Aggressive Behavior in Children and Teens

Aggressive Behavior in Children and Teens

Dealing with aggressive behavior in young children: Overview

Dealing with aggressive behavior in young children: Overview

All children have times when they are angry and defiant. Many children begin to express these emotions during their second year. It is a normal part of a child's urge to take charge of their life. However, your child may act out in ways that puzzle or frighten you. It can be very painful to see your child bullying other children or becoming violent.

You can help your child learn to understand and manage angry feelings. Show your child the behavior you want to see. Set firm, clear limits around what behavior is okay. If you are consistent in your own behavior, it will help your child understand how to behave with other people. If you need help with your child's behavior, talk to your doctor or a counselor.

What are the warning signs for violent behavior in children and teens?

What are the warning signs for violent behavior in children and teens?

There can be many signs that children or teens may be thinking about being violent. For example, they may get into fights. They may bully others, hurt animals, or damage someone's property. Other signs include talking or posting on social media about violence and withdrawing from friends, family, and activities.

Dealing with aggressive behavior in young children: When to call

Dealing with aggressive behavior in young children: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You are so frustrated with your child that you are afraid you might cause them physical harm.

Contact your doctor if:

  • You want tips on helping your child control their behavior.
  • You would like to see a counselor.
  • You would like your child to see a counselor.

Protecting your child or teen from becoming violent

Protecting your child or teen from becoming violent

Parents can help protect their child or teen from being violent. When kids feel loved and safe, they are more likely to deal with situations without using violence. Here are some things you can try.

  • Set rules and limits so that your child knows what's expected.
  • Be involved in your child's life.
  • Know what your child enjoys and how they spend free time.
  • Be aware of what your child is doing online.
  • Remove guns and other weapons from your home.

    Locking a gun in a place away from the ammunition may help. But there is still a risk.

  • Know who your child spends time with.
    • Explore ways that your child can avoid situations that aren't safe. Also look for ways your child can avoid hanging out with those who might encourage violent behavior.
    • Talk to your teen about the effect a group can have on their life. Peers have a strong impact on the way a teen acts.
  • Protect your child from violence in media as much as you can.

    Children who watch a lot of this violence may start to believe that such actions are okay. This can make them more likely to be violent themselves.

  • Be a positive role model.

    Help your child find ways to resolve conflict without using violence. All other adults in the home and other family members can be good role models too.

    • Role-play conflict. Let your child decide which style fits them best. Role-play ways to help your child walk away from fights.
    • Use nonviolent ways to resolve conflict in your home. Let your child see how you discuss issues without physically or verbally attacking the other person. People who witness violence in their home or community are more likely to choose violence to resolve conflict.
    • React to hard situations in a calm, relaxed way. Don't yell or call people names.
  • Encourage your child to get involved in sports, music, or other activities.
    • Taking part in activities gives children and teens a sense of skill success and helps build a positive self-image.
    • Playing sports or exercising can be a way to release energy.
    • Organized sports and other recreational and service activities can provide good role models.
  • Talk to your teen about healthy and unhealthy relationships.

    Dating abuse is common among teens. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, or physical. It can happen in person, over the computer, and over the phone. Explain that this is not acceptable. Tell your teen that a caring partner would not do something to someone that causes fear, lowers self-esteem, or causes injury. Talk with your teen about how to leave a relationship that isn't healthy.

  • Discourage alcohol and drug use.

    Teens who use alcohol or drugs are more likely to be in violent situations.

    • Talk with your teen about what to do if they're in a situation where alcohol or drugs are being used.
    • Be aware of your own alcohol or drug use. Don't give your teen the idea that you need to have a drink in order to enjoy yourself. Never drink and drive.
  • Get help.

    Talk with a health professional or licensed counselor if you think that your child may need help dealing with conflict. For example, if you've been told your child has been bullying others, take this seriously and seek help.

What increases the risk for violent behavior in children and teens?

What increases the risk for violent behavior in children and teens?

Certain things make violent behavior in children or teens more likely. These are called risk factors. They can include any or a combination of these things:

  • Experiencing or being exposed to violence in the home, school, or community.
  • Constantly being bullied.
  • Having less parental or adult involvement.
  • Using drugs or alcohol.
  • Being a member of a gang or having a strong desire to become part of a gang.
  • Having access to or a fascination with guns or other violent weapons.
  • Feeling rejected, alone, or disrespected.
  • Having poor school performance or attendance.

Find a provider today!

Harvard Pilgrim has a large and growing network of behavioral health providers who offer expertise across dozens of behavioral health care specialties. Search our online directory to find a provider near you. 

Complete mental health care for the whole family

Northeast Health Services is a network of outpatient mental health clinics that focuses on delivering timely access to high-quality psychiatry and therapy services for adults, children and adolescents in Massachusetts. The network offers a hybrid of in-person and telehealth services to best serve your needs.


© 2016- Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.