This is the sevents in our series on communication, Speaking the Child’s Language.
Anyone who’s ever had dealings with young children can attest to their potential for love: the kindness and gentleness they exhibit with sometimes boundless generosity. Yet the very same small child who was ever so lovingly hugging a friend a minute ago can also shove and scratch; tear hair; hit them with a toy.
Physical aggression usually becomes a big topic in early toddlerhood and continues throughout the preschool age. On one hand, it is the very definition of what Dr. Montessori decried as “antisocial behaviour”; it is the opposite of what we believe to be the normal for the child. On the other hand, physical aggression is a common feature of human development, one that we must both acknowledge and expect in order to deal with it effectively.
If we believe that the natural condition of the child is to be loving and peaceful, then where does aggression arise from?
Physical aggression falls within the normal developmental patterns of the first developmental plane only in a limited scope. As in adults, excessive aggression or violent behaviour is a severe issue, and besides its actual impact, it can also be a cry from help, of a child who is suffering, or a warning sign for disorders that require extensive professional help.
It can be a difficult and painful moment for a parent to admit that their child might need such help – however, not seeking it out when necessary is in itself a form of neglect and violence. Red flags that should never be ignored include:
The above writing focused almost exclusively on how to help the child. I would be remiss not to mention that the child might not be the only person in need of assistance.
Having one’s child hurt others can be a profoundly disturbing and troubling experience. Some parents deal with it by dismissing it as “normal”, “nothing to make a fuss about”, or my own absolute least favourite, “boys will be boys”; others lash against the child with punishments and rejection; yet others direct blame and self-loathing at themselves.
Neither of those approaches is very productive. The same guidelines of firmness, clarity and kindness that you should offer your child is also what you should allow yourself. Look for help: your child’s educators, other caregivers and medical professionals should all offer you cooperation and assistance; however, look also for help and support for yourself: among friends, family, or other parents in the same situation.
The reaction of your environment – and your child’s environment – may become a source of stress and pain. In particular, if your child is aggressive towards others, you might see them being rejected by friends, or even be yourself a child of other parents’ enmity. I don’t have any easy answers for this, except to try and allow yourself to accept this situation, acknowledge the anxiety or hurt of others, and try to stay positive and focused on solutions. Most likely, this too shall pass.
Inevitably you will do wrong by your child sometimes, react wrongly, act out in anger, lose your temper or unwittingly model something you truly don’t want them to emulate. You will make mistakes. There’s nothing to it but to try and limit them, try and learn from them, try and try again. As should your child. As should we all.