To help prevent our children from bullying others we need to do two things:
- Help them learn how their behaviour can effect others (as discussed in the previous post)
- Help them get what they need in socially appropriate ways – the focus of today’s post.
Understanding the need behind seemingly random aggression
The scenario used in the previous post was one where the motivation for the “bullying” was relatively easy to identify. However, there are other situations where a child’s aggressive behaviour is seemingly random and it is more difficult to find the trigger.
In these situations it is important to remember that aggressive behaviour is very, very rarely random. There is always a reason why – it just may not be immediately obvious. Here are three most likely reasons behind behaviour (Conway, 2008):
- They are trying to communicate something: For example, a child can communicate anxiety or deep distress through aggressive behaviour. This type of anxiety can be triggered by anything from a new baby at home, to a change in carer at preschool. For children with conditions such as Autism or hearing impairments, aggression can also be due to sensory overload or a sense of frustration at not being able to communicate verbally.
- They are trying to avoid something: We don’t always know what children find stressful. For example, some children may find outdoor play stressful due to noise, busy-ness or a lack of structure. They may be trying to avoid outdoor play by acting aggressively or inappropriately during the transition to outdoor play.
- They are trying to get something: For example, aggression may be used by children to get a toy they want. Or they may be using it to get attention or a sense of belonging. If a child is using aggression to get attention, it means their need to connect with adults and/or their peers has not been met. This can be due to many different factors, from a difficulty making friends to significant changes happening at home such as divorce or a parent’s poor physical or mental health.
It is important to investigate why a child might be acting aggressively. From my experience, showing your understanding of what they are trying to communicate, avoid or get is the only way to produce lasting change in their behaviour.
If you can teach a child skills to communicate what they need or want, cope with things they find stressful, or get the thing they need or want using more appropriate strategies (eg. by asking) you are likely to see a change in their behaviour.
Read more of our bullying series:
- Stop Bullying Before It Begins – Part 1
- Stop Bullying Before It Begins – Part 2
- Strategies to Bullyproof Your Kids
Reference: Conway, R. (2008). Encouraging Positive Interactions. In Forman, P (Ed), Inclusion in Action, p128-244. Thomson: Australia.
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Colin Wee says