Does you child frequently display aggressive behavior? Are you unsure on what to do about your child’s aggressive behavior? To help understand where the aggressive behavior may stem from and what type of help is available for your child, I have interviewed therapist Addie Campbell. MA, LPC, RPT-S.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor working with children and families and specializing in trauma and play therapy. I have worked in the field for 13 years and continue to be interested in giving hope to families and children going through difficult times. I have worked in different setting over the years (community mental health, domestic violence counseling, and hospital settings) but most recently am in private practice.”
Where does aggressive behavior stem from for a child?
“It is important to explore whether the aggressive behavior has been long standing or if there has been a sudden onset. This can begin to give clues as to whether there is an identifiable stressor or if this is something related to early childhood issues. It’s best to think of aggressive behavior as a child not being “regulated” meaning his system is out of sorts and this leading to reacting aggressively. If the child is regulated and calm their behavior will also be calmer. So what does this mean? It means that aggression can be a reaction to a stressful or traumatic event (abuse, neglect, witnessing violence), other transitional issues (recent stress coming from a family moving, a death in the family, loss of friends, or developmental transitions such as moving from elementary to middle school, parents remarrying etc). Other times there are issues such as delayed speech that can increase aggressive behavior in young children. They may be acting out of frustration about not being able to express their needs in a way adults can understand. Think of a time that you have been very angry. During this time of anger the “thinking and problem solving” part of your brain shuts down due to this overwhelming emotion and you will tend to react in inappropriate ways. How many times have you been angry and said or done something that you later regretted? Later when you are calmer that is when the “thinking” comes back on and your actions are much more calm and appropriate. For kids with ongoing aggression, it is like they are in this state most of the time. So the key is in helping them ‘calm their brain’.”
What type of impact can child aggressive behavior have on a child’s overall life?
“Areas that can be impacted include family relationships, relationship with peer and peer formation, self-esteem, and school performance to name a few. We are social beings so having healthy and rewarding relationships with family and friends is very important. It is only through relationships that we learn and grow so anything that gets in the way of forming or keeping healthy relationships will ultimately have an affect in all these areas.”
How can a parent help their child overcome aggressive behavior?
“I think the more understanding of where the aggressive behavior has come from (sometimes this can be from multiple sources and situations) and if the parent can view their child as hurting rather than as malicious this will help the parent be more present and available to the child. The child will sense this understanding and with time begin to change behavior. In addition, parents need to make sure they are taking good care of themselves (adequate sleep, good eating habits, keeping stress at a minimum through exercise and good support system) because their mood will contribute to how the parent interacts with the child. Other things to consider is whether the parent or family system is stressed (is their more conflict within the family due to marital conflict, work stress etc.). These other stressors can contribute to the child’s aggressive behavior.
Having a predictable home routine also can be helpful since predictability helps to create safety and calm. Also make sure that regardless of the aggressive behavior that there is daily positive one on one time with the child.”
What type of professional help is available for a child who displays aggressive behavior?
“One of the first recommendations I make to parents is to make sure that they have the child checked out by their primary care physician to make sure there are not any medical issues contributing to the aggression. There are different types of therapy available: for younger children or those that have limited verbal skills there is play therapy, individual therapy for older children, family therapy for the entire family system. With any type of counseling it is most effective if the parents are involved in some fashion. For instance, when I work with children individually I meet with the parent after the session (either with or without the child present depending on the age etc.) to provide some guidance of how they can support the child during the week.”
Thank you Addie for doing the interview on how a parent can help their child overcome aggressive behavior. For more information on Addie Campbell or her work you can check out her website on www.milestonescounseling.com.
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