Child Behaviour

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|Aggressive Child Behavior Part I: Fighting in School and at Home | |by James Lehman, MSW |

Does your child always seem to get in trouble for fighting? You’ve tried talking to him, but the aggressive behavior hasn’t stopped—he still roughhouses with his siblings at home to the point of injury, brawls with kids on the bus and gets into fistfights at school. In part 1 of this two-part series on aggressive child and teen behavior, James Lehman explains why kids get into fights in the first place—and tells you the three basic types of fighting that you need to address as a parent. "The question 'why' doesn't lead to a change in behavior, but the question "What were you trying to accomplish" does…" Why is fighting on the rise for both boys and girls these days? In fact, why are so many child behavior problems increasing? It's not only fighting; many kids also have a much harder time showing respect for authority, following parental structure, responding to simple directions and completing tasks. It seems like on all levels of measurable behavior, kids are falling further and further behind. In my experience, all of these behaviors are part of the same larger issue. For one reason or another, many children are not learning the problem-solving skills they need in order to avoid getting into a physical fight. As a result, they develop ineffective coping skills. If your child uses fighting as a coping skill, you may naturally feel frustrated and unsure about how to handle this issue. Often, parents panic when they start to wake up to the fact that things are getting worse with their child’s behavior. They react by using the same tools they used in the past, only they use them harder or louder or more punitively. The problem is that if your child isn't responding to your parenting methods in the first place, doing it louder or stronger probably isn’t going to change that. In my opinion, it's not that parents need to use their skills more intensely—it's that they need to develop more intense skills. How Kids Develop into Fighters

Are some kids more prone to get into fistfights and shoving matches than others? Perhaps. Many children have difficulties solving social problems, and this can often lead to aggressive behavior. A social problem can be anything from learning how to get food when you’re hungry, to sharing toys, to responding appropriately when an adult says “no,” to not using drugs when your friends do, and avoiding unsafe sex. Most children learn how to handle these problems as they mature. But some kids get sidetracked at some point in their development, perhaps because of a learning disability or some other hidden factor. In any case, they don't develop the problem-solving skills they need to function at their level. These are the kids who often resort to violence and aggression—they use verbal abuse and fighting in place of the coping skills they should have learned along the way. Sometimes we unknowingly misdirect our kids’ coping skill development by teaching them how to make excuses and blame others. When a parent says to a child, “Why did you hit your little brother, Tommy?” not only are they asking Tommy to make an excuse, but if he doesn’t, they’ll readily provide one: “Maybe you were angry.” The question “why” always indicates that we’re looking for an excuse or reason, when really what we want to learn is what he was trying to accomplish. So a better question is “What were you trying to accomplish when you hit your brother?” because it gets to the facts of the action. Why Tommy did what he did is not as important as what he was trying to accomplish. Don’t Ask Your Child "Why"—Ask “What Were You Trying to Accomplish?” The question “why” doesn’t lead to a change in behavior, but the question “What were you trying to accomplish” does...
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