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It is a fact that sometimes our children behave
aggressively. They get upset, start to yell, hit,
push and throw things. And this behavior begins
to happen from an early age.
The first impulse of the adults in such moments
is to stop the bad behavior by punishing the
child, in order to show them that this is
inappropriate and it should not be repeated in
the future.
Imagine that your child is hitting another child
because they pulled their toy away. If we
intervene in that moment and yell or punish the
child, we will add more anger to their initial
anger from losing the toy and in that case it is
most likely that the child will redirect that anger
towards the parent. As a result, not only that we did not stop the bad behavior, but there is a chance
for it to escalate to a huge scandal.

What should we do in that case?
Let’s look at it this way. The one thing in common to all forms of aggressive behavior is the following:
in that moment the aggressive child is feeling a negative emotion. Maybe the child felt offended,
upset, scared or ashamed. Any emotion from the negative spectrum could cause an aggressive
behavior in children (this applies to adults as well). The mistake we often make is that we try to deal
with the bad behavior instead of dealing with the emotion which is the root cause for the behavior.
The stronger the emotion, the more ineffective are our attempts to curb the bad behavior. People
cannot control their emotions. They just occur as a result of our reaction to what is happening all
around, but we could control the way we express them.
The need to express the emotion that wells up inside is absolutely normal. Moreover, compiling
negative emotions is unhealthy. Children react instinctual because they don’t know other ways to
express the feelings raging in them. The adult’s role is not to punish the child and try to limit them in
expressing their emotions, but to teach them how to deal with them, without hurting others.

How can we teach the child that?
First, we will have help our child with how to deal with their emotion by showing them that we
understand how they are feeling in that moment. We can show that by verbally expressing the name
of the emotion they are currently feeling. For example: “I see that you got very angry (upset, scared
– here, we will just need to “recognize” our child’s emotion), because they pulled the toy away from
your hands.” That’s it. In that moment, there is no need for us to criticize them that they are not
behaving well or to advise them. At that point, the most important thing for the child is to feel
understood. (In cases where the child shows physical aggression, it is necessary to stop it – firmly
but carefully). If your child starts explaining to you what happened, listen to them patiently, again,
without criticizing. If not, you can cuddle them if possible or just wait until they calm down. If you can
resist the temptation of giving them an advice or punishing them after they are calm, you will feel
their gratitude.

Second, after the child has calmed down, they will be able to hear what you have to say. This is the
time, when you can set limits and boundaries on their behavior: what not to do even if we are
angry, and what is allowed.

What allowed ways of expressing anger can we offer to the child? Here are some of
First, to use words. Let your child learn that when angry, they can say it or even yell it by using
words! Second, are the permitted actions. An effective way at home is to give your child a paper and
pen and to tell them: “I see that you are angry, show me how much it is!”. The child could hit a
punching bag or tear papers from a pile of newspapers specifically put aside for that – these
methods are particularly useful when the child is young and cannot express themselves verbally.
That way through action – such as tearing, scratching on a piece of paper, hitting a punching bag or
a pillow, jumping on an empty cardboard box – the child can unload their destructive energy, but
without hurting anyone. (If you ever wanted to slam the door behind you or to break something, you
know what kind of destructive energy we are referring to). The rule is that words as well as the action
relieves the emotion and decreases its intensity.
Finally, let us remember that children, learn from what they are shown and not from what they
are told. Ultimately it comes down to us, the parents. If we tell them that it is not nice to be rude
and to yell or to hit things, but we act that way; that will be ineffective. In other words, we
have to think about how we react when we are angry and what they see and learn from us? If
we don’t have solid skills in managing our emotions, we should start with ourselves.


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