Friday, September 13, 2013

Handling Aggressive Behavior in Young Children

Handling AGGRESSIVE Behavior in Young Children (Bill Corbett at PreK+K Sharing)

First Comfort the Victim.  The next time you witness younger children fighting or hurting one another, your first response should be to comfort the victim without pity or drama.  If possible, you should also include the aggressive child in comforting of the victim.  Ask him to retrieve a cloth, a blanket, or even a drink of water if it's appropriate.  Be sure to use a quiet, calm and respectful tone as you take control.  Your immediate feelings may involve anger or frustration toward the aggressive child, but maintain control and stay calm.  Once the drama has cooled and the victim is cared for, take the aggressive child aside and remind him calmly and respectfully about boundaries and acceptable behavior.  This more peaceful response to the situation will provide an outstanding model and learning tool for both children.  

What is Bullying?  Bullying is any form of physical, emotional, or verbal mistreatment in which one holds an unequal power over another, purposely and repeatedly with the intent to hurt or humiliate.  A bully can be one tough kid harassing someone who is different in some way.  A bully’s behavior can be as simple as name-calling or as serious as confrontation resulting in injury.  No child is ever exempt from being picked on by a bully at some point in his life, and neither are adults.  In a recent study released by the American Medical Association, it was estimated that 3.2 million children are victims of bullying each year.  Being able to defend oneself when attacked by a bully requires both courage and skill – traits you can begin instilling in your child at any age.  

Teach Them How Not To Be A Target.  A bully’s common target is someone who demonstrates a lack of confidence and exhibits characteristics of weakness or insecurity.  Teach your children to stand tall, use a full voice, look the other child directly in the eyes, and exhibit confidence when stating what they want.  If your child does this, it will help to reduce the risk of being targeted by an aggressive child.  You can teach this to your child by modeling it yourself.  The most effective way of teaching children a new behavior is to role-play with them.  Allow them to see what the behavior looks like by modeling it for them, then allowing them to practice.  A child who stands, acts with and speaks with confidence is less likely to become a target of a bully.

Teach your children.  Teach them that they have the power to stop anyone from touching them, hurting them, or taking their things.  One of the most effective actions you can teach your child is described in many self-defense and confidence courses.  Stand tall and erect, and distribute weight evenly on both feet.  Hold your head high, extend their hand straight out in front of them with their flat palm toward the other child, saying “STOP!” in a loud and strong voice.  A bully halted in his or her tracks by a child drawing a clear, personal, physical or emotional boundary is more likely to walk away, often even respecting a child who had represented a potential victim.

Bill Corbett is the author of the award-winning parenting book series, LOVE, LIMITS, & LESSONS: A PARENT'S GUIDE TO RAISING COOPERATIVE KIDS (in English and in Spanish) and the executive producer and host of the public access television show CREATING COOPERATIVE KIDS. As a member of the American Psychological Association and the North American Society for Adlerian Psychology, Bill provides parent coaching and keynote presentations to parent and professional audiences across the country. He sits on the board of the Network Against Domestic Abuse and the Resource Advisory Committee for Attachment Parenting International, and holds several degrees in clinical psychology. Bill's practical experience comes as a father of 3 grown children, a grandfather of two, and a stepdad to three.  You can learn more about his work at and


  1. I have heard of you from TeacherLingo.
    I liked the article about bullying.
    Best wishes.
    Fernando Díez
    From Granada, Spain

  2. Thank you for your comment Fernando, and for taking the time to visit this site! Please let me know how I can help you further!

  3. I was very disappointed that this piece automatically equated aggression in young children to bullying. Bullying is an egregiously over-used word that is rarely accurate when discussing the social skills (or lack thereof) of very young children. We work very hard at my school to educate parents about the difference between immature social interactions, and true bullying behaviours. Articles like this one do a great disservice to these efforts (and the similar efforts of educators everywhere). A three year old who hits to get a toy is not a bully. She is a THREE YEAR OLD.

    1. I had to read and reread the article to find any reference to a three year old that hits being equated to a bully, in Bill's article. For the life of me, I can't find any such reference implied, inferred or in any way suggested by the article.

      I'm truly confounded by your outspoken response to such a basic article. If anything, my disappointment was in the brevity of Bill's sharing his insight and expertise. Perhaps this significant topic can be the subject for further exploration over the months ahead.

      Still completely confused by your comment, Miss Night.

      Debbie Clement

  4. Thanks for reading my article Miss Night.

  5. Debbie, you know me - I am nothing if not outspoken, and I believe these conversations make all of us better. I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. The word "bullying" is a highly loaded word, and situations like the example I used (a 3 year old who hits to get a toy) are very often mislabelled by parents (and some teachers) as "bullying". This article jumps immediately from "comforting the victim" (and, to be clear, the word victim is problematic, too) to "What is Bullying?" Nowhere is there a caveat or a point of clarification, and there is no exploration of other, fare more likely reasons, for aggressive behaviour in our youngest learners. On a blog designed for the PreK & K community, the allowance of an assumed equivalence between aggression and bullying is problematic and inaccurate. True bullying behaviour is developmentally unlikely at the ages of 3, 4, 5 years old, and I believe it is incumbent upon us as educators to be very clear about the difference between immature social skills and true bullying. In my opinion, (and that of others, as well, based on the conversation that has gone on on Twitter), it is irresponsible to not be extremely clear about the difference between the two. I am also disappointed that the author of the piece has not engaged in any of this follow up conversation.

  6. I think it goes without saying that bullying is indeed a lack of social skills and both sides of the coins need to be examined and all children need support. I take the word bullying to mean lack of social skills, being lonely, being an outsider, and maybe not well cared for by adults. When children act-out, it is a cry for help. The adults need to help both children, but any physical or verbal harm must end.

  7. It sounds like you want me to engage in a war of words with you Miss Night, calling me irresponsible. Words are just words in writing and if the reader takes issue with words used, then that is their choice. Of all the things you could have focused on, you chose to attack my writing. To that, all I can say is thank you for taking the time to read it. I agree with Carolyn that bullying can mean many things, especially meaning a lack of social skills and feelings of inadequacy. I'm not going to get into a debate with you Miss Night because I don't see a purpose for it. Instead, I see that it is more important to encourage each other because we are on the same team; helping parents and teachers better understand children and to help them fit it. Attacking each other and our work serves no useful purpose. Again, thank you for reading my post.

    1. Sorry Bill, but I will have to continue this conversation and comment as well. Carolyn, your definition is just that - your definition - which is the problem - definitions of bullying are not clear and the term is overused in situations that are not warranted.
      According to Alberta Education, "bullying is a conscious, wilful, deliberate, repeated and hostile activity marked by an imbalance of power, intent to harm and/or threat of aggression. It can be verbal, social, physical, or cyber-bullying."
      I agree Carolyn that bullies likely lack social skills, are often lonely, outsiders, perhaps, sometimes, not well-cared for by adults. There must also be an imbalance of power and repeated incidents for the label "bully" to occur.
      In my experience, preschoolers and Kindergarten children don't typically have the sophistication, verbal skills, or imbalance of power to present themselves as bullies. Grabbing toys or pushing other children as they move in space is more likely due to developing motor and language skills.
      Bill, I would like to hear more about your thoughts on YOUR definition and at what point you would consider behaviour bullying. I would also like to hear your thoughts on pre-schoolers and bullying. Do you agree with Miss Night's and my comments related to young children?
      Yes, we are on the same team in wanting to support children and parents. To be clear, my stance is very similar to Miss Night's in that I have encountered Kindergarten parents who are very quick to use the term "bully" when in fact there has only been one incident and often their child has had a equal part in the aggressive behaviour.
      I have been teaching for more than 25 years and a substantial portion of that has been in Kindergarten. I have observed all too often, aggressive behaviour stemming from delays in speech/language development. If children cannot effectively communicate their needs and wants they are frustrated. I have also observed that children with very strong language skills can sometimes use these skills to manipulate other children and get their way in terms of games they play or who plays with what. Does this mean they are bullies? No, they are developing their negotiation and language skills. If they continue to manipulate, overpower and threaten other children who won't follow their lead (I won't be your friend....), then we need to have a conversation (or many) about how we work and play together. In fact, that is what we do in our early childhood classrooms on a daily (or hourly) basis! It is also likely what most parents try to do as well.
      If we think about how excited we all get when children begin to talk and how we celebrate the approximations of sound and words in children, we need to also do the same in the development of social skills. Children learn these over time, with constant adult and peer feedback as they don't do it perfectly from birth. We must give them chances for practice and redirect them as they make mistakes. That's why Early Childhood Educators don't call pre-schoolers and Kindergarten children bullies - we view them as model citizens in the making and we are right there cheering and guiding them along!
      I think we ALL (parents, communities, students and teachers) need to be clear on a mutual definition.
      I took the time to look at some of your other articles and your Facebook page and you do offer many great suggestions and resources for parents. A suggestion could be to delve deeper into this hot and controversial topic to continue the dialogue about how we can all support one another in our common interest which is helping children and their families.
      There's my two bits!
      Janice Comrie B.Ed M.Ed

  8. I am more than just a little heartbroken today. I have spent most of my waking hours either directly or indirectly "dealing" with the reality of a little five year old boy named Carter, who died early this morning of inoperable brain cancer. I thought for several minutes about turning the page here, but instead I press the keys and have chosen to forge ahead.

    We are a collaborative blog here. Doing our best as a group of specialists offering our insight and experience to the readers here -- on subjects of our choosing, in the hopes of raising the bar for children round the world.

    I have read and reread Bill's article countless times, in an effort to grasp the comments above that are dissecting his effort. For the life of me, I truly can't see how either of you two professionals can take this line of logic, with Bill suggesting a peaceful and calm approach to aggressive behavior, where there is comfort offered to a child who is hurt.

    Certainly, the two of you have experience and obvious outspoken opinions as to the use of the 'term' bully. I truly have no idea how Bill's several paragraphs on the topic can be deemed inappropriate. Yes. Our readership is no doubt primarily the PreK and Kindergarten audience. However we have other readers ~~ such as parents who also have a multitude of ages of children under their roof. We have readers that are PreK teachers who themselves are parents of teenagers. We have readers who teach PreK+K but volunteer in their community for other age groups. Bill's insight is applicable. Plain and simple. Absolutely. Completely. Totally. Without-a-question professional. Insightful. Supportive. Informational. Encouraging. Empowering. The whole nine yards.

    Nowhere in his article does he specify that children in preschool and kindergarten are deserving of the label of 'bully.' Nowhere. It is not there. I feel ambushed. I feel that this set of comments comes across as completely adversarial. That there is a hidden agenda. I'm exhausted today. I'm emotionally overwrought. I'm saddened that time between professionals is being spent in what could best be described as splitting hairs.

    Perhaps neither of you have observed true bully behavior directed at someone you care about deeply? I have. Every skill that Bill outlines could be critical to a reader here -- on behalf of their child, their grandchild or their neighbor's child. Bill's suggestions could be a huge support for the parent of a preschool child with Asperger's projecting five or ten years down the road. Role play begun well in advance of a dire need is no doubt most beneficial.

    I take Bill's article in the category of a PSA: public service announcement. While our masthead spells out "PreK+K Sharing" we like to think of ourselves as a family here. A family that supports each other. One that goes the extra mile in extending the benefit of the doubt. One that cares deeply about ALL children -- even those outside the scope of our masthead.

    I will leave this comment now and return to the expressions and outpouring of support pouring in for Carter's parents in the midst of their loss.

    There is a VAST difference in positive and supportive suggestions for further inquiry and discussion and what I have observed take place in this interaction.

    Debbie Clement, Editor-in-chief
    PreK and K Sharing

  9. Praying for your strength Deb and the little boy's family and friends. Amy

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