If only you could control your child's behavior. A normal part of being a 4-year-old is testing limits, but frequent aggression isn't normal or an acceptable behavior – and helping your child change his habits and reactions isn't an overnight process. Ultimately, you may benefit from professional help, but it's worth trying to combine positive reinforcement and behavioral prevention at home before you try other methods.
Managing Aggressive Behavior
Remove your 4-year-old child from a situation if you see her behaving aggressively. Get down at eye level and say something like, "I see that you are angry, but hitting is never okay." Stay with her until she's calm. Use a time-out as a last resort, advises HealthyChildren.org, such as when your child can't control herself. Take her somewhere boring and quiet, such as to the bottom of a staircase -- away from any distractions -- and tell her why you're giving her a time-out. Set a timer for four minutes. If she leaves the spot, start the timer again. When her time is up, speak to her about why her aggressive behavior was hurtful and unacceptable, and discuss what she should do differently next time.
Preventing Aggressive Behavior
Four-year-old children have a tendency to mimic what they see. Prevent him from behaving aggressively by shielding him from violent TV shows, from toys that encourage aggressiveness -- such as toy weapons -- and from aggressive children, suggests Dr. William Sears in "Parenting." Monitoring your own behavior is also important. If you spank, hit, yell or intimidate people when you are angry or frustrated, your child will learn that aggression is acceptable. Using positive reinforcement can also encourage your 4-year- old to behave the way you want. Watch for the times when he's frustrated or angry and he reacts by walking away instead of inflaming his frustration. Note the times when he expresses his feelings with kind words or when he reacts in a non-aggressive manner. Say something like, "I could see that you felt upset then, and I'm really proud of you for -- describe his reaction -- instead of yelling or hurting something or someone.”
Teaching Coping Skills
Once your child is past age 3, advises AskDrSears.com, you can "program" her with a few healthy responses to situations that would usually result in aggression. Remind her to use these responses every time you see her become frustrated, so that it becomes second nature. Speak to her about using words instead of hitting. For instance, you can teach her to say "Please stop" when a friend is doing something she doesn't like. Encourage her to ask an adult for help if the friend doesn't listen. You can also discuss the way her body feels before she hits, kicks, bites or screams. Suggest that when she feels that way that she should close her eyes and take deep breaths or that she should squeeze a pillow tightly until she feels calmer.
Seeking Professional Help
Sometimes, a child's aggression begins suddenly as a response to a major life change such as a new baby at home. This phase may end when the child begins to feel secure again. It is wise, however, to consult your pediatrician if your child's behavior is so volatile that it endangers him or others, or if he demonstrates unusual physical symptoms such as headaches or has difficulty sleeping, advises the University of Michigan Health System. Dealing with a 4-year-old's aggressive behavior can be frustrating, so if nobody is in any danger and you need to calm down, give yourself a time-out and take some deep breaths in another room until you feel relaxed. If you become so frustrated by your child's behavior that you feel like physically harming him, it is imperative that you seek help for your child and yourself.
- HealthyChildren.org: Aggressive Behavior
- Parenting: Ask Dr. Sears: Toddler Aggression
- University of Michigan Health System: Behavior Problems
- American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics Newsletter, Spring 2010: What Parents Can Do Right Now to Reduce Aggressive Behavior in Young Children
- AskDrSears.com: Biting and Hitting: 16 Ways to Stop It
- Photo Credit Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images
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