By Alita Blanchard Parent Coach
When life gets tough with your children and they are expressing a lot of anger and acting aggressively, it can be incredibly triggering and challenging for parents to know what to do.
This article will introduce some ideas on how to normalise anger and healthy aggression and to support your child through these challenging moments. Please know this is a nuanced topic and requires a deeper understanding of child development, brain and attachment and nervous system science that cannot be covered in a short article. Reach out to me directly for deeper support.
When you child has angry and aggressive behaviour the focus needs to be:
- Regulating yourself first
- Keep bodies safe
- Slow everything down
- Be present and know this is your MOST important work
- Self compassion
- Nervous system care.
Most of us learned as children that standing up for our beliefs, saying No, and expressing our wants and needs were not welcome. We learnt to suppress our feelings. We learned that using our voice was dangerous and that anger and rage will be punished.
And so when we have children and they start displaying anger and aggression, it feels almost unbearable and we get stuck in a cycle of fear and judgement.
- We see our 2–year old bite their cousin and we think, “Oh my god, what is wrong with my child?”
- We are hit by our 5–year old having an enormous emotional storm, and we think “my child is violent and needs serious help”
- We are screamed at by our tween and think “I’ve raised a monster.”
These expressions of aggression are actually signs that our child needs us – with love, support and regulation.
When your child is aggressive
Don’t do this:
- Hit or bite back
- Yell and scream
- Spank or smack
- Start lecturing them
- Teach them what to do while they are upset – their brain is offline.
- Punish them or time out – it only creates disconnection, not learning
- Call them “bad” or “naughty” – this is shaming your child.
- Consider their age and stage of development
- Practice your own self regulation tools to calm your nervous system
- Set a limit “I’m not willing to let you hurt me/bite me /hit the baby/break the thing”
- Set a firm “No” if you must
- Use your body as a boundary – use your hands to block hits and bites and protect your child – while children are little you realistically need to stay close to toddlers, babies and even older children. Stop the hit. Block the hands. Gently hold their hands
- Expect anger, rage, tears or tantrum – a child that is acting out in this way likely has big painful feelings that need release. LISTEN
- Try not to personalise their behaviour – you are NOT a bad parent. You have a child with big feelings. This is OK
- Holding – if your child is raging and really trying to hurt you/others/property, you may need to gently hold them. This can feel deeply confronting for some mothers AND fathers
- Ask for help – husband, family, friend, babysitter, listening partner, parent coach
- Look for unmet needs – hungry, anxious, lonely, disconnected, tired, painful feelings
- After a good release and listening, your child may soften and need to feel safe and regulated again. Cuddle and snuggle
- Self compassion for yourself – this is not easy.
Ongoing aggression could be related to many things:
A backlog of painful feelings
If a child’s tears and anger and sadness have been suppressed since birth, they will likely have painful feelings that need release.
Nervous system dysregulation
The fight/flight/fight/fawn response is how we protect ourselves from possible threats. A child needs an adult to help them regulate in these moments.
Lacking important minerals and nutrients
Many children are deficient in magnesium, iron, B vitamins, vitamin D and zinc. These can cause a myriad of issues. Seek out holistic support for more.
When they are calm, teach and model healthy aggression practices
These can take a long time to truly integrate – trust that process:
- Grab a wet towel and twist the water out
- Squishy balls and growl like a bear as your squeeze them
- Teach them to notice that when their body feels hot and angry, to hold themselves and squeeze their own body
- Running games, jumping jacks and strong beat music (when calm).
Full–throttle play and laughter medicine:
Engage in full body play! Mindful of your body’s range of motion and ability, engage in wrestling, tag, leapfrog, pillow fights, catching them in a blanket while they run around the house. This gets kids laughing uproariously, releasing pent–up energy.
A child being aggressive may increase when:
- There is stress in the home – divorce, anger in adults, grief
- Moving house / schools
- New sibling
- Changing caregivers.
We are not meant to parent in isolation. Get support for yourself first – as a conscious parenting coach, all of my work starts with the parent first. Supporting YOU, listening to YOUR feelings, helping you make sense of your reactions and beliefs. Helping YOU to build regulation tools. You cannot truly support your child unless you have capacity to listen to feelings.
Alita Blanchard, The Aware Mama. Based on the NSW Central Coast, Alita is a mother of 4 boys and is a Conscious Parent Coach, Rites of Passage and Women’s Circle facilitator. She provides regular mothers circles, workshops and parent coaching programs. Instagram: @alitablanchard_parentcoach email@example.com www.theawaremama.com.au