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Understanding Your Aggressive Child

Research done at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has found ten things that will help you understand your child's aggression. HDFS 301.

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1. What is Aggression?

Aggression, as defined by Crick and Grotpeter (1995), includes any actions committed with the intention of harming or hurting any other individual. Aggressive behavior is broken down into two further forms: relational and physical.

2. Relational vs. Physical

Relational aggression occurs when children act aggressively, with the intention of damaging the relationships of others. This includes ignoring and outcasting others. Physical aggression is the type that often first comes to mind, which includes threatening and committing acts of violence such as hitting and kicking. (Ostrove et al, 2009)

3. Jack or Jill

When comparing your child to their peers, the type of aggression the child shows is more likely to be similar with other children of their gender. Studies show that boys are more likely to demonstrate physical aggression, whereas girls are found to use relation aggression more often. (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995)

4. Don't Take All The Blame

A study done by Reebye (2005), notes that after significant research, no single explanation of childhood aggression can be deduced. Instead, multiple pathways and influences play a role in an aggressive child’s behavior. This means that your child's aggressive behavior is not simply based off your parenting choices.

5. Temperament defines temperament to be "the combination of mental, physical, and emotional traits of a person; natural predisposition." Better explained, it is who your child naturally is. This plays a role in how they act on a regular basis and react to situations. A child's temperament is one of the multiple aspects that make up childhood aggression. (Reebye, 2005)

6. Culture

The culture a child is raised in also plays a role in both aggressive behavior, and how it is often dealt with. This means parenting styles differ across cultures, so not all parenting guides may apply to your specific practices. Methods of dealing with aggressive behavior in children may be acceptable in some cultures, and unacceptable in others. Learning to balance your own customs with those of the general population is key in order to the child's understanding of linking their actions to the consequences. (Tzoumakis, Lussier, & Corrado, 2014)

7. They Might Be Playing!

Often times, parents fall into rhythms of assuming their child's actions are the same as previous incidents. This means that children who may be "rough-house" playing are reprimanded by parents who believed the child was being aggressive. Parents that are too quick to assume negatively can cause children to struggle with understanding what is inappropriate behavior. (Reebye, 2005)

8. Aggression Can Be Beneficial

Another reason you should not be so quick to punish your child for aggressive behavior is because it may have positive developmental benefits, in the long run. Studies have linked some aggressive behavior to positive emotional self-regulation and emotional stability. It also acts as a directed release of negative emotions such as uncomforted and anger. (Ostrove et al., 2009)

9. Proactive Vs. Reactive

Aggressive behavior can be further categorized into proactive or reactive aggression. Proactive aggression involves the child acting aggressively with the intention of obtaining some resource or goal. Proactive aggression is the type that can be beneficial to development. Reactive aggression occurs in response to a situation, and has been linked to negative social consequences with peers. This means if an upset child's first reaction is aggression, they are less likely to be accepted by peers. (Ostrove et al. 2009)

10. Don't Give Up!

While dealing with your child's aggression may be stressful and difficult, improving your understanding of it can be very beneficial. Since childhood aggression's cause is linked to a wide variety of things, (i.e. temperament, culture, parental psychology, neighborhood violence, etc.) you can remove the burden of blame and address your child's needs. Your responses to his/her aggressive behavior are influential to the child's development. Now that you know the different categories of aggression, you can better respond to the aggressive displays of your child. (Reebye, 2005)

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