Early Signs of Aggression & Antisocial Behavior in Children

Almost any child can have an occasional temper tantrum, hit another child or adult or refuse to follow instructions. However, some children's behavior is so out of control that they need help. Those early warning signs offer an opportunity to get help for a troubled child if they are recognized when they occur. Parents and educators who have close, supportive relationships with children are more likely to recognize behavior patterns that are a cause for concern.

Violence and Aggression

Violence and aggression should be viewed in the context of normal child development. A toddler who has little impulse control and is just learning how to socialize with other children might give way to frustration and hit a playmate repeatedly when they are squabbling over a toy. Similar behavior from a middle school child or high-schooler is another matter. A troubled child is more likely to use violence to achieve his own ends, while a child who is well-socialized will often try negotiation or involve an adult to mediate in a dispute.

Warning Signs

Early warning signs of aggression that might result in school violence, according to the Kansas Safe Schools Resource Center, include social withdrawal, excessive feelings of isolation and rejection, feeling picked on or persecuted and poor academic performance. Children who have been physically or sexually abused might be at higher risk of violence. Some children express violent thoughts or feelings in their art work or writing. If a repeated theme or violence seems to be directed at a specific individual or group, it could indicate an increased potential for violence. Bullying, chronic hitting or biting, uncontrolled anger and cruelty to animals are other warning signs.

Behavioral Disorders

Children with behavioral disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorders exhibit some of the same antisocial behaviors as those who go on to commit violent acts 1. Other characteristics include repeatedly getting out of their seats in class, yelling, cursing, disturbing peers, ignoring teachers or parents, hitting, fighting and excessive arguing, according to an excerpt from “Exceptional Children: An Introduction to Special Education” on the Education.com website by W.H 1. Heward. These children might steal, lie, destroy property, refuse to follow directions, have temper tantrums and might be excluded by their peers because of their behavior. They are frequently in conflict with others and their aggression may cause peers to strike back.

Professional Help

Children who consistently display aggressive, coercive or delinquent behavior will not simply “grow out” of these patterns without intervention, according to Heward. However, a child should not be labeled, excluded or punished for displaying early warning signs. The object of identifying these behavioral concerns is to get help for a child in the early stages of a behavioral disorder, when professional support and counseling are more likely to be effective. If you have concerns about your child’s behavior, consult a health professional as soon as possible.