06 Feb

Hello Again Heart to Heart Family!

Helping a Child with Aggressive Behaviors:

After reading the blog post Why does my Child have Aggressive Behaviors, hopefully you have a better understanding of why children with past experiences of trauma often get stuck in the survival mode of the brain; which then if unresolved can increase the child’s aggressive behaviors.  

Here are a few tips for building resources and developing additional tools for children to use to release trauma, self-heal, and reduce/eliminate aggression behaviors. 

  • Most important is SAFETY!  Safety must be a priority.  Children were not safe during the trauma they experienced; therefore, it is especially important that they learn they will be kept safe now.  Sometimes with aggressive behaviors, it is necessary to remove people and/or things from the scene to keep everyone safe. 
  • Attend counseling regularly.  If you are already doing this – Great – keep making counseling a priority.  If you are not connected to a therapist/counselor yet, you can contact someone at Heart to Heart and they will develop a plan that is the best fit for your child and family.
  • Find Safe and Healthy ways to release emotional and physical body tension and distress.
  • Playing sports and exercising are Fantastic ways to release emotional and physical body tension in a structured environment.  Children can kick and throw balls at targets, run fast, climb structures, etc.
  • Participating in activities like martial arts, yoga, and dance can also help release trauma in the body as well as increase self-confidence.
  • Develop a routine that allows for consistent and predictable times when children can be physically active and go to counseling.  Children will often try to hold their emotions inside but their threshold for keeping emotions in is usually a lot less than for adults.  Sometimes just knowing they will consistently have the opportunity to play outside for 30mins after school most days and that they will go to counseling every Tuesday can be helpful.   
  • Establish times of calm.  In addition to physical activities, children benefit from regularly participating in relaxing and calming activities.  It often works well to have a calm period of time directly following an active time. 
  • Some examples of calming activities include listening to music, deep breathing, reading, drawing, painting, coloring, playing with playdough or kinetic sand. 
  • Identify trauma triggers and try to reduce them.  Aggressive behaviors can often manifest more when children with trauma experiences are triggered.  Look for ways to prevent aggressive behaviors by reducing triggers or proactively having your child participate in a physical or calming activity after a trigger occurs. 
  • For example, if your child is triggered by loud noises or extra background noise, consider situations where you can reduce or eliminate the extra noise.  Ask your child what noises are overwhelming and also determine what noises are calming.  Look for opportunities to reduce the distressing noises and introduce the calming sounds or quiet. 
  • For example, it may be helpful to turn off the radio or TV during homework time if the extra noise interferes. 
  • It can also be helpful to have a designated area where a child can quietly work on homework or go to escape other family noises.
  • Some children may find ear plugs or headphones with calming music/nature sounds helpful when they need to concentrate.  
  • If your child is already triggered, try to work with your child to get to a state of deactivation before trying to do any activities that require the child to sit for a long time or concentrate. 
  • If your child has already been triggered by noise, consider using calming techniques like deep breathing.  If your child is triggered and appears to have extra pent up energy and emotion, it could be helpful to have the child run back and forth for a few minutes and then take a deep breath.
  • Model healthy behaviors and coping skills.  Children learn through observation and demonstration.  As a result, they look to their parents, caregivers, family members, teachers, coaches, counselors, friends, TV characters, book characters, and the world around them as to ways in which they should act and respond.  Consequently, they will often model the behaviors they witness.  If your child is struggling with aggressive behaviors, consider situations where they might be seeing aggression displayed by someone else.  Also consider situations where your child sees healthy examples of compassion, understanding, empathy, and safety.  Try to reduce the instances in which your child views aggressive tendencies and increase the occurrences of healthy behaviors.
  • As a caregiver, it can sometimes be hard to examine our own behaviors and responses.  But if we are quick to spank, grab wrists, or use physical force, then our children will also be more likely to display these types of behaviors.  However, if we are able to respond with empathy and compassion, especially during high conflict situations where our child is struggling, then our children benefit in many ways. 
  • Explore ways to maximize your child’s exposure to healthy role models (real and fictional).  The more they see healthy behaviors and positive coping skills, the easier and more natural it will become for your child to also display these desired behaviors. 

In conclusion, dealing with aggressive behaviors is difficult – so is dealing with trauma.  When your child is communicating through aggression, try to remember it is the trauma in the survival mode of the brain talking.  The more that you as a caregiver understand trauma, the more tools you can learn to help yourself and your child in those challenging moments.  Your child is working hard to heal.  You are working hard to help your child.  Keep up the Great work!

~Tasha Lehner MA

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