Dealing With Your Child’s Aggressive And Violent Behaviour

A child’s aggressive and violent behaviour can be so unsettling and sometimes frightening it can make adults feel a need to take control in an overly assertive and sometimes physical way that shows the child who is in charge.

Understandably, parents want answers but most of all they will want the behaviour to stop and for life to return to where it was before.

Society can be quick to judge a child’s behaviour putting pressure on parents to feel that they must respond in a certain way – sadly this often involves putting a child in their place and meeting aggressive behaviour with a stronger adult aggression.

Adults can feel so enraged when they see challenging behaviour primitive fight or flight responses surface hence the heckling from the side lines about what ‘they’ might do if the child was theirs.

A parent’s worry can lead to authoritarian parenting where there are high expectations of a child’s behaviour without much support as to how to get things right – in essence the child can feel very much on their own. Mistakes are harshly punished as a way of letting the child know they have done something wrong without a helping hand to acknowledge they need support to get things right. This style of parenting will often ignite the fear in a child’s mind that they really are on their own with their difficult behaviour. And a parent’s inflexible response will lead to a race against the parent to win the battle.

When a parent feels under pressure to ‘get things right’ the judgements of others can become overly persecutory. Feelings of shame and humiliation that their child is behaving in this way can make a parent lose sight of how to help their child. Panic about the child’s future can become an ever-present worry with constant reminders from friends and family about how terrible the child is.

So how can a parent support a child who is exhibiting challenging behaviour?

  • Remember all behaviour is a communication and your job as a parent is to try and work out what your child is trying to tell you.
  • Look out for anything that triggers the challenging behaviour and also what (if anything) helps it to subside.
  • In the same way that parents try to understand their child as a young baby this sort of sensitive, intuitive thinking is needed.
  • When a very young baby is crying a parent will often try to understand the baby’s distress by saying in a soothing voice, ‘What is it, I have changed your nappy, you have had a feed, what’s the matter are you just feeling upset and need a cuddle’? These words as a parent rocks the baby and looks at him or her with a real wish to understand how they can help, calms the baby’s mind and helps the baby know someone is trying to understand their upset.
  • Fast forward some years - whilst it is not easy to physically hold an aggressively challenging older child, a parent can try to ‘hold’ their child in a similar way by showing them they are trying to understand their distress.
  • This can be difficult but essential to support a child that is displaying violent behaviour – the idea that you are trying to understand is so important and helpful to a distressed child.
  • Keep your temper in check and watch your tone as children look out for any signs that you are not in control – remember you are modelling how to stay calm.
  • Talk gently to your child about what you see, this helps to show them that you can see what they are feeling from the way they are behaving….
  • “You are getting a bit cross so let’s have a break and come back to…”
  • “I know when you have to do this you don’t always feel great”
  • Offering help can soothe a child’s mind and let them know that you are available to help them, even if they do not appear to take your help up at the time.
  • None of this works straight away but alongside keeping fair but firm boundaries and routines (i.e. school and bedtimes) it will help. It takes all of a parent’s resolve to respond in this ‘planned’ way particularly when parents are feeling desperate and without hope.
  • If parents feel that they need additional support then they should speak with their GP and see if a referral to CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health service) might be helpful or see if any charitable organisations may offer support.

Violent Child Desperate Parents will continue on Channel 5 Wednesday 7 March at 9pm