Aggression is defined as any behavior that is hostile, destructive, and possibly violent. This term refers to a wide variety of behaviors that can result in physical and psychological harm to oneself, others, or objects in the environment around them. While aggression can be a common behavior during childhood and adolescence, it is also a behavior that is associated with many different mental health disorders. In fact, verbal and physical aggression are often the first signs of childhood disorders such as conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, both of which occur in 6 to 10% of this population, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Additionally, those who have an onset of aggressive behaviors in childhood, rather than adolescence, are often more likely to display more severe, persistent, and violent antisocial behaviors. These are only some of the reasons why aggressive behavior in children and adolescents needs to be identified and treated as soon as possible.
Aggressive behaviors can vary greatly from emotional regulation problems to severe, manipulative behaviors. Additionally, they can occur in a number of different ways including mentally, physically, or verbally. Aggressive behaviors can include behaviors such as physically pushing or hitting someone, arguing, engaging in physical fights, and bullying. It should be noted that aggressive behaviors are not all physical, behaviors such as starting rumors, excluding others, and arguing can be just as damaging.
Causes for Aggressive Behavior
The development of aggressive behavior can be the result of many different factors, from genetic causes that have been inherited from parents to learned behaviors through a series of repeated experiences. Additionally, certain types of mental health disorders or reactions to medication can cause aggression to appear in individuals who would otherwise be calm. Some of the most common causes include:
Genetic: Research suggests that there may be a genetic link to aggressive outbursts. In a study conducted on mice results showed that those mice who lacked a certain gene were far less aggressive than the mice that had that particular gene. This gene is also present in human beings, which seems to support the idea of a genetic link to aggression.
Environment: It is thought that certain environmental factors such as living in poor neighborhoods with high crime rates or family dysfunction can both lead to aggressive, problematic behaviors. Additionally, poor parenting practices and children with difficult temperaments are also at an increased risk.
Medications: Certain types of medication have the ability to cause a person to act in an aggressive manner. For some individuals prescriptions pills, or even some over-the-counter meds, can cause irritability, nervousness, or other aggression-causing feelings.
Mental health disorders: A number of different mental health illnesses can cause a person to experience inappropriate aggressive reactions. Psychiatric disorders that are associated with an elevated risk of aggressive behavior include:
- Conduct disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance abuse
- Intermittent explosive disorder
Effects of Aggressive Behavior
If not properly addressed and treated, aggression can lead to serious consequences in many different areas of a child’s life and can often relate to a number of negative outcomes later in adolescence and even in adulthood. Complications the result from aggressive behavior can include physical, psychological, and even legal ramifications. Some of these effects can include:
- Substance abuse
- Conduct problems
- Poor adjustment
- Academic difficulties
- Expulsion or dropping out of school
Treatment for Aggression
If your child is demonstrating aggressive behavior such as intense anger, frequent temper tantrums, or extreme impulsivity you should immediately take them in for a complete evaluation by a qualified mental health professional. It is important to not minimize these behaviors. The earlier a child gets help for this disruptive behavior the better the outcome is likely to be. Treatment for aggression is conducted on an individual basis since the reason for this type of behavior can be the result of many different factors. The goal of treatment is usually to focus on helping a child learn how to control his or her anger and frustration in appropriate ways, be responsible for his or her actions, and come to accept consequences.
There are a number of different options available for the treatment of aggressive behavior, which may include a residential treatment program that has been shown to be effective at identify and treating the cause of this inappropriate behavior. Through a residential treatment program, individuals will be able to receive any therapeutic interventions needed to address any underlying mental health disorders that may be causing the aggressive behavior. Additionally, children and adolescents can get any medication they may need and will be under constant supervision to ensure safety while they get their behaviors under control. Other methods that may be used in treatment include group therapy, family therapy, and experiential programming, all of which can address any additional issues the child may be having.
Tips for Coping with Aggression in Child or Adolescent
Knowing how to handle an aggressive child can be difficult for parents and other authority figures, like teachers, that the child comes in contact with on a regular basis. Here are some tips that may be useful for dealing with an aggressive child or teen:
- Praise them when they are being good
- Do not ignore inappropriate aggressive behaviors
- Do not try to rationalize the inappropriate behavior
- Use concise, direct, and positively stated commands
- Set up house or school rules that are to be followed
- Enforce negative consequences when a rule is broken or when aggressive behavior is used
- Increase ongoing communication
- Model effective problem solving
- Teach relaxation techniques
- Constantly monitor the child