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10 Tips to Help Parents Manage a Challenging & Aggressive Child

As Parent coaches and transitional specialists, we work daily with a multitude of different family dynamics. We strive to provide support and offer parenting tools and tips to help navigate different situations.

A reoccurring theme that we have seen over the last few months has been how to support families faced with challenging and aggressive behaviors at home. This article addresses some proactive and in-the-moment steps for parents to effectively manage these situations.

First of all, it is important that we conduct a thorough assessment of the family dynamic and ask these 5 key questions:

  1. What are the strengths and limitations of the children and parents?
  2. What are the typical communication styles within the family system?
  3. What buttons tend to get pushed?
  4. What history has led to the “here and now”?
  5. Have there been any traumas that have occurred?

After we have established the initial assessment, the ecobiodevelopmental approach would be to look at the contributing factors (in nature and in nurture), in order to look past a behavior and gain a better understanding. However, we see and understand that, in the moment, parents need concrete tools for responding to and mitigating behaviors.

There are social, emotional and mental health factors that can contribute to aggressive behaviors, in addition to the behavioral and environmental factors. Often times, the aggressive behavior falls in line with the patterns of what we call “intimidators”. Intimidators are used to getting their way with intimidation tactics, which can present themselves with family members, peers and teachers. Many parents, who go through coaching work, will often talk about how it is easier to “give in” than to deal with another screaming match or with a child who follows them into the bathroom and bangs on the door until they come out.

The “give in” response from parents contributes to a child learning that the quick way to get needs met is through the intimidation tactic. This might also be true for them in social situations.

Unfortunately, when parents start to change their responses as a way of shifting the whole system, intimidating and aggressive behavior can sometimes get worse before it gets better. This is very normal and can be scary.

Remember that consistency is the key in this behavior change.

First and foremost, parents need to ensure their own safety as well of the safety of the child, as much as possible in the moment. It is important that parents know that they can call the police and that they develop the courage and understanding as to why a move like this can be a good one. At some point, parents cross a line by not calling authorities. Living with a “new norm” for too long and thus doing their intimidating children a disservice by letting it go on without serious repercussions.

Allowing this to go on can deliver the message that this behavior is acceptable and this “in home” habit can leak out into other relationships as they grow up and are away from the home. It is important to role model to your children that this is not acceptable behavior in a relationship and that you are not someone willing to stay this way.

Here are some helpful tips for managing these situations:
  1. Be proactive
    Schedule self-care as a non-negotiable and develop your support network.
  2.  Learn the ways in which you are pushing buttons
    Are you unnecessarily using shaming comments that arise when you are emotionally parenting the day-to-day? For example: Your child comes home with a “C” on a test after a week of you encouraging better study habits. Here is an emotional parenting response that may push buttons: “I’m sure your awesome study habits this week helped you out.”  Interactions like this cause breaks in the relationship and build anger and resentment over time. Instead try: “I bet you are bummed about that and I’m sure you know what to do to pull your grades up. If you want some help, let me know I’m happy to help.” This is a more compassionate and empowering response.
  3. Learn the cycles
    How often is your child aggressive, even mildly? Are there common triggers? What might be some underlying issues?
  4. Develop the habit to train your child to advocate in healthy ways
    You can let your child know that they can advocate for themselves in discussions. Try saying, “if you need an answer now, it is ‘no’ but if you tell me some pros and cons of what you want to do, and let me think about it and talk with your mom or dad, you might get a more flexible answer from me.”
  5. In the moment, use boundaries
    Have a boundary without asking for logical understanding from your emotionally activated child.  “This is not an ok approach to this. You need to go outside and calm down.” Sometimes it is necessary to simply shout, “Stop! This is not ok!” This can cause a moment of shock that can help interrupt the state of things.
  6. Remove yourself from the situation
    When necessary, remove yourself from the situation when you can, to keep yourself safe and to buy time for both you and your child.  Let them know, “I am scared and need to leave to try to let things calm down.”
  7. Remember that their emergency does not have to become your emergency
    Give everyone time before you attempt to address things.
  8. After the event, reconnect with your child face-to-face
    Repair attempts are imperative. Let them know “I love you.” Do this without needing to process the event just yet.
  9. Invite all perspectives
    Once there is calm, perhaps in a family therapy session, invite perspectives to be shared from all points of view with a willingness to listen to your child, even if it seems illogical and skewed. Validating their emotional perspective is important and sharing your perspective without telling them that theirs is wrong will begin to build trust.
  10. Coach your child after the fact
    Ask your child coaching questions when the situation has passed. An example of a coaching question would be, “What is one thing you think each of us, including you, could do differently next time?”. If your child suggests “give me what I want” as the answer you can say, “Ok, one thing that would help me to be more flexible in the future is if you would advocate without aggression. When you use aggression, I am less willing to be flexible in the future”. It’s important to make your suggestion about the future instead of focusing on the past situation.

Remember that you are the parent and calm, consistent communication will begin to change the challenging and aggressive behaviors. This journey has its challenges and will take time to shift, but know that it will change over time.

We hope that you will find these tips and tools helpful within your family dynamic. To find out more about how to sustain change in your family, please visit our parent coaching services page.

About Solutions Parenting Support

Solutions Parenting Support, LLC is a nationally recognized parent support and transitional program assisting families during and after wilderness therapy treatment and/or residential treatment programming. With business offices are in Steamboat Springs, CO and Tucson, AZ the team is supporting parents and families in the United States and globe. The team of parent coaches and transitional specialists are family system focused, licensed professional therapists and/or licensed social workers with a combined 40+ years of experience working in wilderness therapy programs, varying levels of residential treatment programming and transitional support. 

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