How To Handle An Aggressive Or Violent Child

How To Handle An Aggressive Or Violent Child

When you’re a parent, if you have a child who experiences anger, aggression, or violence, it can be scary and overwhelming for you. 

Eventually, depending on the underlying causes, you might need to explore intensive treatment programs, but before you get to that point, you likely want to try everything you can do on your own first. 

The following is a guide to what you should know about an aggressive or violent child and how to manage this in your home. 

Anger In Children

When you have a child who behaves explosively, one of the most important things is to begin to identify why they’re acting that way. If you can identify a root cause, it becomes easier to figure out the best approaches and treatments. 

In children, anger often happens because they don’t know how to deal with uncomfortable feelings or frustration. Children haven’t yet learned the skills they need to solve problems without resorting to anger. 

There are also situations where a child will experience an ager issue because they have another problem that requires treatment, such as autism, anxiety, a learning disability, or ADHD. 

  • Oppositional defiant disorder or ODD is a behavioral disorder mostly diagnosed in children. Symptoms that characterize ODD in children include being defiant, uncooperative, and hostile towards teachers, peers, and individuals who are authority figures. Particular symptoms of ODD include frequent temper tantrums, refusal to do what’s asked by adults, arguing with adults, and always questioning rules. Doing things to purposely annoy or upset other people and especially adults, as well as being easily annoyed, are also symptoms of ODD. 
  • Anger can be a symptom of ADHD in children, and it occurs for different reasons. Children with ADHD often have more intense emotions than children without the disorder. Medication side effects can be another reason, as can the higher prevalence of impulsivity. Impulsivity is one of the characterizing symptoms of ADHD, so children have a hard time controlling their behavior. This uncontrolled anger or impulsivity can lead to aggression or violence. 
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says aggression is one potential symptom of autism. As many as 1 in 4 kids with autism have problems with aggression, and it can occur at all levels of the spectrum. Children with autism may hit, kick, bite or destroy property. Self-injury can occur as well. Reasons for anger, aggression and violence in autism usually stem from an inability to communicate effectively. Also, autistic children might use aggression or outbursts to show they don’t like a change in their routine. 
  • Anxiety in children can lead to aggression or anger, particularly when a child puts a lot of pressure on themselves at school. Then, when an anxious child gets home, they might lose it on the people they live with, including their parents or siblings. 
  • Undiagnosed learning disabilities can contribute to anger and aggression in children. 

What Should You Do?

Whether you know why your child is experiencing anger or not, there are things you can do as a parent when you’re facing these situations. 

First, it’s important to stay calm. It’s easy to lose your own temper and sense of control when you’re faced with anger or violence from your child. If you react with anger, you’re only going to show your child more aggression, and it’s likely to worsen the situation. 

Stay calm and maintain control of your emotions so that you’re modeling this behavior to your child. 

When your child does calm down, praise them for appropriate behavior. 

If your child is having a tantrum involving them getting physical, you can’t ignore that. Child therapists often recommend that you put your child into a safe place without access to you or rewards if they have a physical outburst. 

If you have a younger child, you might put them into timeout for a minute, and then they should calm down before they can come out. This shows an immediate consequence for their behavior. 

If your child is older and they’re being aggressive, you should take yourself out of their immediate vicinity. You want to make sure that you’re not providing them any attention in these situations. 

When a child is struggling with anger or aggression, they need to see a parent who is confident and calm. This can make a big difference in how they eventually learn to respond to situations. 

Behavioral Techniques

If you’re seeing that your child is lashing out a lot, and it’s causing disruptions to your family, you should consider getting a professional to help you. 

There are a lot of behavioral strategies that can be helpful. 

For example, parent-child interaction therapy or PCIT is good for kids between the ages of 2 and 7. In this type of behavioral therapy approach, you and your child work together with a therapist on exercises. The therapist is coaching you via an earbud. You learn how to pay more attention to positive behaviors, provide consistency in consequences, and ignore small misbehavior, all while you’re staying calm. 

Parent management training or PMT is similar, but the therapist works with the parents rather than the child. 

Collaborative and proactive solutions, or CPS, is a program that’s built on the idea that disruptive behavior stems from a lack of skills. Children learn those skills they lack so they can respond to things that happen in better ways without tantrums or anger. 

What If Behavioral Therapy Isn’t Enough?

Sometimes, a behavioral plan, even when working with a therapist, isn’t enough. The younger your can start to get help for an angry or violent child, the better. 

Even so, if behavioral therapy isn’t working, you have to keep your child and the people around them safe

You might speak to your doctor about medications that are used for extreme behavioral problems

Parent training might include how to use safe holds on a child to keep you and them safe. 

Finally, in the most extreme situations, children might have to spend time in a residential treatment facility. These are like therapy-based boarding skills where children receive medication management and behavioral therapy as well as consistency and structure. The goal of a residential program is to help a child learn self-control and return to the world with more appropriate behaviors.