Managing Strong Feelings
Aggressive feelings and behaviors are a normal aspect of development in early childhood, with peaks at 18 months, 21/2 years, and 4 years.
Assertiveness is an important skill that must be distinguished from aggression, which may hurt others. Parents need to provide feedback to children so that they can learn this distinction, but need to do so without shaming or punishing children, which can inhibit assertiveness. Children who are impulsive often have greater difficulty managing their aggressive feelings.
Questions to Ask
- Does your child have a will of her own? How does she show that?
- When your child is troublesome, what do you do?
- How do you discipline your child? How do you reward her?
- How were strong emotions handled when you were a child? How did that make you feel?
- Does your child watch TV and videos? If so, what does she watch?
- Some parents may need extra assistance in understanding aggression, especially if they have other children who exhibit little aggressive behavior.
- Recognize that parents who feel that expressing strong emotions is unacceptable or disrespectful may need assistance in determining an acceptable outlet for their child.
- Ask parents to describe situations that make them angry, how often they get angry, and what they do when they get angry.
- Consider referring parents who have difficulty modulating their anger to parent groups (Parents Anonymous, Children with Hyperactivity and Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD), Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon), social service agencies, or a mental health professional.
- Using the guidance listed below, help parents to find ways to curb their child’s aggressive behaviors.
Guidance for Parents
- It is normal for your child to sometimes have aggressive feelings, but it is not okay for her to take those feelings out on others in a way that may cause harm. Teach her how to control her hostile impulses:
- Never allow hitting, biting, or other aggressive behavior
- Respond to excessive aggression promptly
- Calmly show your disapproval
- Tell your child – “No hitting. Hitting hurts and it is not okay.”
- Take away objects your child uses aggressively
- Remove your child from the situation
- Put her in a “time out” so she can calm down
- Encourage her to express her feelings and talk about negative emotions rather than acting on them
- Make sure your child has acceptable ways to release her harmless aggressive energy. The following are a few safe suggestions:
- Pounding and shaping modeling clay or Play-Doh
- Throwing balls
- Crashing toy cars
- Physical activities such as wrestling, running, swimming, or jumping
- If your child has too much or too little aggressive energy, you might want to enroll her in a preschool karate class or some other physical activity program. These programs can help teach her self-control, help her understand appropriate use of aggression, and help her build self-esteem. If she is shy, she may need a smaller class and a teacher with a nurturing style.
- Teach your child how to negotiate with others to get what she wants. Encourage her to:
- Ask for what she wants instead of grabbing it
- Trade with others and take turns
- Make a game out of a situation—flip a coin to determine who gets to play with a toy, race to the swing to determine who gets to use it first
- Model good behavior for your child. Control your own anger. Stay calm and express your feelings with words. Leave the room until you can gain control of your feelings. Never use hitting or yelling as a means of disciplining your child.
- Your child may be exposed to aggressive behaviors and violence on TV or videotapes. Limit the amount of time she spends in front of the TV. Watch with her and monitor programs for violence.