Aggression is one of those behaviors in children that brings out the worst behavior in their parents. We see “hard” and we want to come back “harder.” Suddenly we are deadlocked in a battle to see who can be the “hardest.”
I decided to try something different. I met my son’s aggression with softness.
Yes, at about the age of 2-3, my son went through a hitting phase (even kids who aren’t hit can go through it!) and it was a trying time, to be sure.
We all want quick fixes, but to effectively help a child through aggression, they simply must be taught better, and teaching takes time and patience. Punishments may show children what not to do, but they don’t teach children what to do.
Here are some tools for teaching anger management to children:
I made this Mr. Mad balloons for my son when he was showing aggressive behavior. When I saw that his anger or frustration was rising, I gave him a Mr. Mad balloon to pop. This is a sensory trick that works well for some children (others are afraid of popping balloons). He liked to pop them, and the loud noise seemed to reset his mood. He often went from angry to delighted and sometimes popped several, then toddled off happy.
In the calm down area I used, I had a comfortable pillow to sit on, a few books, some colored rice, and a “calm down jar.” The purpose of this area is to get your child’s brain regulated. If you’re familiar with the brain, you understand that aggression happens because the child’s alarm is tripped and information gets sent to his lower brain where the fight, flight, or freeze reflex is housed. He cannot, at that time, access his thinking (higher) brain. So, the calm down area is much like an adult going away to take some deep breaths before dealing with a situation. It’s simply a place to calm down. Once calm, higher brain functions can be reached, and the child can be taught better skills.
My son was 3 when I wrote the anger stoplight post. He was just coming out of his hitting phase and still had a quick temper, though he was learning to do better after much patient teaching.
Now, he’s 6 and the aggression problem ended long ago. He’s sweet, kind, funny, and happy.
Meeting his aggression with gentleness time and time again showed him not that he could run over me, but that he could be gentle, too.
How to love courageously through aggression:
1. Understand that an aggressive child is a child in need. Not a bad child or a naughty child, but this is a child who needs the help of a loving, committed parent willing to teach him better emotional skills.
2. Get your own aggression under control. Meeting aggression with aggression results in an explosion that no one walks away from happy. Model how you want your child to behave.
3. Get your child away from the trigger. If you are home, utilize the time in or calm down area. If you are out, go to a safe place – your car, an isolated bench at the park, another room in a friend’s home. Do what you would do in your calm down area at home. It’s not a bad idea to carry a calm down travel bag.
4. If your child acting violent toward you, try a firm but gentle hold while telling her that you will keep her safe. If you cannot hold the child, place them in a safe place to calm down, such as a crib or their room.
5. Once calm, use the tools in the post to teach emotions and behavior management.
6. Restore and reconnect. Once the incident has passed, restore your child’s dignity and self-concept by letting him know everyone makes mistakes and they are opportunities to learn and express your faith in your child to do well. Reconnect through play or cuddles.
Today, think about what it might teach your child if you meet aggression with calm gentleness. If you are struggling with an aggressive child, jot down a few of the teaching tools mentioned in this article that you think may help and try them out the next time you are faced with aggression. Commit to loving courageously through aggression for the month of February and see what sort of difference it makes.
Join me tomorrow for “Loving Courageously Through Bedtime Battles.”
Read the post that inspired the Love Courageously challenge.
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