How can I help my child who is struggling with aggression?

We reached out to parents to find out their biggest parenting questions, and put them to child psychotherapist, Joanna Fortune. This was a tough question that we thought was really important to address. A parent asked us what they can do about their child being extremely violent and aggressive towards them. Joanna explains how to handle this and also advises on what to do if your child isn’t violent or seriously aggressive, but does easily lose their temper.

Here’s what Joanna had to say about a situation like this…

When your child is being aggressive and hot headed it’s so hard for parents to know what to do. It’s a really challenging situation in really difficult times but violence and aggression needs to be recognised and not excused. There is always another way to communicate what is going on — you need to be safe and hold that boundary.

In these cases, it’s important to know what else is going on in terms of developmental variables, life experiences, or trauma. We can’t know for sure what the problem is without some background information.

Joanna urges that, “when this happens I strongly advise you to reach out for support.”

You should seek a referral from your GP to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and get on that waitlist – it can be quite long and take a while though. So, if you’re able to self-refer please do so because violence and aggression needs to be responded to appropriately and quickly.

If you just have a little hothead who can lose their temper quickly, then this is very different and you can find methods to help them get their impulses out in a controlled and structured way, such as using ACT:

Acknowledge the feeling, “I know you’re upset that you couldn’t have those sweets.”

Communicate the limit, “we don’t hit people in this family.”

Target an alternative, “if you really need to hit something, you can hit this cushion when I say green, and you must stop when I say red.”

How to support your child

Acknowledge the feeling, communicate the limit, and target an alternative.

Blow up a balloon (or use a cushion) and when you say ‘green light’ your tempered little one has the go ahead to hit the balloon. They must stop when you say ‘red light’ to help with impulse control and define their boundaries of this sort of behaviour.

If it’s serious, get formal help by seeking a referral from the GP. Or, self-refer if you’re able to.