There are lots of things that come along with parenthood no one really talks about. Tantrums are a prime example. Every toddler is expected to go through the “terrible twos,” but some kids never seem to grow out of that fussy face. In fact, a lot of parents are left clueless as to why their kid seems to go into meltdown mode at the drop of a hat. No matter how many times they’ve been reprimanded, being told “no” sends them into fits of rage and hysteria that leaves parents forced to ride out the storm.
First of all, temper tantrums are normal. They are common from age three to six, but if their tantrums extend beyond this period and/or are much more severe than most children, this may be indicative of a greater issue. Here are five signs of child aggression to look out for and how to address them.
Extreme Mood Swings
Typical tantrums are a toddler or young child’s way of telling us off, typically induced by being told they can’t have or do something they want. Because they aren’t yet capable of processing their emotions and expressing them articulately, they are swept up in their frustration and produce the hollering, yelling, dramatic sweeps to the floor all parents are familiar with.
However, if your child seems to change their mood at the drop of a hat, there may be a larger problem. If something as minor as turning off the TV for bedtime causes a major meltdown that can either go on for hours or be resolved in a flash, consider speaking to your child’s doctor.
How to React: During a major tantrum, don’t raise your voice. Your child models their behavior after you subconsciously, so if you start screaming when you’re unhappy with them, they’ll be prone to do the same.
Instead, move them to a quiet spot and make them stay there until they are calm. Then, calmly ask them why they are upset and explain to them why their reaction isn’t okay. Offer some alternatives as well. Mirroring is a great way to deal with this situation. Use expressive, self-oriented sentences like “It really makes me unhappy when I see you so frustrated. How can I help you feel better next time?”
Depression and Irritability
If your child is often sad, lethargic and irritable, they may suffer from depression. Vocal outbursts and crying fits are symptomatic of childhood depression, as well as heightened sensitivity to rejection, physical complaints that don’t resolve with treatment (headaches and stomachaches are prime examples) and changes in sleep and eating habits.
How to React: Depression is a real mental illness that should be treated by a licensed child psychologist. If you suspect your child might be suffering from depression, call their primary care physician and ask for a referral to a child psychologist.
At home, make sure to keep the environment calm, positive and encouraging. Spend time with them and make sure that you respond positively even to tantrums. Instead of scolding them, speak to them about their actions, ask how they’re feeling and try to see what’s causing their outbursts.
Kids may say things like “I’m gonna hit you!” from time to time when they’re angry, but if your child makes persistent threats to harm you, others or animals, they may have a behavior disorder.
Children with behavior disorders do not process emotions the same way others do; if your child’s threats and destructive behavior continues to escalate in both severity and frequency, it may be time to speak to a psychologist.
How to React: Calmly but firmly make the point clear that violence is not tolerated in your home or anywhere else. Explain why hurting others isn’t going to fix your child’s problem and try to help them find healthier ways to communicate with people and express their emotions.
Also, if your child frequently threatens others or actually does hit them, make sure you don’t follow suit with spanking or any other physical reprimands.
If your child is frequently belligerent, argues with you and other adults in positions of authority and has anger management problems, they may have a condition called oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Their uncooperative and argumentative behavior conflicts with everyday life and prevents them from meeting their full potential. Left untreated, ODD can further develop into a more serious condition called conduct disorder.
How to React: Keep a level head and set rules in place as well as age-appropriate consequences for their actions. Always make an effort to communicate your feelings with words in a calm manner, and explain to your child that there are rules everyone has to follow no matter how old they are. They may not always like these rules, but they’re made to keep us safe and make things easier for us. If you think your child has ODD or Conduct Disorder, seek consultation from a child psychologist or a neurologist.
Many people confuse “shyness” with “antisocial.” While timid children may have a harder time opening up to peers and making friends, they are still generally well-behaved and communicative. Antisocial children are not this way.
Some signs of antisocial behavior in children include a lack of empathy conscience and remorse (never showing concern, guilt or saying sorry even when you tell them they’ve upset you), arrogance, aggression, manipulating others with charm, disregard of other’s rights.
How to React: Speak to your child’s doctor and make arrangements to have them seen by a child therapist. Whether or not they have an antisocial disorder, their behaviors need to be addressed and probably haven’t responded to any at-home treatment.
Keep firm limits on behavior, explain rules and consequences in an age-appropriate manner and make sure you ever use violence as a punishment. Antisocial children are already prone to using violence to solve their problems, and if you use physical force to reprimand them, it will only enforce their behavior.
It’s never too early to speak to a child psychologist. You can speak to them first and explain the issues at hand, then they can work with your child both with you and one-on-one to look for any disorders. Even if they find none, a psychologist can offer suggestions to both you and your child on how to handle your emotions and communicate more effectively.
Also, make sure you know your limits. Don’t push yourself too far when it comes to dealing with your child’s aggressive behavior. Reach out to your partner, your family and friends for support. Taking a breather when things get heated will allow you to return to your child with a clear head and address their behavior appropriately.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with your child if they have an aggression disorder. As with adults, mental illness just happens. Although there are some factors that can attribute to childhood mental illness and aggression, there are some cases where children simply are born with it.
As a parent, make sure that the “why” is equally as important as resolving the problem and making sure your child is as happy and healthy as they can be.