How to deal with aggression

Hi Annie,

I’m wondering how to deal with the aggression on the part of my son. My 9-year-old son came home today with a note from his principal and teacher. The teacher listed four aggressive episodes that my son engaged in in the last week and labelled them “violent acts.” I know that every parent sees their son in the best possible light, but you must take my word for the fact that my 9-year-old is the least aggressive of my children. He is never one to even raise his voice, or before these last few incidents, raise a hand or be aggressive.

After speaking to him about the incidents, he tells me that he is concerned about the fact that he is suddenly having trouble controlling his temper and his physical responses. He is emotionally mature for his age, and he is deeply embarrassed that he is having these troubles with the school’s administration. Can you recommend any strategies that help young boys channel what seems like a normal amount of developing physicality into something that he can better handle and that is more appropriate? I am not sure if I am explaining the situation properly, but I am speaking about a child who genuinely wants to control his aggressive actions and is having trouble doing it.

Thanks in advance.

– Terri (name has been changed on request to protect privacy)

 
Hello Terri,
boy has an aggression problemFirstly, I can certainly understand how frustrating this issue is for both you and your son. When you tell me something is out of character, then the first thing I think you ought to look at when it comes to dealing with how to deal with aggression is the medical angle. Boys start puberty at different times, but believe it or not, 9 years old is still within the realm of possibilities. There could be some medical reason for his outbursts, which he’ll still need to manage, but at least knowing where they’re coming from will help.

If you’ve checked out the medical angle then consider a basis for the anger

Then, having done that (if puberty isn’t the issue), I think the next question we need to ask in terms of how to deal with aggression is why he is behaving this way if it’s out of character. It seems he readily admits to these incidents and is embarrassed by them. I wouldn’t be surprised if something was at the root of his recent rage, but it’ll undoubtedly require some digging on your part. Is he being bullied? Is there a particular teacher who is always expecting him to be a troublemaker? Are there any unrealistic expectations placed on his shoulders? Then ask yourself, “Is anything happening at home?” You all sound like a happy family, and that’s great, but have there been any major life changes recently? Have you moved? Do you have any sick family members or anything? 

How to deal with aggression: Find the best way to communicate

No matter what’s causing it, how to deal with aggression doesn’t change, so you want to make sure he has an appropriate outlet to express his worries and teach him where it’s appropriate to air those worries. Sometimes parents can inadvertently approach finding out what is bothering their child in a way that tends to make children clam up rather than open up. Just to give you an example, if I sit down with a parent to have a conversation about their family, I often have to work hard at making them feel comfortable to start with. I frequently do that with a good sense of humour and a few jokes here and there, and I’ll gradually see their arms move from positions that are quite often across their body at the start to positions that are more relaxed, but it’s an effort.

It’s easier to talk when you remove the focus

If, on the other hand, I was to help out that parent and we spent some time together cleaning up or doing dishes, that initial reticence would barely last a moment, and that’s because my focus and theirs would be on something other than “the problem.” It’s the same with anyone, which is why talking to teenagers in cars is so much easier. Why?  because the parent is driving and their focus is on something else, allowing their teenager to express things more easily.

When it comes to how to deal with aggression, give him a physical outlet

When it comes to how to deal with the aggression, you also want to make sure he has a lot of physical outlets to use up his energy. Make sure he gets lots of exercise, and he may find something like learning yoga helpful. Perhaps you could do it together on weekends. Other than that, try and make him aware of things that might trigger these responses. Show him the signs of anger that we all have: clenched teeth, potentially clenched fists, tense shoulders, a flushed appearance, and so on. 

How to deal with aggression: Teach breathing 

Teach him that the key to stopping these behaviours is to notice when they are happening and then do something to help calm himself down (breathing, removing himself briefly from the situation, etc.). Have him take a series of deep breaths and practice taking them slowly, and reinforce the same approach any time you notice any frustration on his part. Again, teach him the signs of calming down, letting him feel his tense shoulders release and the relaxation that comes with each breath.
 
There are other things he can do before becoming enraged when he notices those feelings; however, some of them cannot be practised while he is at school. I’m thinking of things like thumping a pillow, running or lap, or some other way of removing his physical irritation.
 
Learning how to deal with aggression means applying a few consistent strategies, which I’m sure you’re doing, and as a result, I’ve no doubt his behaviour will disappear as fast as it arrived. I hope this helps you, and I wish you the very best.
 
Annie
Would you like to know what you can do to encourage your child to make friends.  See this clip of Annie the Nanny on CTV.
What to do if your child ‘won’t stop hitting people.’

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