As the mother of a preschooler, you have almost certainly seen your child or one of his peers engage in a bit of aggression. From hair pulling to hitting, and even sometimes the occasional bite, aggressive behavior is far from uncommon in preschool children. However, while you should expect to see some small aggressive transgressions, you should hardly allow these events to occur with no consequence. It is during the preschool years that children learn the dos and don’ts of aggressive behavior that will get them through their childhood and adult years to come.
Expected Aggression Development
The degree to which your preschooler’s aggression is a problem depends, at least in part, upon how old your child is. If your kid is a young preschooler, around 3 years of age, aggression will likely be quite common as she has not yet learned to regulate her behaviors. If, on the other hand, your child is approaching or has already reached the age of 4, she should be more adept at tending to her aggression and should not act out as frequently. Children who continue to act out violently with the same frequency by the time they reach 4 may require more assistance in dealing with their upset and avoiding aggression.
Much of the aggression that you may see your preschooler display is simply the result of frustration. Unlike adults, who have the verbal communication skills to express their upset, preschoolers are still learning how to use their voice to express their thoughts and feelings and, as a result, are more likely to act out when they become frustrated.
Use Your Words
To help ease this frustration, and to put a stop to the related aggression, you can encourage your preschooler to express himself using words or query him as to why he is acting out when he does become aggressive. Children are not born knowing that they shouldn’t be aggressive. You must teach them that this aggression is a negative thing and encourage them to use words when they have feelings that they want to express. As your child sees that sharing his emotions is generally more effective, and has fewer negative consequences, than acting out, he will use his words to resolve his issues more frequently.
Just because aggression is expected in young children doesn’t mean you shouldn’t punish aggressive behavior. If you fail to apply consequences to aggressive behavior, your child will never learn that this aggression is wrong. When creating consequences for your child, make sure that they are immediate. If you allow too much time to elapse between the transgression and the consequence, your child will struggle to see the two as related. Additionally, make sure you are consistent in your consequence enforcement. If you set up consequences, and your child breaks a rule, you must enforce the consequence every time. If you fail to do this, your child will not see your consequences as strong or you as an unwavering disciplinarian.
Cause For Concern
In all likelihood, your child’s aggression is nothing to be concerned about. While Dr. Susan Campbell, author of several books about youth behavior issues, notes, 95 percent of the time, aggressive behavior is absolutely within the norm. As long as you enforce consequences for this aggressive behavior, it will likely taper off. If your child’s aggression continues to increase despite your consistent consequence enforcement, or your child’s behavior is self-injurious, you should mention these issues to his doctor, as these behaviors may require some additional medical assistance.