In part 1 of this article we talked about the strategies you can use when you find yourself in a situation in which your child presented an aggressive behavior. Some signs of this include hair pulling, biting, pushing, or hitting. In this article we’ll talk about what you can do to shape your child’s behavior and minimize these situations.
Every child is different and, like in every aspect of development, aggressive behavior presents differently in each child. The most important thing is that you provide your child with the tools he needs to understand and modify his behavior. This will not only foster his self-control, but it will also help him resort to more assertive ways when expressing his thoughts and feelings. This will also foster his self-awareness, emotional intelligence, thinking skills, and growing empathy; skills he’ll need throughout his life and in future relationships.
1. Start with yourself. Previously we talked about how your little one wants to be like you and how you are his role model. You can’t expect your child to control himself if he’s constantly exposed to yelling and frustration. Your calm presence, even when he’s mad, makes him feel safe and fosters his emotional regulation.
2. Notice the triggers. Is the behavior more common before or after nap time? Was your son hungry? Does it always occur with the same group of friends or one person in particular? Is it only happening in one setting like home, the childcare, or during playdates? Could it be something happening in the environment (e.g., too crowed)? Had there been any recent big changes in his life (moving, changing rooms, etc.)?
3. Be consistent. Not changing the rules require an extra effort from all of your son’s caregivers, so avoid the “good cop, bad cop” routine with your partner. Shaping your little one’s aggressive behavior requires patience, thought, empathy, and loving words and it’s not going to take on the first try. There’s no use in taking time to explain calmly and firmly that pushing is wrong, if your little one feels he can just do it when you are not around. In part 1 of this article we mentioned using short and firm messages with a gesture to communicate that what he did was wrong. Use the same combination of words and gestures every time. Your child is learning how the rules and limits work, so the best thing you can do is be consistent and not change them.
4. Avoid negotiation. This one might be hard. You want your little one to feel heard and see you as a good listener, but negotiating about limits and rules can be a slippery slope. Having firm limits helps him understand how the rules of living work, makes him feel secure, and brings structure and logic to his world.
5. Make time for reading. Books are a great way to help reinforce positive behaviors and learning about why hurting other’s is not nice. Check out this article to view some recommendations.
6. Plan ahead. If you know your little one is shy when meeting other people, it might be good to start flipping through a family album before taking him to the big family reunion. If you know your little one is super special about a truck and he’s going on a playdate, bring an extra one so that you can suggest he offers that one to his friend and avoid a fight.
7. Give notice. “Five more minutes of playtime and it’s shower time, which toy would you like to take to the bath today?”, “One more story and we’ll need to get ready to go, which one do you want to read?”, “Five more minutes before going to grandma’s, what game would you like to play on the way there? How about I spy?”. Letting him know that the activity he’s doing is coming to an end might make him feel more secure and in control, and it will probably avoid an outburst.
8. Give positive feedback. Praise your child for his appropriate behavior whenever he resorts to non-aggressive tactics. This will foster his self-esteem and emotional intelligence.
When to seek help?
If your child’s behavior seems to be unusually aggressive for more than a few weeks, you feel that you can’t cope with it on your own, or you are avoiding having him play with other children, it might be best to seek professional guidance.
Remember that your little one is learning to communicate and has still yet to discover what self-regulation looks like. With your example, kind words, and support you’ll teach him all about empathy and finding ways to express himself without resorting to aggression. Eventually he’ll be an expert in sharing, cooperating, and working well with others; essential skills he’ll need in his personal and professional future.
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