Situation: My child is aggressive toward his siblings and does not seem to understand what it means to have hurt someone else.
There are four kinds of aggression and it helps to figure out which kind it is because each are a little different in how you would handle it. The place to start is to look back over the situation or situations and see what matches up best. below is a description of each type.
Accidental aggression: This is where random things happen and there is no intent to do harm. The examples for children are endless. It could be a child steps on another child's fingers, runs over toes, hits someone with a ball, or falls into someone after having tripped. It also would include something much more serious such as if he tries to carry a younger sibling and drops them. There is no intent to do harm and what is needed most is for parents or other adults to go into their "narrator mode." This is where the child needs to hear a verbal description of what happened and to have both children involved and the parent to understand that no harm was intended. Using the examples above: A child steps on another fingers. Your response would be. You are upset because he stepped on your fingers. I know that he did not see you there. Bobby, watch where you are going. You hurt Katie when you stepped on her fingers. It also helps if you can have the offending child do something to make the offended feel better. Keep in mind the principles of Repentance. It includes the concept of restitution and that is critical for these times. What could the child do to help make the one that is hurt feel better.
Expressive aggression: This is where a child is caught up in the feeling of the situation. An example of this might be the child who loves to wrestle with a parent and seeks to engage another person in that but they don't know how to initiate the action, how to control it or how to end it. Those are all things that the adult manages for the child. This child needs help with learning each level. however when damage or a hurt has taken place it is important to have them focus on the outcome. You direct the child to look at the one who is in distress. Here is a sequence. "Billy, you like wrestling with Aaron. She did not know you were playing. look at her face." "You hurt her when you ...... When you want to play with her, use your words." "Aaron. If you want Billy to stop, put up your hand and say Stop!." "Billy, if she says Stop. you have to stop."
The next type in Instrumental aggression: This is what is used when there is intent or a purpose such as to get control of an object or control a situation. The intent is still not to hurt but that is a common by-product. A child might be trying to take something away from another child and they are so focused on the object that they may not recognize it is being used or is even in another child's hand. Football is a good example of instrumental aggression. both the offense and defense have a goal and they engage in physical actions with the intent of reaching their goal. Hurting someone is not a part of the plan but it happens. This is one that can be explored in far more depth based on individual situations.
The last type is Hostile aggression. This is rarely seen in children under 8 years of age and is rare even for older children, but many people mistaken the other types as being this type. Hostile aggression is aggression for no other reason than to hurt someone else. This is the type of aggression that time-outs work best for addressing as well as a variety of other things used in conjunction with each other.
The last thing that I will address related to aggression is how children tend to act after hurting another. Yes it is possible for a child to be embarrassed over their actions or the impact of their actions. I have seen children try to do things that in their mind made sense but in the adult's mind is incomprehensible. I have had children regress in their toilet training, become more aggressive, fall apart into fits of crying or other uncontrollable or inconsolable behaviors, etc. Usually it is loosely related to how the adults respond or concern about how the adults will respond.
Well, my fingers hurt now so I will stop for now.