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5 Tips for Dealing with an Aggressive Child

February 24th, 2017     By Laura Kelley | Crisis Counselor for the Boys Town National Hotline and the Nebraska Family Helpline

Parent-Child Relationships, Parenting Skills

This blog was originally featured on


You may have witnessed it out in public or in your own home. Dealing with an aggressive child can be difficult as you try to remain calm, keep others safe and help your child wind down.

Whether it is verbal or physical, aggression can be a learned behavior or a symptom of a mental health or substance abuse issue. Here are some tips on how to help teach your child appropriate ways to handle anger.

1. Kids are like sponges and take in everything. They see how you talk to your spouse or how you react to that driver who cut you off. A toddler could make an angry face and kick that door like mommy did. A teen might punch the wall or cuss at another car. Keep composure with your body language and voice tone. Model problem solving by talking it out, looking at all options or going to an alternative plan when the first one does not work out.

2. Aggression can be learned through the media. TV, teen or mature rated video games, real-life YouTube fights and even cartoons display a lot of aggression. When children see it over and over again, it becomes the norm. The violence seems ordinary or expected, and they will be more likely to model aggression. Make sure you are monitoring your child’s screen time.

3. If you witness aggression in a news story or in your child’s classroom, talk about what you saw. Maybe the person’s aggression led to an arrest, a school suspension or a trip to the ER. Ask your child how the person could have handled it differently or discuss the feelings the victim may have had.

4. At a time when things are calm, teach your child an alternative behavior instead of using aggression. Young children can ask a parent for help, can count to 20 or hold up 10 fingers like candles and blow them out slowly. Teens can punch a pillow, write out an angry letter and tear it up, or go for a run.

5. Have a safety plan for other kids in the home. This might include retreating to a bedroom or running to the neighbor’s home. Remove the angry child from all activity. Calmly state you will talk once he is quiet and ready to listen. Check in frequently to see if the youth is ready to talk. If the teen does not calm down or hurts someone, you can contact police.

If a pattern of aggression continues or it happens across environments, no matter what the youth’s age is, consider a full mental health evaluation to determine if play therapy, counseling or anger management classes are necessary.

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