Why is my (otherwise sweet) child suddenly so aggressive?
Updated: Oct 11, 2020
We all understand how a single thought can change our mood and behaviour in an instant. We've all experienced being hungry, hot, tired or frustrated and felt the internal rage that can build, even though we often don't recognise or articulate the triggers until after we've eaten, cooled down, had a rest or expressed ourselves. So when the same thing happens to our toddlers, we initially think maybe he's just hungry, hot, tired or frustrated. But if he just ate, is in a comfortable environment, woke only a few hours ago and was happily playing just before he pushed his baby sister and sent her toppling to the ground, (seemingly just because he could), then how should we best respond?
In children, unexpected acts of aggression are usually genuine expressions of rage, frustration, jealousy or fear, but sometimes they are simply children exploring their own power in the hierarchy of the family or peer group structure. Your job as a parent is to help your child manage his emotional world and his understanding of his own power, in a safe way so that he or she will be able to live well amongst people, make friends at school, and have a healthy, creative and productive social life, and so that you can go to the toilet without putting a restraining order on your four year old.
Social cues are the feedback loop of behavioural response - they are how we learn to behave. We learn what is and what is not acceptable by the raised voice of a parent, the gentle smile of a grand-parent, the glance of a teacher and body language of a peer and we adjust accordingly. But some little ones are slower than others to pick up social cues, and they need guidance. Some children are naturally more feisty and defiant than others and will test the boundaries every-time just to be sure. Some children are afraid of the power of their own rage, or jealousy and some are simply curious. So what can you do as a parent to help your child understand and manage his emotional and social world?
Teach Cause and Effect - Action and Consequence
Every thing we do has an effect on our environment and the sooner we teach our kids this reality the better. If you leave your scooter outside in the rain, it will get wet. If you tidy your room before you go to sleep, you will wake up to a tidy room. If you are generous with your toys, your friends will come play. If you are obnoxious, no one will like you. If you push your toy over the wall, it will fall and smash to pieces. It's a simple law of nature. As a parent, our instinct is to smooth over the edges of an imperfect world and make everything perfect for our children by tidying their mess and excusing their bad behaviour, but we are doing them a disservice. This is not how the world works.
How can you teach Action and Consequence ?
Make a game with your child. Let them come up with all possible responses to an 'IF YOU' question. You can also encourage your child to think of things that already happened 'BECAUSE YOU' and you can give examples in your day to day life as they come up. For Example, BECAUSE I put the water in the fridge, we have cold water to drink. BECAUSE YOU put your toy in your bag, you knew where it was when you wanted it. BECAUSE YOU played with Sam so nicely today, he want's to come over tomorrow, etc. This will reinforce the idea of action and consequence and help him to become mindful. Once your child understand the cause and effect relationship you can explain how it works with baby sisters. IF YOU hit your baby sister, you won't be allowed to play near her. You will have to leave the room and go somewhere else. The same is true for big sisters, mothers and friends. The message being; if you are aggressive, you will be excluded. So the next time it happens, you will only need to raise a brow, and he will understand that he is in control of his actions and therefore the consequences of them.
Kids generally love them. Our embryonic state is safe and well contained and from early infancy, we like to know where the edge is. That's generally why babies like to be swaddled. Toddlers also like to feel that the boundary is clearly defined, so they can walk right up to that edge, and peer over, where life is a little more challenging and then when they are ready, they may go out and explore. Some toddlers will look, retreat and return in a week, some will step gently progressing slowly and some will jump right over without a second thought. Knowing the boundary is firmly set in place, gives them the freedom to approach their changing world from a secure foundation. The same is true of behavioural boundaries. Children like to know where the acceptable edge is too.
Set Clear Behavioural Boundaries
Decide what is and what isn't acceptable. Let your child know, and then set consequences. If you do that, this will happen. Make sure the consequence is a DIRECT result of the behaviour and that the child understands this. For example, if you hit your sister I'll take you hamster away, makes no sense to a child, or an adult for that matter. But if you don't feed your hamster, he will die, well that makes sense. Remember, having someone listen to you is a privilege not a right. If your child talks to you in an unacceptable way (including screaming at you) you can tell them you won't listen. Obviously for young children the consequence of not being heard by their parent must be implemented for only a short time but there's nothing wrong with saying, "When you are ready to speak nicely, I'm ready to listen." Or, "What you are saying is important, speak to me in your normal voice so I can understand you."
Timing is Everything
Remind your child that he is responsible for the consequences of his actions, but don't do it while he screams blue murder as you carry him off to his room. Let him cool down. When the fire is out, you can explain, again, and let him explain his position too. Perhaps you missed something. Perhaps he will tell you he is sorry and that he didn't know she would fall, or that she was dribbling all over his favourite toy. Try not to ask why because as amusing as his reason may may be, it will probably be a lie. He doesn't really know why.
Consistency is Key
You've heard it before, but here's the thing. If you re-enforce a behaviour pattern ninety-nine times, but on that hundredth time, you don't, you will literally have to go back to square one and the next time, you will have to repeat your consequential response one hundred and fifty times. The only lesson your child will have learned is that he can wear you down. So you have to let him know, in no uncertain terms that, EVERYTIME you push your baby sister over, I WILL pick you up and put you in your room so she can play safely. Say it firmly, without anger, mean it and do it.
It's exhausting. I know, but these are the blessings of parenthood.
Expect Good Behaviour
Tell your child that you believe in the best of them and you expect good behaviour. If a child grows up with clear behavioural boundaries coupled with an understanding of his or her own ability to respond within those boundaries, they will be equipped with a very important developmental tool. Responsibility is the ability to respond as opposed to react.
How Homeopathy can Help
All organisms manage stress in different ways. Homeopathy aims to find the 'exciting cause' of the imbalance and match the symptoms with a substance which most closely stimulates the expression of those same symptoms. There are specific homeopathic remedies which can help your child manage his overwhelming emotional world. Hyperactivity, overstimulation of the nervous system, fear of the dark, night terrors, lashing out in violence, sneaky behaviour, sibling rivalry to name a few. Homeopathy will not change your child's personality but during times of stress it may help bring him into a more balanced general state.
Stramonium will help the child who is afraid of the dark, whether that be the real dark when the child needs to sleep with a night light on, or the darkness of his own anger and rage. These children can be really good kids most of the time and then suddenly lash out and scratch, bite, kick and scream. Night terrors are often part of this picture. These children can be quite violent in their rage.
Children who literally climb the walls, who are hyper-restless and a little sneaky may do well from Tarantula. These children move and metabolise quickly, they always seem to be in a hurry, and you can become exhausted just watching them. They are impatient, restless and can also be violent. The may be soothed by loud music, and grounded by the base of the drums.
Children who are well contained, solid, and happy for the most part but become very stubborn when pushed to do something they don't want to do, can often benefit from Calc-carb. These children are sometimes a little slow to get going but once they are comfortable they take responsibility and function well in the group or family environment. Though usually not violent, their stubbornness can be out of character and they will have an unexpected meltdown if their needs are not met with patience.
Camomilla is a well known remedy for teething children, but it also has an aspect of the child being dissatisfied. Camomilla children are both sensitive and precocious. They can be demanding and irritable and don't want to be touched, especially during teething periods. Remember this remedy when the two year old molars push through. They can be aggressive and act violently especially if they are in pain.
Hyperactive and destructive children may need a dose of Tuberculinum. These children can have terrible temper tantrums and smash things. They can deliberately destroy things they know to be of value to their parents or loved ones. Behavioural problems and oppositional behaviour characterise these children. They may be anxious and sleepless at night with horrible thoughts going through their minds.
Homeopathy is a safe and effective way to bring your aggressive child into balance without resorting to chemical drugs. Always consult a Classical Homeopath before using Homeopathic remedies, as the above brief psychological profile alone is not enough to prescribe on.
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