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Child Aggression & Prosocial Behavior

by Anna Green

Some degree of aggression in children is normal and expected, particularly if you have a young child who does not yet have the ability to verbalize feelings. For example, preschoolers and toddlers might resort to biting, hitting and kicking as a way of dealing with frustration or anger. Even in older children, some aggression such as schoolyard fights might not indicate a serious problem. However, even if your child’s aggression is developmentally normal, you should still make an effort to teach him about prosocial behavior. This is a good first step to encouraging appropriate behavior.

Stress and Aggression

Child aggression stems from a number of causes, including poor coping skills, anger management problems or under-developed problem-solving skills. Likewise, stressful events such as bullying, parental divorce or the birth of a new sibling might cause your child to act aggressively. In all of these cases, talking about prosocial behaviors -- such as using polite words, talking about conflicts, asking for help -- can help your child see alternatives to aggression. In many cases, your child will not understand how to behave in prosocial ways until you explain the importance of those behaviors to him.

Biologically Based Aggression

Some childhood aggression stems from neurological abnormalities, chemical imbalances in the brain or other biological factors, according to the website for Contemporary Pediatrics. For example, children with autism, pervasive developmental disorder or certain mood disorders might act out due to either aggressive impulses or difficulty articulating their needs and feelings. If your child’s doctor or psychiatrist has diagnosed him with a mental illnesses or developmental disability, he might require medications to help him control his aggressive impulses. Iit is still important to have regular conversations with your child about what specific prosocial behaviors you expect of him.

Environmental Influences

Children who grow up in homes where domestic abuse or other types of violence is common might display aggressive behaviors. Likewise, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension service explains that poor home environments, such as those that are too hot or do not have enough space, can lead to aggression in children. While such inadequate living environments are not something that you would choose for your child, seeking help from a social worker, therapist, doctor or other professional can model help-seeking behavior, an important prosocial skill.

Ongoing Prosocial Encouragement

If your child shows only intermittent aggression, it is still necessary to use disciplinary techniques that both teach your child prosocial behaviors and make her feel safe and secure. Explaining the behaviors you expect, monitoring media consumption and using positive reinforcement are appropriate for children of all ages. To encourage prosocial behaviors in preschoolers and elementary-aged children, limiting their access to violent toys or video games can reduce aggressive behaviors.

About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.

Photo Credits

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