Aggression and Child

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

All people have aggressive feelings. As adults, we learn how to control these feelings. Children, however, are often physically aggressive – they hit, bite and scratch others. Many different situations and emotions can trigger children’s fighting. There may be underlying psychological motives, or there may not. Parents often struggle over how to manage their child's aggressive and/or destructive behavior.

Sibling rivalry is a normal part of life in families with more than one child. Brothers and sisters do fight, but parents don’t have to stay and listen to them! Kids should be allowed to work out their problems on their own, and parents should intervene only if the battles get physically or verbally abusive.

Families can establish rules for getting along with others, such as no name calling, hitting or teasing. Parents can set an example through their own behavior but should remember that it’s normal for siblings to fight. If children are fighting merely to get attention from parents, don’t give them the motivation. Don’t get too involved and let kids to sort out their issues. If two kids are fighting over the toy, and you want to resolve the issue, they would both want you on their side.

What to do when children fight?

  • Be proactive, not reactive. Teach children to handle conflicts before they arise. Parents can explain how they handle conflict and should praise kids when they cooperate with each other.
  • While you can have a rule against fighting in your home and yard, you can't control what goes on in the neighborhood or school. Some parents teach their children self-defense, which is fighting fair. But make sure that your child understands the difference between bullying or picking up the fight on any whim and fighting to protect himself from any harm.
  • Another option is to teach your child to say, "I don't believe in fighting," and to walk away from aggressors. Sometimes it's better to be smart than to be brave. Most disagreements can be settled with words, and most bullies can be ignored.
  • If your child is fighting, teach the child to express angry feelings by using words or drawing pictures. Your ultimate goal is to teach self control.
  • When kids hit, stop the hurting behavior and demand an apology.
  • Praise your child and offer positive reinforcement when he/she uses the appropriate behavior and does not fight.
  • Do not hit a child if he or she is hitting others. This teaches the child that it is okay to use aggressive behavior.
  • Do not force a child to immediately have good feelings for the other child with whom he/she has picked up a fight. Let the children resolve their differences on their own and be on their own for a little while. Chances are they will be friends sooner than you thought.
  • Intervene at the initial stage of fighting. Separate the children without questioning the children. Send both to time-out in separate rooms or separate corners. Another option is to send one child outside. If it is a toy they are fighting about, remove it until calmness prevails.

If a child has a persistent problem with fighting or aggressive behavior, parents should seek professional assistance from a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professional who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of behavior problems in children.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,