How to react

How to react
There’s no magic formula. However, to encourage your child to react appropriately to everyday situations, you can visualize a backpack that you fill with all the tools your child needs.

There’s no magic formula. However, to encourage your child to react appropriately to everyday situations, Loriana Giuliani and Marie-Christine Harguindéguy-Lincourt suggest visualizing a backpack that you fill with all the tools your child needs. Your role as a parent is to make sure your child’s backpack is full of real tools that she can use to help her manage her emotions.

They also point out that parents react differently to their children’s aggressive behaviour as opposed to other behaviour. Take, for example, a child at her first swimming lesson, who is afraid, crying and refusing to go in the water: “In this type of situation, parents usually adopt a calm and reassuring attitude. They help their child overcome her fears and speak gently.” But if the child is behaving aggressively, the tendency of parents is often to stop the behaviour and say it’s not acceptable, period. But the child still needs to be offered other ways to react and given the tools to do so, in the same way that she needed reassurance at the pool.

That’s why it’s important to take the time to stop and think about your child’s behaviour. Does she have the tools in her “backpack” to curb her aggressive behaviour? Taking a moment to think about it will help you better understand what she needs and how to help her.

The importance of remaining calm and reassuring
When you get discouraged, remember that your child’s aggressive behaviour is her clumsy way of expressing her emotions. When you understand this, you’ll have an easier time remaining calm and reassuring when dealing with the situation. Moreover, you’ll be a lot more useful to your child if you’re in control of your own emotions. Since your child learns by example, being able to express yourself calmly and respectfully, even when you’re angry, will help your child do likewise. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to talk to someone close or to seek help from your CLSC.

Some questions to ask yourself

  • When does your child behave most aggressively? In the morning? Evening? Before mealtimes? When she’s more tired? When she has to wait?
  • In what situations? At daycare? At home? During routines (meals, bath, bedtime)? When playing with other children? When visiting friends or family?
  • What is your child trying to tell you with her behaviour? Is she angry? Is she having a hard time being understood or getting what she wants? Does she want to do it on her own?
  • Has she recently experienced a difficult situation that may be influencing her behaviour? For example: a move, a new daycare, arguments at home, a separation, the death of a grandparent, etc.
Wrestling with dad
Many mothers fear that wrestling games between father and child (especially in the case of boys) foster aggressive behaviour. Daniel Paquette, researcher and professor at Université de Montréal’s School of Psychoeducation, has a keen interest in this type of play. His results show that friendly wrestling or fighting, where the father is playful and makes sure things don’t get out of control in fact help the child to develop self-control. Thanks to these physical games with dad in a playful context, children learn to better manage their own aggressiveness.