Behavior Modification for Childhood Aggression

By Amy Phoenix
BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

When tensions rise and children become aggressive, parents and caregivers need to modify the behavior. Children who are aggressive benefit from a clear example of how to appropriately deal with strong emotions. Along with modeling, parents can address feelings and discuss alternative behaviors with the child.


Model appropriate ways to deal with anger. According to Thomas Haller, a psychologist and author in Michigan, aggression is taught by parents and caregivers when they're aggressive with children. If a child is physically punished for doing something wrong, he's more likely to act out in the same way toward another person, according to Haller. Additionally, parents can encourage aggression by telling kids to stick up for themselves by fighting or teaching them that aggression is OK in certain circumstances. Model and talk through effective ways to deal with anger such as speaking about how you feel when you are upset before taking any action and getting space to reflect when helpful.


Provide care and attention to the victim first. Aggressive behavior is often reinforced through negative attention, suggests Haller. Instead of shaming or ridiculing the aggressive child, stop the behavior and attend to the child who was hurt. Using empathy, talk to the hurt child and make sure he is OK. For example, you could say, "John hit you and it seems like you feel sad." This demonstrates for the aggressive child that it is important to take care of the hurt child. After the child has had an opportunity to process the experience, talk to the aggressive child about alternatives.

Screen Time

Reduce screen time. According to Haller, violent acts are committed in programming for children and conflicts are often resolved through violence. Children need to learn other ways to work through their feelings and problems than the examples they have on TV.

Teach Alternatives

Children can learn alternative ways of solving big feelings and problems. According to child psychologist Laura Markham, emotions carry important messages. When children are calm, teach them to keep their hands and feet near their own bodies when they feel upset, find a quiet space where they can rest and come up with solutions, talk about how they feel, do something physical that they enjoy such as jumping on a trampoline or running around a room, and ask for help when needed.

About the Author

Amy Phoenix began writing professionally in 2005. Her work has appeared in various online publications, including Mothering. Phoenix is a certified parent educator, trained meditation facilitator, and enjoys writing about natural health, parenting, spirituality, and organization.