Aggression is simply unacceptable. There is a difference between aggressive behavior and annoying, attention-seeking behavior. Different behaviors require different interventions.

There are many reasons why children display aggressive behaviors, and it’s not necessarily out of a desire to hurt the other person. Sometimes it is out of complete frustration or a child’s inability to communicate. Sometimes it is what they see their parents model at home. Sometimes it’s out of retaliation or anger. Sometimes it’s simply because they are bored.

It doesn’t matter. Aggression is simply unacceptable. There is a difference between aggressive behavior and annoying, attention-seeking behavior. Different behaviors require different interventions.

Annoying behavior    

Annoying behaviors are often displayed by a child to get attention. We can decrease these behaviors by paying more attention to their positive behaviors so they will increase, watching for signs of boredom, and while in the moment of the craziness, letting our child know we aren’t going to give in to attention-seeking behaviors. 

A successful way to minimize behaviors is to show a stop sign with your hand up, and then walk away. Choose your battles. It’s not necessary to fully engage with your child each and every time she decides to misbehave in order to get your attention. Remember the phrase “Stop and Walk.”

Learned behavior

We often see a toddler pull hair, bite or even hit, while being held. Some parents might consider biting back or pulling their hair to show how it feels. Others might hit their child while yelling not to hit. Those behaviors are ineffective because they send a mixed message. Children need clear messages.

A simple statement of “no pulling hair” (in a slow, low tone of voice) while placing the child down teaches that child that she will not be held when she pulls hair. Being consistent and following through the exact same way each time will ensure that after several experiences of being put down, she will not hit or pull hair when she’s held.

Throughout the years, many families I have worked with have eliminated unwanted behaviors by following the same procedure. Parents may be offended, but I remind them that even animals are well-behaved and successfully trained, sometimes with only hand signals. It’s important to remember that our children are definitely more capable than animals, so teach and train with love and consistency.                                      

Physically aggressive behavior

Taking it to the next level, when a child displays deliberate, aggressive behaviors which involve another child, an adult or even an animal, immediately and firmly address the exact misbehavior, and then go to the victim. Going to the victim takes the attention away from the aggressor. 

Some parents feel that spanking or yelling is successful, but it’s important to evaluate if that is really working. Does that child continue to hit, bite, kick or scratch? If so, then the spanking is not working, because the child is getting something out of it -- attention -- even if it is a physical punishment from a parent. Negative attention is better than no attention in the eyes of a child.

This intervention may be difficult for some to accept or even try, but research shows that if a child is unsuccessful in getting attention for a behavior, that behavior will decrease, since there is no response or audience.

Next week: Adopting a simple 3-step process for dealing with aggressive behavior.

Repository contributor Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio. Send your child-rearing questions to FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S., Canton OH 44702.