Early Signs of Aggression & Antisocial Behavior in Children


Aggression and antisocial behavior may manifest itself at home or school, in social situations or in all domains of a child's life. Although you may observe some early signs of aggression and antisocial behavior in your children, this is not necessarily a cause for alarm. Many aggressive or antisocial behaviors can be resolved by explaining to your child why his behavior is inappropriate. Many problematic behaviors resolve with age as the child matures and develops better coping skills. If your child’s behavior disturbs you or poses a risk to himself or others, however, professional intervention may be necessary.

Social Withdrawal

  • Social withdrawal is a common early sign of antisocial behavior in children, explains the Kansas Safe Schools Resource Center. This behavior may appear suddenly in response to a stressor such as a fight with a friend or sibling, or it may come about gradually. Regardless, if your child refuses to play with his peers, is reluctant to bond with you or refuses to interact with other trusted adult caregivers, it can be an early sign of antisocial behavior.

Atypical Aggression

  • Many children display aggression in response to frustration, anger or perceived threats. For example, it is relatively common for a 3-year-old to punch his sister for taking his toy because he lacks appropriate conflict resolution skills. However, if your child frequently hits, punches, kicks or attempts to hurt you, other children or his teachers, it can be a sign of aggression and antisocial behavior. Likewise, if your child deliberately harms animals or uses weapons in aggressive acts, it is an early warning sign that he may have a serious mental health issue.

Property Destruction

  • Like aggression, some property destruction can be normal for younger children. For instance, it may be developmentally normal for a 4-year-old child to break the pieces to a difficult game after losing. However, if your young child deliberately breaks things regularly, it can be a sign of aggressive, antisocial behavior that warrants a professional assessment.

Lack of Empathy

  • Although young children do not have the cognitive ability required to fully understand the concept of empathy, most children will experience some remorse or guilt if they hurt others. While you might have to explain to your young child that hitting the family dog causes it pain, most children will feel bad after they learn about the implications of their behavior. If your child displays aggressive or antisocial behaviors but does not experience any significant emotional reaction to the hurt he has caused, it can be an important early sign of antisocial behavior, explains the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.


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