When a child, even a very young child, gets angry, has a tantrum or a meltdown and starts to lash out and throw things around the room, screaming, shouting, swearing, biting and scratching, or at worst, throwing heavy objects at all the people or children around him, it can prove dangerous, so it needs to be treated straightaway.

Even though, after the event, the child will feel sorry and show good signs of remorse, he needs to learn that this is unacceptable behaviour, which, if not, curbed, may result in him in big trouble with the law when he is older.

“But what can I do?” I hear you ask.

The first thing you need to remember is that a child who is lashing out, is a child in distress. He is trying to communicate. You see, with children, behaviour is their way of communicating. They are not mature enough to sit down and say;

Hey mum/dad, I’m feeling really angry that my five year old sister really winds me up and if I so much as shout at her for doing it – I’M the one who is always in trouble!”

How you – as the parents – respond when the child DOES get angry and lash out, will pave the way for future behaviours, because depending how you DO react will have a big effect on whether he will continue to respond to distress in the same way, or perhaps he can learn better ways of responding?

Intermittent Explosive Behaviour

If you notice a pattern of aggressive behaviour in your child, it is most likely to be because of some underlying anxiety that may need professional help.

  • ADHD: Children struggling with ADHD are frustrated easily, especially in certain circumstances, such as when they’re supposed to be doing their homework or getting ready to go to bed.
  • Learning Disability: Does your child act out repeatedly? in school? Or at home? it could be because the work is just too hard for him.
  • Sensory Processing; Things like too much noise, crowds and even clothes that make them itch can make them anxious, uncomfortable, or overwhelmed. That can lead to aggressive behaviour.
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder:  Children on all levels of the    spectrum often have major meltdowns when they are frustrated or faced with unexpected change. They also often have sensory issues that make them very anxious.

There are so many possible causes for outbursts and aggressive behaviour, so an accurate diagnosis is important to getting the help you are going to need. The first place to start is with your GP and then he may refer you to a psychologist for an assessment.  He can rule out physical causes and then refer you to a specialist. A trained, experienced child psychologist or psychiatrist will be able to give you a diagnosis so that you can discuss any changes that need to be made at school, for example- having a TA or SEN to help on a one- to- one basis.

What can I do to help my child be able to control his emotions?

The first to do is to try and stay calm. When you are faced with a child who is really aggressive and starting to lash out, you can easily feel out of control yourself, and then you will probably start shouting and screaming at him or her. However, when you do that you have almost lost! You will be making him even more aggressive. Most children model OUR behaviour, so do stay calm and try and teach your child that by staying calm when things get a bit rough, they can be sorted out more easily.

Whatever happens, don’t give in. Stay strong and stick your ground!

Praise his good behaviour. When he has calmed down, teach him to express his feelings verbally, calmly, or try to find a compromise on an area of disagreement, praise him for those efforts.

Time outs and reward systems. Time outs for normal bad behaviour can work well with children younger than 7 or 8 years old.  However, if a child is too old for time outs, you need to have a system of positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviour—points, tokens, (but not money!)  towards something he wants to buy perhaps.

Avoid triggers by pre-empting the difficult times! Homework. Bedtime. Mealtimes. Stopping doing something he likes etc. Give plenty of warning when something is going to change.

What kind of tantrum or meltdown is it?

The first basic rule in dealing with your child’s tantrums is to ignore them as often as possible, because even negative attention, like telling the child to stop, can make him carry on. However, when a child is starting to physically lash out and hit, ignoring is not recommended as it can result in harm to others as well as your child. In this situation, you should put the child in a safe environment that does not give him/ her access to you or any other likely rewards.

If the child is quite young (usually 8 or younger), try placing him in a time out place. If he won’t stay there, take him to a backup area where he can calm down by himself without anyone else in the room. Again, for this approach to work there mustn’t be any toys or games in the area that might make it seem like he’s being rewarded.

He should stay in that room for one minute for each year of his age and must be calm and apologise before he is allowed out. Then he should come back to the time out place. This technique gives your child an immediate and consistent consequence for his aggressive behaviour and it removes all access to reinforcing things in his environment.

If you have an older child who is being aggressive and you aren’t able to carry him or her into an isolated area to calm down, then take yourself off to another area, away from him. This ensures that she is not getting any attention or reinforcement from you and keeps you safe.

In extreme instances, it may be necessary to call 999 to ensure your and your child’s safety. Parents are reluctant to do this but I have met parents who have brought their child to me for therapy who have had no choice because their son (9 years old) was being so aggressive that his father was fearful that he was going to do something terrible as he had already virtually smashed a lot of things in the house.

What help is there?

  • Parent Management Training. PMT teaches techniques to help the parent cope with the aggressive child, although the therapist usually works with parents, not the child.
  • Calming therapies like meditation, mindfulness and relaxation classes will help calm the child.
  • Child and teen yoga classes
  • Hypnotherapy and NLP

Meltdowns and tantrums are more of a worry when they occur more often, more intensely, or past the age in which they’re developmentally expected — those terrible twos up through preschool. As a child gets older, aggression becomes more and more dangerous to you, and the child. And it can become a big problem for him at school and with friends, too.

Aggressive Children need Calm, Confident Parents who stay in Control. I have always told parents that my three favourite words, when parenting children in any capacity, are: 

  • Persistent
  • Consistent
  • Patient

If you can remember those, and use them, you won’t go far wrong. However, if you feel that you need some help and would like to have a complimentary 30 minute consultation with me on zoom or phone, do contact me by phone on 02038887173 or by email at info@focus-hypnotherapy.co.uk.

Hypnotherapy is an amazing therapy which helps children regain control, quiets their sub-conscious mind, and teaches them to self soothe so that they can calm down quickly if they should have a wobble!

Good luck!

Elaine Hodgins

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