Aggressive Behavior in Children Under 5 Years of Age

When your child lashes out aggressively toward a peer or family member, shock and dismay might be your overwhelming reactions. Although unpleasant and even embarrassing, youngsters under 5 years of age may fall into patterns of aggressive behavior, thanks to broadening independence and a lack of strong communication skills 1.


Just as some adults have more intense personalities than others, young children often fall into these categories as well, advises the Zero to Three website. For example, when frustrated or thwarted by someone or something, an easy-going child might shrug and move on to something else. An intense child might meet the obstacle head-on, with fists flailing in order to conquer it and win.

Examine Motivations

A variety of motivations might fuel aggression in a young child, offers the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. A child may lash out aggressively to try to gain parental attention -- even negative attention may be desirable to some children. A child may also have trouble with aggressive behavior if he feels jealous, nervous, unhappy or anxious. Sometimes, aggression may simply be the result of a young child lacking solid communication skills to express extreme feelings and emotions. Excessively harsh discipline or a home environment that includes physical violence could also lead a small child to lash out aggressively toward others.

Teaching Skills

When your child exhibits aggressive behavior, she’ll need help to manage her feelings and bring her behavior under control, advises the Hand in Hand Parenting website 1. When you see warning signs that your child is feeling frustrated or angry, interrupt whatever is happening and connect with your child. Establish eye contact with her, put your arm around her and strive to distract her away from her explosive emotions. In a calm and controlled voice you might say, “I can see that you’re getting angry about waiting for your turn. I understand feeling frustrated. It’s not okay to hurt others when we feel angry, though. Let’s use words instead of using our hands or feet to hurt.”

Professional Help

In some cases, you may find that your child’s negative feelings and aggression exceed normal parameters, warns Dr. Joan Simeo Munson, with the Empowering Parents website. If your child seems to fly off the handle easily and often, argues incessantly with adults, seems to look for ways to annoy other people and acts spiteful as a rule, you may need to seek professional help in managing and resolving your child’s aggression. Make an appointment with your child’s physician to have your child assessed professionally.

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