Aggression is a habit. How to wean a child from fighting and screaming

May 06, 2019

“Our children also have a problem with aggressiveness. My husband and I have boys born a year apart, and they constantly argue with each other and fight. It is one thing if it only happened at home, but they also fight with other children at school. If they don’t like something, their first response is to get into a fight. We’ve been called to the director twice. The first time because they fought with each other, the second — because they tore apart a textbook of a classmate. They found company for themselves in another aggressive kid in the parallel class, and I have no idea what to do with them. We have already punished them in every way, kept them in a corner and deprived them of the TV. It only gets worse, like they are doing it to spite us. They have already started to  talk back to us and they are only 12.”

— Margarita, 41 years old

Parents familiar with the peculiarities of child psychology will immediately understand that punishments, especially physical ones, can fix the situation only temporarily. Children may behave well with parents and teachers watching because of fear of punishment, but when no one sees, they could beat younger brothers and sisters or classmates. In the long run, as soon as the fear disappears and it is possible to resist punishment, aggressive behavior will resume – for example, in adolescence.

So what methods can give a lasting result? Is it possible to get rid of aggressiveness once and for all? What provokes aggression in children of different ages? We’ll talk about these questions in today’s article.


Aggression in children and adolescents has a biological origin. Anger was created to protect and save us. In the event of a bear attack, a man will get angry and fight with triple energy. If a pupil cannot solve a problem, he becomes angry and makes additional efforts. Such aggression in a child is instrumental and it is useful, it is not necessary to get rid of it. Therefore, we will consider only the aggression that causes moral and physical harm both to the person expressing it and the people around.

How do children show aggression?

  1. Physical aggression.This includes fights, pushes, kicks, that is any use of physical force in relation to another person, animals or things.
  2. Verbal aggression, or aggression that manifests itself verbally (swearing, name-calling, threatening) or through another form (screeching, screaming).
  3. Indirect aggression, by which children try to cause harm indirectly. Such aggression is leveled against someone (rumors, evil jokes) or manifests itself “into space” (screams in the crowd, foot-stomping).
  4. Negativism, or sharp rejection and denial of the opinion of others. Often this aggressive behavior occurs in adolescents. A child may be either passive (ignoring the requests of parents or teachers) or active (clear struggle against situations that do not suit him/her).
  5. Auto-aggression, or aggression directed at oneself. It occurs if for some reason the child cannot express negative emotions, for example, if he or she believes that his/her parents acted unfairly, but cannot say it, and therefore begins to feel guilty.

Why are children aggressive?

An example from a family

Children copy the behavior of parents, relatives or teachers. How adults act is more important than what they say. For example, you can attend as many ethics lessons as you like, but if a teacher uses threats, children are more likely to learn this way of communication.

Psychologist’s comment

(hereafter the stories are published with the consent of participants)

“A mother came with a junior schoolboy, complaining that the child was swearing, attacking everyone and fighting. I asked her: “What does his dad do if someone cuts in front of him on the road?” It turned out that dad swears, can deliberately cut somebody off and then will jump out of the car at the traffic lights to give the other driver a piece of his mind and details about what he would like to do to them. Yes, his Dad keeps sober, and works hard, but he doesn’t give a good example. Sometimes parents say: “We beat him again and again, but he fights anyway.” Of course the child fights; what else could he do if he does not know any other way to solve problems?

An example from the TV

Children copy not only the behavior of parents but also what they see on the TV. At the same time, parents often do not know what their children are watching, and cannot adjust their conflict behavior, because they simply do not understand the reasons.

Psychologist’s comment

“People, especially children, are very receptive to other people’s behavior. One of my friends could not understand for a very long time where her son got the habit of name-calling, since it was unaccepted in their family. Then she happened to see that he was watching YouTube bloggers who repeatedly humiliated and name-called each other. It turned out that the child simply did not understand that such words could greatly offend anyone, because he saw an example of people name-calling each other and not suffering any consequences.

“I’m strong – I’m in charge”

The desire to prove one’s adulthood through aggression is often found in children who believe that “might makes right.” Such a belief can be formed both in a tyrannical family, where parents use aggression to prove their power, and after watching aggressive movies. As a result, the child uses aggression as a way of dominating classmates or younger children in the family.

The propensity for emotional response

Some children, due to their temperament or because of crises, can react more acutely and nervously to what is happening. Such children are characterized by impulsiveness and a quick temper. For example, a teacher’s casual remark can cause a violent reaction in an emotional pupil, and indifference in a calm one.

A way to attract attention or protest

Children who lack love and care can bully or ruin things in order to be noticed. Conflict-protest behavior is also prevalent when aggression is the only way a child knows how to say no.

Psychologist’s comment

“I’d rather be seen that way than not at all.” Of course, children rarely consciously choose such a strategy to attract attention, but sometimes it happens. We worked with a teenage girl who had run away from home several times for 1-2 days. She once said that it is a way to ensure her parents notice her and remember that she exists. She runs away, they get worried; then she returns. They cry together and establish a good relationship for a month or two, and then they forget about her again. Of course, the child wants to be loved and uses this way to get love. It’s hard to blame her for that.

The feeling of insecurity, powerlessness, and fear

Often a child’s propensity to conflict is the other side of defenselessness. However, defenselessness breeds fear. In such cases, aggression is a way to protect oneself from the attacks of adults and other children, from an unjust world and from one’s own powerlessness.

A psychologist’s comment

“Such situations are rare, but such children are easily identified. They are constantly waiting for an attack and constantly ready to defend themselves, so it’s hard to make contact with them. Such behavior is the result of the influence of demanding and unpredictable adults. In one school there was a very unpredictable teacher , who could praise the homework on one day and give an F for it and scold the student in front of the whole class the next day. Of course, children had constant conflicts with him and with other teachers. When the parents eventually got him fired, the children became much calmer.

Stress and crises

Conflicts often accompany crisis periods in children’s lives. When adapting to primary or secondary school for the first time, children can have a hard time, they are in constant stress, feeling nervous and can behave aggressively. For children who are not used to rejection or do not know how to live through it, it is especially difficult for them to adapt. As a result, kids can start hitting other children because, for example, they do not want to socialize or share their things with others.

In some cases, the causes of aggression in adolescents are linked to hormonal changes and attempts to separate them from adults.

Illness, fatigue, lack of sleep and rest

Children, as well as adults, find it much more difficult to modulate their emotions when they do not get enough sleep or they are tired or sick. However, children often do not realize what makes them irritable.

In addition to minor ailments, increased aggressiveness can be caused by organic brain damage, so in some cases medical examinations and a doctor’s consultation are needed.

Children’s aggressiveness may have several reasons. For example, a child might fight because he/she considers such behavior normal (from watching movies). The child thinks that if he/she does not show strength other children will bully him/her (fear and feeling helpless), and perhaps wants to gain attention. So, how do you wean a child like that from fighting and screaming? It is difficult to identify a dominant group of factors, but it is possible to try to teach the child not to respond aggressively to life events.

A psychologist’s comment

“An aggressive child is a label, but let’s not pin labels.
 Aggression is the behavior by which a child says: “I feel bad, something is happening to me that I can’t handle, Mom, Dad, please hear me out and help me.” Aggression in a socially unacceptable form is almost always a symptom of the fact that the child’s inner world was shaken up. If your child is conflictive, argues and fights — look around. What’s going on in your life? Is everything okay? Is everything okay at school? Is your son or daughter happy there?

Diagnosing aggressive behavior in children: a test

Of course, not every instance of aggressive behavior represents a problem. For example, why does a child fight when he/she is attacked? The child is acting in self-defense. And what if it is a teenager trying to take a stand and argue? It is often a manifestation of personal development and growing up. How do you understand when aggressiveness goes beyond useful aggression? Take a short aggressiveness test for adolescents and primary and secondary school children.

Signs of aggressive behavior

Read the allegations and think about how they reflect on your child’s behavior. Choose answers “almost always or often” or “rarely or seldom” for each of the statements.

My child:

  1. Is sensitive, has trouble with the control of temper.
  2. Argues and fights with adults or children.
  3. Refuses to follow the rules.
  4. Almost deliberately provokes others by dragging them into a conflict.
  5. Shouts and calls people names when he/she is angry or dissatisfied with something.
  6. Fights, breaks and throws things.
  7. Bullies those who are weaker (younger children and animals, elderly people).
  8. Tries to take revenge if someone hurts him/her even by accident.
  9. Likes to be the first. Reacts violently if he/she loses.
  10. Does not know how to negotiate and peacefully resolve conflicts.

It is reasonable to assume problematic, aggressive behavior if for at least three months, your child has displayed at least 4 of these characteristics.

To form a better picture it is better to seek help from psychologists. For example, you can order the 7Spsy behavior modification course. The child will undergo a fully anonymous diagnostic test before starting the course.

Prevention of aggressive behavior in children and teenagers

Prevention is better than treatment, and this rule is relevant for aggressive behavior. Of course, aggression cannot just be turned off, just as it is impossible to turn off any other emotion, but you can teach the child useful and appropriate behavior in conflict situations.

  1. Be patient and teach your child to control aggression, primarily through personal example. Negotiate with your child and show how he/she can protect his/her interests without fits of anger and harming other people.
  2. Teach your child to express anger and aggression safely, for instance, using words. Note, that these methods shouldn’t be related to physical actions. It is better not to teach the child to beat a pillow or a soft toy. Such actions shape the habitual behavior of “I must beat something or someone when I am angry” and if there is no pillow at hand, the aggressor may turn on the people nearby.
  3. Teach your child to be aware of emotions and the causes of anger. Talk about what you feel. Express what is happening with the child aloud. “Yes, I understand that you are angry about your F grade, it is hurtful and unpleasant, especially since you studied for the test. But if you yell at your sister, your marks won’t get better. Let me help you study more about the subject.”
  4. Be able to admit your own mistakes and apologize to the child if you were wrong. All people, including very good ones, make mistakes. The mistake does not make you a bad person but allows you to give the child a good example of solving problems and disagreements.
  5. Shape the child’s empathy and compassion. Often children who behave aggressively do not think they’re hurting anyone. The ability to empathize with others will help to control the aggression.

How to reduce your child's aggression: games and exercises

Games and various exercises will help the child to get rid of accumulated negative emotions and reduce the level of aggressiveness. It is recommended to parents of an aggressive child to try playing following games.

  1. “Express your feelings”

This game aims to familiarize the player with his emotions better. 6+.

The presenter shall think of a feeling and try to express it only by gestures, words or using his eyes. The other participant must guess the feeling depicted.

. “Three feats of Andrei”

This game helps schoolchildren to use aggressive actions in a socially acceptable way. 6+.

The presenter (adult) tells the story of a boy Andrei, who fought with other children. One day Andrei offended an evil wizard who turned him into a dragon. To break the spell Andrei needs to perform three feats related to the kind of aggression he manifested. For example, to fight Kashchey and protect Baba Yaga from him. The child can portray each of the characters of his fairy tale.

  1. “Why a dinosaur is angry/what a dinosaur is afraid of”

This game helps the child to realize and talk through his anger or fears. 9+.

The adult relates his fears and anger and then invites the child to imagine him/herself as a dinosaur and tell what he/she is afraid of and why he/she is angry.

  1. “The Woodman”

This game helps the child relieve physical stress. 8+.

The adult invites the child to imagine that they are chopping wood, waving  hands as if holding an axe. With each “hit” you need to make some sound, and in the end, you need to calculate how many logs were cut by the woodcutter and how many billets you received. A child can plan the number of logs he/she wants to get in advance, such as, “I want to cut eight billets.”

Children of primary and middle school age are more likely to play with pleasure, and teenagers can opt-out of “children’s entertainment”, so you can offer them joint sports or board games like “Svintus” or “Crocodile”. Of course, adjusting the aggressive behavior of teenagers is a difficult process, and the use of games alone is not enough.

How can psychology help to reduce aggression in children and adolescents?

Unfortunately, sometimes all the parents’ efforts do not work. Perhaps because they do not fully understand the causes of conflict behavior or because aggression has become habitual behavior for the child. Perhaps the  games do not help, or they simply do not have enough time and skills. However, that’s normal — parents are not all-powerful.

In such cases, the patented method of behavioral psychology — the 7Spsy behavior modification technique may be used. Course classes will help to reduce your child’s aggressiveness, form the habit of calmly responding to conflict situations and teach expressing aggression in an environmentally friendly way. The child learns skills on his own, you only help to understand the materials and control the frequency of activity. Our experts will always be ready to support you and your child — by phone, during an online chat or via email. As a result, after 2-6 weeks you will notice your child becoming more calm and restrained and more willing to make contact and negotiate with his family and classmates.

No matter what way you choose to solve the problem, remember that your children are copying you. You have always been and will continue to be the best example for your children for a long time to come.

Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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