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Aggression in Children - Attacker or Victim

Misbah has always wanted to pursue writing as a career. She loves to write on different topics, including Spirituality, psychology, and more

Close up Angry Young Boy Shouting on his Own Mirror Reflection with Mouth Wide Open Against Black Background.

Close up Angry Young Boy Shouting on his Own Mirror Reflection with Mouth Wide Open Against Black Background.

Aggression in children is a serious problem

Aggression in its antisocial, destructive form is a serious problem not only because an overly aggressive child threatens others. Psychologists warn that the aggressor is also at risk of being rejected by society and peers, poor development of interpersonal and social skills, low self-esteem, and problems with identity and identification.

Increasingly, minors threaten their fellow citizens. Theft, extortion, robberies, murders, and rapes are acts committed by younger and younger children. Police reports show that not only the number of aggressive acts is increasing, but also their brutality and cruelty, and the age of the perpetrators is decreasing. Younger and younger perpetrators are digging, mistreating in a fancy way, mutilating, and demolishing rooms.

They especially bully their peers — the elderly and the disabled. Juvenile offenders work in organized groups with which adults often cooperate. Young aggressors often come from pathological environments, but more and more often there are also children from the so-called best families.

Scientists have been wondering for years about the causes and determinants of the increase in violent behavior among adolescents and children. Many authors put forward a thesis about learning aggressive behavior or the inability to express bad emotions in an alternative, more pro-social way. Sometimes brutalized media coverage is cited as the cause of the rise in these trends. Still, others talk about the crisis of the family and pedagogy, and traditionally parents are to blame for the antisocial behavior of children. There is talk of a lack of care, emotional instability.

Aggression in its antisocial, destructive form is a serious problem not only because an overly aggressive child threatens others. Psychologists warn that the aggressor is also at risk of being rejected by society and peers, poor development of interpersonal and social skills, low self-esteem, as well as identity and identification problems. It may be particularly significant in the case of children whose aggressive behavior is subject to social punishment in the form of opposition from their peers.

Any such objection as incompatible with the expectations of an aggressive child will be perceived by them as a threat to the possibility of a very vividly felt need for social contact, and thus will deepen the feeling of rejection by the group.

Parents and other adults

The natural and most desirable educational environment for a child is a properly functioning nuclear family. It is here that the child's personal qualities develop, it is influenced by patterns of behavior and behavior, and it adopts the system of norms and values. Part of the role parents play with their children is socialization.

The efforts leading to channeling the child's activity in a specific direction — developing certain standards of behavior under generally accepted norms until — are called control techniques by developmental psychology. But, parents usually take up this educational role intuitively, rarely have knowledge about the needs, development, and methods of raising a child, and — often do not try to acquire it.

The problem of the relationship between the style of educational influence and developing anti-social behavior, including aggressive behavior in children, seems to be important.

Aggression is usually just an outward manifestation of a child's serious problem: anxiety neurosis, feelings of rejection and low worth, the frustration of the need for social contact, inhibition or hyperactivity, feeling of being lost, insecure, and not meeting the need for love, permanent feeling of guilt and hopelessness.

An aggressive child is also often a victim of domestic violence, a creature full of fear, lonely in its sense of harm, neurotic, "diminished", and aggression is the only known form of satisfying many needs.

People who abuse and neglect their own children were most often mistreated and neglected by their parents; this is almost a rule. But, there are reliable data on the number of neglected, incapacitated, beaten, mutilated, mentally abused, and sexually abused children.

The taboos concerning relations between parents and children, shaped in our tradition, mean that no one interferes, even in the case fact of violence against children, and people who have decided to help abused children are surprised by the size and complexity of the phenomenon.

Many studies show that it is a mass phenomenon. It follows from them that abused children live in both upbringing and exemplary families; children are abused by adults from the social margin, but also by those who are educated and well-off.

Research also shows that more aggressive children come from families where at least one of the parents is an aggressive person (Bandura A., Walters, RH 1968)

Teachers are the people who have the greatest influence on a child's development. They are usually prepared, theoretically, to work with the child, they are socially empowered (appointed) to control the child's behavior, and they have a certain social authority. In educational institutions, the upbringing process to which a child is subjected should be systematic, have specific goals and tasks be developed by specialists, and as far as possible consider the needs and specific developmental characteristics of the child.

Meanwhile, almost 75% of students personally experience acts of violence at school until, that is, they were either their perpetrators, victims, or observers.

Aggression and violent behavior

Violent young man threatening his girlfriend with his fist outdoors

Violent young man threatening his girlfriend with his fist outdoors

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The first years of life (infants and toddlers and the beginning of preschool age) are the period when the child is not yet able to control his emotional reactions and does not feel the need to do so.

Aggression at this age is often spontaneous, i.e. It is not accompanied by a clear tendency to harm, destroy, or cause harm, although usually, these children are aware of the possibility of such effects or even reprehensibility of the act.

The basics of acquiring and shaping social and empathetic sensitivities lie in the emotional interactions between the parent and the child. Researchers (Eisenberg-Berg N., Mussen P., 1978). Researchers believe that by the middle of the preschool period, developing this competence is significantly influenced primarily by the style of family education:

Only from the second half of preschool-age the beginnings of emotional control be followed, including attempts to adjust the forms and degree of emotional expression to the requirements of social intercourse and replacing undesirable reactions with others.

Is "the best" from an educational point of view? A period to provide the child models of coping with emotions through movement and partner play in the group. It is also a time to gradually make the child aware of the power and effects both negative and positive physical and social contacts can have. Not all children are aware of the effects of these contacts.

According to JP Piaget (1966), a child under the age of seven is still egocentric, unconsciously turned inward, and thus unable to accept someone else's point of view. On the other hand, the basis of moral behavior is the ability to distinguish and adopt an impersonal perspective.

Allocentric reactions have a chance to reach a mature shape only if the child has extensive experience in interpersonal contacts, both those of a purely social and intellectual nature, as well as physical, tactile, or competitive.

Many authors are inclined to treat preschool age as a transition period between the period of helplessness and dependence of an infant and the independence and resourcefulness of a student. A research was conducted which proved that children as young as three can recognize emotions and even predict emotional reactions in others, but they do not understand social situations.

Mental sensitivity, including cognitive sensitivity to other people's emotions (empathy), sensitivity to sadness, and suffering in other people. Many child psychologists consider the basic mechanism of learning behavior and acquiring social competencies as a counterbalance to aggressive and destructive nature.

Aggression in early childhood

Young aggressive boy yell to his father after punishment

Young aggressive boy yell to his father after punishment

Assimilation and accommodation

The basic mechanisms of development (Piaget, JP, 1966) are two opposing internally balanced processes: assimilation and accommodation. This law applies to all spheres of functioning — psychomotor skills, cognitive and emotional and social and moral ones, and thus also aggressive, hostile, and destructive behavior. The processes of accommodation and assimilation bind the structures of individual development levels.

The emotional and social evolution of a child is subject to the same general process, because the emotional, social, and cognitive aspects are in fact inseparable. The emergence of an opposition crisis in producing a child around the age of three — which manifests itself in the need for affirmation and independence and in various types of rivalry (sometimes aggressive and hostile) towards the elders — is an important element in producing self-esteem and individuality.

The following stages contribute to the shaping of the entire personality under the epigenetic principle taken from embryology. At every stage, the crisis should be resolved, which results in the acquisition of virtue as the basic quality of the ego.

Aggression appears in a child as a factor of developmental changes. There are two times when a child exacerbates hostile behavior. The aggressive behavior intensifies for the first time at the age of two or three, when the child resolves the “autonomy versus doubt” competence crisis. It is then that hostility, stubbornness, negativity, willfulness, body expression combined with the desire to constantly experiment with the environment serves to develop a sense of separateness, self-control, a sense of autonomy and independence, and intimacy. The intensification of aggressive behavior should be accepted by the educational environment.


The second such moment in development is the fifth phase of personality development, i.e. The "identity versus confusion" crisis falling in the age of adolescence (12–18 years). During this period, the internal balance of the individual is disturbed — many problems related to maturation, gender identification, a crisis of the "I" image, and, most painfully, the renewal of conflicts from previous phases appear.

Hostile behavior, sometimes overly aggressive towards authorities, the negation of values, rebellion against parental authority, conflicts within peer groups, and other aggressive behaviors are of great importance for building a positive self-image, identification with a given culture and gender, building a coherent bridge between the "I" private and public "I", defining life goals, developing individuality and independence.

In both situations, aggressive and hostile behaviors may become pathological and become an element of the personality structure, and the lack of such behaviors may lead to a lack of will development, a sense of lack of self-autonomy, excessive dependence on the environment, helplessness in the first case, and to the diffusion of identity, addictions, and inability. To make decisions and other disorders in the latter case.

Thus, aggression as an immanent feature, may arise because of failure during each of the developmental crises. Inability to make decisions and other disorders in the second case.

Aggression and violent behavior

Aggressive teenagers bullying boy outdoors

Aggressive teenagers bullying boy outdoors

Symptoms or lack thereof

The tendency to aggressive behavior can also be recognized as part of a child's mental constitution. It is worth considering here the form of suppressed aggression called pointless aggression. A small child does not understand the cause-effect relationships; they are angered by their own helplessness and delayed reactions from the environment.

Suppressed emotions accumulate in the child and manifest themselves in the form of hostile, destructive actions, bringing the child no benefits other than reducing the tension. They are impulsive and often come as a surprise to the child himself. Much of the aggressive behavior comes from feelings of humiliation, injustice, or jealousy. Sometimes this takes the form of highly emotional dreams that contain many aggressive motives.

Most human activities signal something. Most of the signaling behavior is easily read from the environment. But, there is a group of reactions, the meaning of which the environment is not able to read, and so they arouse anxiety, they are called problem behaviors. With their help, a person strives to satisfy his needs (e.g. Independence — autonomy, drawing attention to himself, advantage — dominating others, obtaining help and support, revenge — revenge, etc.).

Thus, intentional behavior can be a cry for help, an expression of powerlessness or confusion, although actual behavior can be offensive, perverse, energetic, and destructive.

A human, notably a child? Sensitive, unformed? He often manifests just such a two-layer tactic: externally, he fights with the environment, opposes, attacks, at the same time protects the inner, sensitive layer containing the ideal self. Defiance, negativity, aggression are behaviors typical of adolescents in the period of adolescence.

Educators should be flexible in responding to such manifestations noted in there and showing them a lot of warmth and understanding.

Aggression in children - a tool

A conscious manifestation of aggression appears at the age of one and a half or two years, but the child's reaction is short-lived and inconsistent. With time, however, hostile reactions become more and more persistent and varied in form.

At preschool age, a child can punish a parent for failing to follow the learned hygiene standards; for example, the child begins to pee into bed. At school age, he discovers an even richer repertoire of retaliatory and aggressive acts, such as a hunger strike, deterioration of academic performance, withdrawal from interaction with the environment, and others.

Often (but not always) the hostile tendency towards parents is displaced from consciousness, and sometimes the child is unaware that his behavior comes from a desire for revenge or retaliation against the parents.

Is aggression not always negative? The care’s task is not to inhibit all manifestations of aggression but to direct them from the anti-social path to the pro-social path. Active children able to defend their views, participating in sport struggles, or competing in science, in fact use favorable forms of aggression accepted by social norms.

It is unclear whether the sex differences in the frequency of aggressive behavior are biologically or culturally found. Research shows no differences in the behavior of children at the age of two and the disproportions between boys and girls gradually worsening with age. But, the proportion in the general level of aggressive behavior does not change, but only in its form. With age, girls more and more often use crying, screaming, insults, quarrels instead of outright physical aggression, while the boys do the opposite.

Parents more often expect an active attitude from the boy and even reward aggressive behavior ("the man should defend his honor") over other forms of tension release ("men don't cry"). On the other hand, girls are threatened by cultural norms with sanctions for aggressive behavior: parental, and social disapproval, exclusion from the peer group, the label of "tomboy", etc. Making aggressive behavior is conditioned by a combination of the child's constitutional properties and environmental factors.

Thus, rewarding aggressive behavior can work well for an inhibited child, but it can be a disaster for an overly open and hyperactive child. Similarly, too severe and frequent punishment of aggressive and hostile behavior can be a source of frustration and anxiety, and thus give rise to new aggressive tendencies.

Adult master

Also, not always the child learns destructive behavior by following the aggressive model. The social status of the model, gender, the role it plays in relation to the child, and whether the model was rewarded or punished for its aggression, and in what way plays a significant role here.

The child's upbringing style is of great importance in this process; the warm and indulgent attitude of the parents makes the child, on the one hand, quite aggressive, and on the other hand, full of friendly feelings: conflict-free, creative, autonomous, and fearless. A cold and indulgent attitude also fosters aggression in children, but here we are dealing with antisocial aggression resulting from the accumulation of anxiety and insecurity.

Restrictive heat attitude causes the child to develop excessive anxiety, inhibitions, and symptoms of the parents' love burden. Such a child drives aggression out of consciousness and feels guilty about being too spontaneous in behavior.

The restrictive cold attitude develops a tendency to aggressiveness in the child, but at the same time takes away all possibility of its manifestation. The image of such a child means internal disorders, constant feeling of guilt, underestimation of self-esteem, and consequently aggression directed inwards against oneself.

Aggression in children - External patterns

The younger the child, the more outward steers. The ease with which a young child becomes infected with sadistic behavior, aggression, and hostility under favorable circumstances is inversely related to age.

The acquisition of aggressive behaviors by the youngest children is fostered not only by the institutionalization and depersonalization of life but also by excessive concentration, the anonymity of urban life and the resulting disindividualization of individuals, requiring blind obedience to authority and social consent to being hit and tough, group thinking (when critical thinking falls victim of loyalty to the group), as well as dehumanization of people who are the object of aggression in the media (e.g. The illusion that the enemy is a system, not a living person).

A small child, as a conformist being, quickly notices that it is either controlled or participates in the control of other people. This tendency is reinforced by the escalation of violence in social and political life?

The tendency to rivalry, which is dominant in Western culture, is one of the reasons for the escalation of aggression and hostility in social life and for making people resistant to suffering from others. The phenomenon of cognitive dissonance is of great importance in reducing the guilt of people using violence: assigning victims of aggression features that explain the (allegedly) attack of the aggressor.

In the media, it is heard, for example, that a woman was raped because she behaved provocatively, and that children should be beaten otherwise they would become criminals. Children quickly learn to use similar tricks.

threatening 6-year old boy with freckles and a red hat back looking violent with fists in the forefront, acting like a little bully at school, contrast effects over grey background studio

threatening 6-year old boy with freckles and a red hat back looking violent with fists in the forefront, acting like a little bully at school, contrast effects over grey background studio


According to the stigma theory, a man follows the etiquette received from members of society with more or less authority. A person who is publicly recognized and defined as aggressive and destructive (based on a one-off act of violence) is, as a result, dissociated from the group and the previous daily routine, pushed to the margins of society.

It is expected to "behave badly" and these expectations usually come true. The triggered mechanism is hard to stop. A labeled child adapts to the assigned role even faster than an adult, so that he begins to believe in its truth and becomes "aggressive by conviction".

Oftentimes, tries to rebel against the label are doomed to failure because they trigger additional reactions from the environment aimed at encouraging behavior consistent with the assigned role. The result of inappropriate social interactions in early childhood, especially in the family environment (e.g. direct or indirect domination, indifference, inconsistent behavior, failure to respect the individual needs of the child, humiliating him, showing him too much admiration or lack of admiration, forcing him to take sides in disputes between parents, overprotection, isolation from peers, injustice, etc.), is the failure to meet basic needs and disturb the sense of safety.

In such a child, while personality development — the "basic fear" is released, the components of which are a sense of helplessness, hostility, and isolation. The feeling of helplessness is compensated by adopting extreme attitudes, e.g. An attitude of aggression, domination, forcing love, competition, and hostility; an attitude of dependence on others, resentment and resentment; a tendency to "buy" someone else's love, or the attitude of withdrawal, directing aggression inwards and reducing one's own values. Each of these strategies can become a permanent component of your personality.

Basic anxiety and negative experiences of early childhood also disturb the process of unconscious coping with the inherent nature of each (also healthy) personality, an internal conflict, the root of which is a divergence of aspirations: "towards people", "from people", "against people". A child raised in healthy relationships resolves this conflict by integrating all three tendencies.


Child Psychology And Psychiatry 3rd Edition by Skuse, David

Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science by Michael E. lamb

The basic mechanisms of development (Piaget JP, 1966)

Abnormal Child Psychology 6th Edition by Eric J Mash, David A Wolfe

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Misbah Sheikh


Misbah Sheikh (author) on April 26, 2021:

Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts , Devika. Much appreciated

Blessings and love

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 26, 2021:

Misbah You have covered all aspects about aggression in children. In detail and a lot to think of this as a problem if not noticed right from the early years.

Misbah Sheikh (author) on April 26, 2021:

Aggression in its antisocial, destructive form is a serious problem not only because an overly aggressive child threatens others

Misbah Sheikh (author) on February 28, 2021:

I am really very glad to see you here, Manatita

I was thinking not much people will read this article as it's too lengthy and maybe people will feel bored

But Nice to sew you coming up and commenting on it. I appreciate your efforts and yes you highlighted some good points meditation and avoiding several foods a change in diet can show some remarkable improvements.

Actually it's too lengthy subject, it took me 3 weeks to research on it in order to write it well

Thanks for your opinion

Youth must be saved


manatita44 from london on February 28, 2021:

A difficult subject. You have highlighted a lot here. One trend of thought is that food can also have a negative and behavioral aspect on children's health. Stopping certain foods in some clinics, have shown remarkable improvements. But yes, some training, to include mindfulness for kids, have been found to be quite useful.

In my Order, we have two Montessori schools. One in Washington DC and one in New Zealand. The day begins with meditation and both these schools have very high reputations for conduct and scholarliness

Misbah Sheikh (author) on February 28, 2021:

was working on this article for the past 3 weeks.

I would be glad if it helps someone to understand a child aggression

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