaries around what is acceptable. Aggression becomes more problematic when, as children age, its frequency does not diminish, it does not respond to adult direction and it appears across multiple contexts (home, school and the community).
Continue letting him know that what he is doing is not okay and when he is calm help him find other ways to cope. Some common strategies are taking some space, letting others know how he is feeling in an appropriate voice, asking the other person to stop or do something different, ignoring the other person’s behaviour (if possible), and getting some help from adults. Helping your son use such strategies with reminders and direction when he is getting upset will be important and he will need some practice to get it right.
In your situation it appears that your son’s behaviour is limited to home. If that is not the case and it seems to be occurring more frequently, in many different contexts (home, school, the community) or it does not seem to be responding to your direction then he may need some additional help.
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