Understanding Aggression in Children and Adolescents. | January 29, 2018


By Nicole Friedman, LSW

Have you ever been concerned about your child or adolescent’s behavior at home, school, or in the community? Does your child or adolescent yell, scream, or curse? Does your child or adolescent hit, punch, kick, or destroy property when they are frustrated or upset or do not get their own way? If your child or adolescent displays any of these behaviors, they may be struggling with aggression.

Aggressive behavior can be both verbal and physical and can cause serious physical and emotional harm on to others. Physical aggression may include hitting, kicking, punching, and even hair pulling, while verbal aggression can range any where from yelling, screaming, cursing and making threats to bullying and name calling. Children and adolescents may become aggressive because they have difficulty expressing their emotions appropriately or struggle with controlling their behaviors. They may also act out aggressively as a response to getting attention in school for their aggressive behaviors or not fully understanding how to respond to a unpleasant or challenging situation.

Children and adolescents may also become aggressive as a response to having poor relationship skills or unhealthy relationships among family members. Aggression can also be seen in a child or adolescent, if there is a history of violence or exposure to violence in their home or community. They may also be aggressive due to drugs and alcohol as well as a stressful family life. Mental health issues such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder may also increase the risk of aggression among youth.


Many treatment options are available to parents who are experiencing aggressive behaviors with their child or adolescent. Avoiding reinforcement of aggressive behaviors and rewarding non aggressive behaviors can reduce aggression. Also creating behavior contracts and goals setting along with avoiding physical punishment and being a positive role model,may also reduce aggressive behaviors. Teaching your child or adolescent appropriate ways of expressing their feelings and emotions in addition to expanding parenting skills, is also found to be effective. You can help your child express their feelings and emotions appropriately by explaining the feeling in words that your child can understand, as well as creating common situations and teaching your child new alternative ways to respond to the event. Using visuals or pictures such as books and asking your child what the characters might be feeling, in addition to encouraging your child to take deep breathes and finding a quiet place to calm down can also help them express their feelings and emotions in a better way. Medication and psychotherapy is also found to be beneficial in decreasing aggressive behaviors.

Occasional aggressive outbursts may be seen as normal. However, it is when these outbursts become more frequent and cause harm that intervention methods should take place as soon as possible. Having a child or adolescent who is aggressive can be a difficult challenge to overcome. With consistency, follow through, and patience aggressive behaviors can be reduced and your child or adolescent can lead a healthy and happy lifestyle.