National Network for Child Care's Connections Newsletter
Charles A. Smith, Ph.D.
Human Development Specialist
Human Development and Family Studies
Kansas State Cooperative Extension
Aggressive behaviors are learned. Responsive caregivers establish an atmosphere of cooperation and caring. The following suggestions will strengthen your ability to nurture self-esteem in young children and reduce aggressive behaviors.
LEAVE YOUR ANGER AT THE DOOR. Many things outside of the day-care setting can cause us to be upset: oversleeping, an argument with a spouse or roommate, even losing your keys. If you allow this anger to intrude into your relationships with children, you may confuse them and leave them feeling guilty. Pause for a moment before you begin the day with children. Take a deep breath and release the anger or frustration you might feel. If you do “snap” because of the stress you are feeling, apologize and let the children know it is not because of them. Modeling behavior that lets children know that we adults are not perfect is also important.
IDENTIFY YOUR OWN ANGRY FEELINGS WHEN WORKING WITH CHILDREN. Dealing calmly with children when they misbehave is important. But sometimes we still feel anger. Children are accurate observers of body language so they are aware of your anger. Reassure the children that you are angry at the situation or behavior and not at them. Explain why you are angry. Say, “I don't like hitting because hitting hurts!” instead of “I don't like children who hit!” or “I don't like you when you hit!”
LET CHILDREN TELL YOU HOW THEY FEEL. Sometimes our projections about children's feelings are clouded by how we feel about the situation. Help children recognize and label their own feelings. Say, “You seem angry to me. What's going on?” or “Sometimes people feel angry and stirred up inside when they get hit. How do you feel now?”
ACCEPT THE CHILDREN'S RIGHT TO HAVE ANGRY FEELINGS, BUT DO NOT ACCEPT AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIORS. If you ignore hitting, pinching, slapping, biting, or other violent acts, the vicious cycle of anger and aggression can accelerate. Say, “Tina, I understand you are angry right now, but I can't let you hurt yourself or Ben.”
HELP CHILDREN FIND ALTERNATIVES TO AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR. Encourage them to use words to communicate their needs. Say, “Ted, tell Stephanie you want your book back.”
HELP CHILDREN RECOGNIZE ANGRY FEELINGS AND THE BEHAVIORS THAT RESULT FROM THE FEELINGS. Point out the cause-and-effect relationship that exists between somebody else's actions and their own feelings. Say, “Mark felt angry when he tore up your paper, Matthew.”
When a child hurts someone, focus most of your attention on the child who was hurt. Comfort the child. Avoid rewarding the child who hit with your attention. Even negative attention can reinforce aggressive behavior. Say, “I know that hurt, Jason. Can I give you a hug?”
If possible, have the child who was aggressive aid the other child. Instead of a forced hug and a meaningless “I'm sorry,” you might ask the aggressor to give the victim a soft animal to hug. Or you might say, “Terry, you bit Mary. Biting hurts. Please get a warm, wet washcloth for Mary. Thank you.” In some cases, you will need to remove the child who was aggressive to another part of the room and allow the child to calm down before any positive behavior will be possible.
Examine your home for potential sources of frustration and accidental anger. How crowded are the indoor/outdoor play spaces? Are there enough materials? Are the materials age-appropriate? Do the children have enough time to get really involved in the play? Are there enough adults available to provide positive attention to the children? Are children expected to sit quietly for longer periods of time than their attention span allows?
Anger grows out of frustration. Aggression grows out of powerlessness. You can reduce aggression by paying attention to the environment you create and by teaching children acceptable ways to achieve their goals.
National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the National Extension Service
Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce
these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of
reproduction) provided that the author and Network receive acknowledgment and this notice is
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Smith, C. (1992). Handling aggression. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Day care center connections*, 1(4), pp. 3-4. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.