Unlocking a child’s aggression

Connection is not cultivated by indulging on a child’s demands, whether for affection, recognition or significance

Ever noticed a child who is either shuts off in his own world or is inherently attacking another child or adult at every possible opportunity? The child may either refuse to cooperate in a social situation or may react in a passive aggressive manner to demonstrate dislike or discomfort.

Acting out in hostility or aggression towards others is a common trait among children who are unable to regulate their own emotions. Children who act out often may reject interactions and are unable to follow any defined expectations and rules. Social maturity is a learned behavior acquired through effective role modeling and reasoning in a repetitive fashion over a period of time. The ability of children to discern from unacceptable social behavior, organize information, delay gratification and cope with frustrations at home, in school or in a new setting depends on a predictable, structured and stabilized environment to expand on their executive functions.

Consequences of authoritarian, permissive and uninvolved style

Having strong executive function is about having the connection to get along with others and the ability to adapt to social demands. “Children without well-developed executive function skills experience higher levels of frustration, problem behavior and anxiety” (Palix Foundation, 2014). But what exactly could be the results of children’s frustrations without the ability to behave socially in different situations? Relationships with caregiving adults are usually the root cause of the problems in children’s aggression. Whether in authoritarian, permissive or uninvolved style of communication, children do not learn what is appropriate social behaviour, but rather depends on external factors, or rather adherence level to follow through on social expectations. While authoritarian style is about “do as I say” or “don’t question because I told you so”, permissive style is about “do whatever you want as long as you are happy”, and uninvolved style is about ignoring the child as long as he or she appears satisfied usually with items such as a technological device with screen time or video games – unfortunately, none of the styles helps a child to respond accordingly in social situations. Without guidance, children are like weeds in a wild forest, unable to grow to their fullest potential.

Achieving rhythm of control through an adult’s presence

Children need a sense of direction in order to follow their instincts within rhythm of control, which can be achieved by an adult’s presence. Emotional availability for children is about being physically and psychologically there for children and communicating with them through verbal and non-verbal message that “I am here, and I hear you”. Being emotionally available for children is neither about dictating their behaviour, nor is it about permitting them to do whatever they want and ignoring their needs for attention. Being emotionally available for children is about providing security, and letting them know that you care by providing an anchor of love and protection. Children need gentle reasoning, explanations, demonstrations and suggestions for their lost behaviour with an authoritative style of communication. Clear communication by setting expectations and reasons for rules with positive consequences are motivations for children to respond properly in challenging circumstances. Russel, Mize and Bissaker (2004) and Bear (2010) observed that, “when children misbehave, authoritative adults treat such episodes as teachable moments in which to discuss guilt, empathy, and the perspective of others” (as cited in Kostelnik et al, 2015, p. 307). When teachable moments are handled well, children eventually embed the level of internalization to channel their emotions accordingly to different social situations.

Meeting the genuine needs of children

Connecting to the inner-world of a child is about enriching the relationship by meeting his or her genuine needs while providing acceptance with gentle reasoning and reminders of social expectations. “Connection is not cultivated by indulging on a child’s demands, whether for affection, recognition or significance” (Neufeld et Mate, 2004, p. 185). A child needs a caregiving adult to overcome negative impulses of aggression and direct him or her constantly with demonstrations of appropriate behavior with reasoning to match his or her understandings of what is right or wrong.

When a child’s psychological alarm is projected through aggressions in different forms, it usually signifies an erosion of attachment relationship and a failure in communication style. Unlocking a child’s aggression takes patience, assertiveness, and time to communicate effectively to correct problematic behavior. Early year experiences can be a vulnerable period for young children. They are often misunderstood due to their immaturity to handle social situations where their level of comprehension is flooded with disequilibrium. It may be a battle of wills, but when a caregiving adult communicates to a child with model reasoning by providing reliable feedback and clear expectations, a child will not only learn to regulate his own emotions, but would also develop social competency in a fulfilling self-discovery journey.


Neufeld,G. et Mate, G. (2005). Hold on to your kids: Why parents need to matter more than peers. Canada, Toronto: Vintage Canada Edition

Kostelnik,M,J. Soderman, A,K. Whiren, A,P. Rupiper, M. Gregory,K,M. (2015). Guiding Children’s Social Development & Learning. Canada: Nelson Education Ltd

Palix Foundation. (2014).Executive function. Air traffic control, brain architecture, and stress. Alberta Family Wellness. Retrieved from http://www.albertafamilywellness.org/resources/video/executive-function