My seven year old son is very loving, good in school. But lately he is being very aggressive. He pushes kids down at school, pushes his brother down at home. It's bad enough that the principal is calling me once a week. Please help!
My name is Penny Davis and I am one of the people who helps to answer questions sent to the website. I have been a parent educator for almost 30 years, and have 2 daughters of my own, now grown.
I think aggression – hitting or pushing, etc – is one of the hardest things for parents to accept in their children. We all want our children to be kind and respectful. In your brief letter, you state that the behavior has been happening ‘lately’, so it sounds like unusual behavior for your child. This leads me to believe that, rather than focusing on the behavior itself, we need to put on our ‘Sherlock Holmes’ hat and see if we can figure out what may be underneath the behavior. Here are some questions you can ask yourself…and some suggestions if the answer is, or might be, yes.
Has something changed recently in your son’s life that may have resulted in him feeling angry or powerless? Maybe a friend has moved away, there is a new baby in the family, or there is some other change in the family or his environment? If so, asking him about his feelings and being willing to truly hear and understand those strong emotions without judgment might be important.
Are the adults (parent, teacher, coach) in his life overly controlling, or punitive? Sometimes we assume that we know what is best for children, but they, like the rest of us, need to feel that their thoughts and opinions are valued. When children are not given any choices, it can invite anger and rebellion. If this might be the issue, work at giving your son some control over his own life – having him choose what to wear each day, letting him help you decide what the family will have for dinner, encouraging his involvement in the preparation of the meal, perhaps asking him if he would prefer to do homework right after school, or after dinner, etc.
Does your son have the necessary skills for getting his needs met? Does he understand the process of asking clearly for what he needs and wants? Does he have skills for coping with his own strong feelings? Can he discuss these with the adults in his life and feel that he is heard and understood? You may need to help him by asking what Jane Nelsen calls ‘curiosity questions’. Here are some examples. ‘What happened?’ ‘How did you feel?’ ‘What were you trying to accomplish?’ ‘What other way could you have chosen to get what you wanted?’ What could you do differently next time? You could help him set up a ‘cool down’ area at home that would be a safe place for him to go when he is feeling angry with his brother. This is teaching and training of life skills.
Lastly, how much access does your son have to aggression in the media? The heroes and pop culture idols to which our children are exposed often model aggression and disrespect. Limit the amount and/or kind of TV he is watching, if you think this might be a cause. It would be important to talk with him about your concerns and respectfully work out an agreement that is mutually acceptable.
I hope these suggestions provide you with some possible ‘clues’ in understanding your son.
Good luck to you.