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How to Defuse Aggressive Behavior in Kids

If you are concerned over your child's aggressive behavior, experts suggest that you...


  • Pay attention. “Kids do notice whether or not adults seem to care about teasing and bullying. If adults don’t seem to care, bullying increases,” says psychologist Michael Thompson, Ph.D., a best-selling author on the social lives of children.


  • Show your concern. Let kids know what you’re observing, ask questions, respond to changes in behavior and point out inappropriately aggressive talk and behavior.


  • Consider the motivation. What purpose is the bullying serving?” asks psychologist Robert Brooks, Ph.D., an authority on childhood resilience. Is this about insecurity? Overexposure to aggressive influences? Are parents or others showing nonverbal approval of this child’s “toughness”?


  • Model the values you want to see in your kids. “One of the most powerful and consistent findings in psychology is that children imitate adult role models,” Thompson says. What are your children learning from the way you resolve differences with other adults or with kids? Is your tone bullying when you are mad? Alternatively, do your kids get to see you interact warmly in adult friendships?


  • Foster compassion. Give children opportunities to express their inborn need to help, to express sensitivity, and to make a difference in caring ways, Brooks suggests in his books on self-esteem and resilience. Volunteer at a soup kitchen together, participate in a fund-raising walk for charity or assist an elderly neighbor.

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