As we prepared to post this blog entry as a follow-up to our discussion of Dylann Roof there has been yet another mass shooting. Yesterday, a 20 year old opened fire at a community college in Oregon. What is even more tragic is the postings that occurred a day before on a website by the name of 4chan where an anonymous individual posted a warning for people in the Northwest not to go to school on the day of the shooting. Several others posted encouragements in the comments of this post. How do we begin to explain why aggressive impulses are so out of control.
First, it is important to understand developmentally appropriate aggression. Without some aggression children become passive and struggle to make decisions, form their own opinions, and do the work in order to be successful in life. Essentially, early aggression is the foundation for assertiveness.
Assertiveness is a mixture of love and aggression. Children need help to assert their own needs while keeping in mind the needs of others.
So how do we get there? When a child first experiences aggression (an energy that comes from discomfort) it can feel very big. Parents help the child become the boss of their aggression through their loving and neutral words. It can be difficult for parents. The primitive aggression of children can be overwhelming to even the most loving parent. When a child of three screams that they want you to die, do not be afraid. The child needs you to remain neutral. You can educate by reminding the child of the love between you and by using communicating a trust that angry feelings will pass. If parents overreact or meet aggression with anger, no one is in control.
Discipline practices also play a part in helping your child become the boss of their aggression. Punishment communicates to the child, “You hurt me so I am going to hurt you back.” Discipline teaches that there are natural consequences to behaviors. For example, when a child breaks another child’s toy, grounding or yelling may make your child fear you or the power of their own aggression. Having the child do a small chore to earn money to replace the toy teaches them that mistakes can be made better and that they are good fixers, not just breakers.
Anytime you feel your child is struggling to learn how to keep others in mind, it’s a good time to seek the advice of a child development professional. Together you will decide if parent guidance or individual therapy is the best way to help your child get unstuck and continue to mature.
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Kimberly and Anita have a combined 30 + years of experience working with young children and their families. See the bio page for more information.