Tips for Dealing With an Aggressive Child

When choosing the topic for this week's show.

Cherylyn Feierabend
5-minute read
Episode #19

Tips for Dealing With an Aggressive Child

Today’s Topic:  Aggression.

Tips for Dealing with Aggressive Children

When choosing the topic for this week, I thought I would address an issue that I am currently dealing with myself. Aggressive behavior can come in many different forms. I am experiencing two distinct forms of aggression in my children. My one-year-old boy is playfully hitting Mommy and Daddy in the face. My three-year-old daughter has recently begun pushing her brother down and sitting on him. Since these are clearly two different ways of acting out, there will need to be two different solutions.

What to Do if Your Toddler is Aggressive Toward You

When a toddler is hitting, pinching or biting his parent in what appears to be a playful manner, the parent might be tempted to play along. This is a bad idea. If the toddler thinks these actions amuse the parent, he will feel encouraged to continue the behavior. It’s best to stop the behavior as quickly as possible. I recommend removing the toddler’s access to the parent. When my son hits me, I calmly place him a short distance away from me and say, “No hitting.” He doesn’t like that I’m not playing with him anymore and associates his hitting to a loss of contact with Mommy. If he tries to climb back in my lap or asks me to pick him up, I do not do it immediately. I’ll give him his space for about one minute before I will give him access to Mommy again. This method worked wonderfully for me when my daughter was a toddler. She thought biting Mommy was funny. Mommy disagreed. It did take some time to break her of her biting habit, but by remaining calm and giving her distance, I allowed her to figure out that in order to be near Mommy, she would have to stop biting her.

What to Do if a Toddler is Aggressive Toward Children

If the toddler is taking these aggressive actions toward other children, it is important for the parent to step in immediately. I recommend tending to the victim of the behavior first. If the victim is not your child, give the details to the child’s caregiver as soon as possible. You should also explain to your toddler that hurting his friends is not acceptable. Once everyone is calm, your child will need to apologize to his friend.

When an older child is expressing aggressive behavior, the reasons will differ from those of a toddler. It may not be clear why your child is suddenly or increasingly aggressive with his friends, siblings, or parents. It is important to talk with your child and help him to verbalize his feelings.

Actively listening to your child and acknowledging his words and feelings will encourage him to communicate verbally instead of physically.

Actively listening to your child and acknowledging his words and feelings will encourage him to communicate verbally instead of physically. Let your child know that it is easier to communicate by talking. Explain to him that when he hurts someone, that person will be less likely to cooperate in the future and most certainly won’t want to be his friend. Gently ask him how it makes him feel when someone hurts him. This will help him learn that other people have feelings too. Some children have a difficult time grasping this concept.

How to Prevent Your Child's Aggressive Behavior

One saying I’ve heard quite often is, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I believe this to be true when it comes to aggressive children. Giving your child an outlet to release his boundless energy can prevent most aggression. It’s very important for children to run, dance, jump, and play. The more time they spend releasing their energy productively, the less time they will have for mischief. This doesn’t mean a child won’t still test his boundaries when given the opportunity, but if he’s having a good time already, he’s more likely to continue with his current activity. When a child is aggressive due to boredom, a parent needs to realize this and take action. Scheduling at least one active playtime each day is great for both the mental and physical health of a child. If your child is currently displaying aggressive behavior, I recommend that you avoid roughhouse play. Roughhousing can be fun when done safely, but when a child is aggressive, it can encourage more aggressive behaviors. Try to find other fun activities that promote movement and play without encouraging negative physical contact. If your child has a friend who is exhibiting aggressive behavior, it’s best to either limit your child’s contact with this friend or discontinue these play dates altogether. 

How to Teach Your Child to be Gentle

If it seems as though your child likes his friends, but he’s trying to hug them too hard, or he’s pushing or holding his friends down, it might be that he wants more physical attention, but doesn’t know how to be gentle. Most children love to get hugs and kisses from Mommy and Daddy. If you find yourself sending your child away when he’s trying to snuggle with you or you feel as though he’s “hanging” on you all the time, he might be feeling insecure. Make extra time for snuggles and hugs. Occasionally rub his back and give him physical as well as verbal reassurances of your presence. Your child might want some attention when it isn’t convenient for you. If possible, try to give him a few minutes of one-on-one attention when he requests it. He’ll appreciate it, and will be more likely to give you the space you need once he’s had some time with you.

How to Discipline Your Aggressive Child

When it comes to discipline, many parents can fall into the habit of yelling or possibly spanking a child to get his attention or force him into good behavior. A parent should always try to model non-aggressive behavior, especially when dealing with an aggressive child. If you raise your voice to your child or your spouse, your child might think this is the appropriate way to go about getting what he wants. By using non-aggressive forms of discipline, you can help teach your child that there are more positive ways of dealing with issues.

One Final Tip

My final tip for dealing with aggressive children really does apply to all children. Praise good behavior. It’s very important that we, as parents, recognize and acknowledge good behavior in our kids. This doesn’t mean we have to throw a party for our child every time he is nice to his friends. A simple acknowledgement such as, “I enjoyed how you played so nicely with your friends today,” will encourage similar behavior in the future.


That’s it for now. Hope you enjoyed listening.

The Mighty Mommy’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Practical Parenting is part of the Quick and Dirty Tips network at QuickAndDirtyTips.com.   This week Grammar Girl is talking about bring versus take so be sure to check out her podcast!

This is your friend, the Mighty Mommy wishing you happy and fun parenting!

Fighting Children image from Shutterstock

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.