HELP FOR PARENTS WITH STRONG-WILLED, OUT-OF-CONTROL CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

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Self-Control Strategies for Severely Aggressive Children

Severe aggression can a problem for kids with both normal development, and those with psychosocial disturbances. There is no single theory about the causes of severe aggressive behavior in children. Some theorists believe it is innate or instinctive, others suggest the breakdown in commonly shared values, changes in traditional family patterns of child-rearing, and social isolation lead to severe aggression.

Aggressive behavior may be intentional or unintentional. Many hyperactive, clumsy kids are accidentally aggressive, but their intentions are compassionate. Kids in all age groups learn that aggressive behavior is a powerful way to communicate their wishes or deal with their likes and dislikes. In any event, here are some ideas on how parents can teach their aggressive children to exercise more self-control:

1. As the parent, don’t react aggressively to your child’s aggression. It’s easy to become outraged at an abusive, violent youngster – especially an older one who probably should know better. But be careful how you express your feelings, because your youngster is always watching and learning from you. Yelling at or grabbing an already angry, destructive youngster only makes a bad problem worse. If you expect your boy or girl to act responsibly and calmly, be sure to do so yourself. Kids do not form intent the same way grown-ups do, and often have little desire to hurt or upset the parent. They merely need to express themselves and have not yet learned to do so in a socially acceptable manner.

2. Keep track of what triggers aggressive behavior in your youngster. Most kids act out in chaotic environments and unstructured situations. Ask your child what causes her to get frustrated and lose control. Consider how you can provide additional support or stability.

3. Know your youngster’s temperament. Everyone is born with a unique temperament or personality. For example, some grown-ups tend to be more reserved or timid, while others are always outgoing and spontaneous. Similarly, some kids tend to be more outwardly assertive and aggressive, and others less so. Knowing your youngster's personality allows you the advantage of foresight. For example, if he does not do well with unexpected occurrences, try to keep his day “routine.” Use the insight.

4. Teach your child to “belly breathe” to calm down. A few structured minutes alone may be all he needs. Show him how to take slow, deep breaths from his stomach to feel better and gain control. When both of you are in control, talk about what happened, addressing any misbehaviors in a firm, but loving way.

5. Model self-control yourself. Kids study adult actions and reactions, and one day, they will become a lot like their parents! Reacting calmly and avoiding your own explosive outbursts (e.g., while driving in busy traffic) is the best way to teach your child how to cope with her own "end of the world" conflicts.

6. Reward non-aggressive behaviors. When you notice your youngster behaving in an appropriate and non-aggressive manner, notice and commend his behavior. Tell him how proud you are. Also say something such as, “You must be proud of yourself.” Kids need to know their moms and dads are proud of them. They also need to develop an internal sense of pride in themselves.

7. Reflect on your youngster's progress in a fun way. You could have a weekly pizza party with your child to talk about the stressful situations he encountered during the week, discussing the level of control he demonstrated – and why. This works especially well with older kids who are able to process things on a more adult level. Consider rewarding your child with a parent-child outing when you see a lessening of aggressive behavior. A “back porch talk” or “nature walk” could be a great way to open up a conversation with your child.

8. Practice assertiveness. If you've never spent time teaching your child to be assertive, you'll need to give her the exact words she might use when she’s upset and about to “act out” (e.g., “Mom, I’m feeling really frustrated with you right now!”). If she's older and you've been working with her, you can simply say, “What’s your assertive statement” whenever she’s upset. Due to your previous instruction and practice with her, she'll eventually be able to do it on her own. It may take a few tries until she gets the tone to match the words, but when you help her to redirect her drive rather than try to suppress it, you’ll be making some real progress.

9. Offer choices to defuse situations. For example, if your child is angry about having to go to bed, give her the option of either reading a book or listening to music for 15 minutes before “lights out.” By involving her in making decisions related to bedtime, you are holding your ground, but also allowing her to do something she prefers.

10. Role-play alternatives to aggression. Aggressive kids may benefit from opportunities to role play or consider alternatives to aggressive reactions. When your child behaves aggressively, help him to talk the problem through. Encourage him to consider alternative solutions and to engage in these the next time this occurs. Sometimes it helps to ask kids, especially younger ones, to draw alternative solutions to the conflicts they face.

11. Draft a behavioral contract. Let your youngster know exactly what behavior is expected and what behavior is not. Work with her to set goals for improved behavior. Write a contract based on these goals. Develop a chart to track your youngster’s behavior on a daily basis. Include consequences for misbehavior as well as rewards for good behavior.

12. Avoid reinforcing aggressive behavior. Moms and dads may inadvertently reinforce aggressive behavior through attention. Nagging or punishing kids for acting aggressively can reinforce aggressive behavior. Some kids feel that any attention is better than no attention. Consequently, negative attention can reinforce aggressive behavior. Simply give a warning that there will be a consequence for the aggressive behavior. If the child continues the aggression, simply follow through with the consequence. No lectures, no threats, just follow through.

13. Set clear, easy-to-follow play rules with your child. Talk to him about how to handle disagreements with other kids, and how to express his feelings using words and not hands. And as mentioned before, praise him for even the smallest displays of self-control, (e.g., waiting patiently for a turn to use a toy).

14. Teach the “bullying” concept. When your youngster steps over the line by using abusive behavior or words that are offensive to you, call him on it. You can tell him, “Stop. That's called bullying.” Most children know what a bully is. It creates for them a mental image of a bigger child pushing around a smaller one. The term helps them recognize what they are doing to others. After you say, “Stop. That's bullying” …also add, “I think you have something important to say, but when you bully me, I stop listening. You can say it in a way that helps me listen to you.” Then immediately think to yourself and try to get answers to the following questions: Did he think I wasn't listening to him? Does he need some power? Does he need a choice? Is he frustrated? What's the emotion that's fueling this behavior? Once you've identified what’s going on underneath the aggression, you can help your child think of a way to express that emotion or desire in a way that is more respectful.

15. Lastly, be patient with your child as he experiments with his new self-control strategies. It will take some time to replace old behavior with new, more respectful behavior.

My Out-of-Control Child: Help for Parents with Oppositional Defiant Children

1 comment:

Sonja Pearson said...

Thank you for the information. I really needed this today! I do call my kids' out when they bully me. This seems to help them reflect and they back down for a bit. It is about consistency at this point. They will get it sooner or later:-).

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