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Aggressive Behavior

An aggressive child is one who hits, bites, bullies, demands, and/or destroys. Although aggression is a part of human nature, most people learn to manage and control their aggressive impulses and to channel them into appropriate and socially acceptable activities.

Aggression is particularly likely during times of threat, anger, rage, and frus­tration. As an important task of early childhood, youngsters must develop the ability to manage aggression and replace it with more socially acceptable re­sponses. By the time most children reach school age, their coping skills are sophisticated enough, and their range of social skills broad enough, that they can generally remain calm and cooperative even in the face of stressful or un­pleasant circumstances. Such appropriate behavior does not prevent them from competing and striving toward competence.

Some elementary-school children have not yet mastered the skills needed to manage their aggression effectively. Their behavior ranges from hitting to throwing to having tantrums. By kindergarten, children whose aggressive be­havior is a threat to their peers and to themselves should receive professional help. Other children, usually between ages six and nine, occasionally regress and exhibit aggressive behavior when they are under extreme stress. By about a seven-to-one ratio, boys have more problems with aggression than girls; this is due to a combination of factors, from the innate aggressive tendencies of boys to the fact that our society encourages and accepts more aggressive behavior from them.

Socially immature children may express their negative and hostile feelings in destructive ways. They may have bouts of aggression that damage property (such as their own toys or the property of others), throw objects, turn over furniture, break lamps, or kick walls. These behaviors are usually triggered by frustration, anger, or humiliation. Some children who have failed to receive sufficient positive attention for their more socially desirable behavior develop a habit of resorting to negative behaviors to get parental attention.

Sometimes these children exhibit even more serious antisocial behavior— so-called conduct disorders—such as setting fires, being cruel to animals, hurt­ing other people (physically and/or emotionally), or lying habitually. As youngsters grow older, this pattern may evolve to include vandalism and tru­ancy and is often associated with alcohol and other drug abuse. These kinds of worrisome behavior occur only rarely in some children, but they have seri­ous implications for later functioning, and their presence should prompt an evaluation by a specialist in child behavior and emotional problems.

Last Updated
Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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