It is difficult when we see our child experiencing isolation because he either can’t stand up for himself or because he lashes out with too much aggression.
When a child is acting aggressive, he is often just protecting his personal boundaries. Animals set their interpersonal boundaries through growls and snarls. An animal is vicious if it actually bites, not if it just growls a warning. Yet we expect our children not to give these warnings. Shouldn’t children feel free to growl and snarl a little? They need permission to be able to tell other kids to back off and leave them alone.
Real aggression often comes out when a child is angry and doesn’t know how to express it and to set a boundary with another child. For example, one child may “bug” and provoke another until the other child lashes out. It’s important to teach your child to use words to express what he feels or wants: “Don’t touch my stuff,” “Don’t make faces at me,” and so on. We need to coach our children on how to express themselves verbally so that they don’t need to resort to physical threats and violence.
It isn’t enough for a child who is being provoked to make wimpy statements like “Please don’t do that,” or “That hurts my feelings.” These just invite further bugging or bullying. A child needs to be able to give the verbal equivalent of a growl or a snarl. This can be done without damaging anyone’s self-esteem.
What’s not okay? Physically assaulting another child when he hasn’t attacked you physically. Remember that physical assaults like kicking, biting, pinching and hitting often happen when the child has overwhelming feelings and doesn’t know what to say. Giving your child some strong words to use can make a physical attack quite unnecessary. Strong words aren’t put-downs of the other child but are focused on a clear message that represent your child’s boundaries. They are spoken assertively, not with too much aggression or with an injured tone.
Do a little practice at home:
- Ask your child to show you confident body language,
- Come up with a few brief statements that your child can use.
- Learn snappy comebacks that have some humour.
- Take turns practicing different roles.
Role-playing helps a child respond during stressful interactions. The rehearsing of strategies provides them with a structure to hang onto.