Tips for Dealing with Aggressive and Abusive Behaviour

Some Weeks back I (Sarah from @puffindiaries) asked for some help with aggressive and abusive behaviour from my youngest son. He was, and still is on occasions, hitting and lashing out, plus speaking in a very aggressive and rude tone to all members of the family.

 I want to thank everyone who gave such useful and understanding advice, so much so that I thought it would be a good idea to summarise it all here.

A No Fuss Consequence from @SuddenlyMummy

A consequence for certain behaviour is decided on and communicated to your child, for example removal of certain privileges or use of items, maybe the computer or a Playstation.computers

If the child reacts further or behaviour escalates then have a further consequence in place for this eventuality.

When the behaviour occurs the consequence is implemented immediately, with no discussion. If possible the item to be removed is moved away.For example placing the Playstation in a cupboard.

The consequence should be consistent and the same each time, so the message is clear.

This helps you stay in control and keep calm as you already know how you will react to the situation.


Positive Reinforcement from @LinsCummings.

Use a chart or reward system for when the child does not react with the negative behaviour.

Make the chart achievable, for example if the behaviour happens daily reward the child for reaching the end of the day without being aggressive and the gradually extend the length of time.

Use lots of positive comments alongside the chart, praising your child for unrelated positive behaviour as well. For example if they play well with another child or sit calmly for an activity.

Allow the child to select the reward, with your guidance to ensure it is something they wish to try hard to obtain. Sometimes it is best to start big with your rewards to ensure motivation but decrease in time as the child becomes more accustomed to the required behaviour.

Always ensure you and your child knows clearly how the reward system works, use visuals or a poster with rules on so the child understands. The child can be involved in designing or decorating the chart or making the poster to help them feel inclusive in the process.

Make sure you can put the time in and follow through with all rewards or consequences.


The Removal Technique from @Fran_Proctor

When you see behaviour you find unacceptable, remove the child from the room for a pre – agreed amount of time. This is about removing attention from the child.

Before the child is allowed to return to the room, explain to them why they were removed and ask them to apologise. If they do not apologise they do not get to return to the room.

Remember to be consistent, calm and to follow through and as @FranProctor says “Keep it simple, straight to the point and move on.”


Dealing with Abusive language from @3beesandahoney

Ignore as much as you can and respond to the child only when they speak to you in a polite manner.

If you do respond use calm and understanding voice and try to recognise your child’s emotions, these phrases from @3beesandahoney are perfect ‘thank you for letting me know that you are finding it hard to cope at the moment’ or ‘I am sorry you feel like that, just remember you may be feeling mad at us at the moment but that doesn’t stop us loving you’. DSC_0038

Help the child find silly acceptable words to replace the particularly abusive or sociably unacceptable words. This is particularly useful for the school environment or social situations. Again @3beesandhoney suggests the word “fudge cake” and we have certainly used the word “fudge”.


Final Thoughts from @newPyjammas

Some children find an instant consequence easier to understand than having to wait for the impact of their behaviour. This can help if a child has difficulty with the idea of cause and effect.

Allow family games where the children are allowed to be play rough and tumble with each other or being load. I love her idea of holding up sheets of newspaper so that children can smash through with their fists.

A great idea for colleting praise is to give out pasta for good behaviour that goes into a jar, when the jar is full you can cook something yummy with it.


So lots of great ideas for dealing with aggressive and abusive behaviour. I think it must be said that not all approaches suit all children, especially children that have lived with early life trauma and who struggle with attachment. However, lots of these methods rely on several of the same ingredients and these ingredients are imperative for successful parenting no matter what.

Stay calm,

Be consistent

Be clear and keep it simple,

Once it’s over move forward,

Don’t beat yourself up if doesn’t quite go as you would have hoped, this is a tough job and you’re doing your best.



One thought on “Tips for Dealing with Aggressive and Abusive Behaviour

  1. Amanda Boorman

    I agree that each child, family and situation is different. For us with trauma based psychology playing a large part in the children’s emotional responses, the usual parenting approach of punishment and reward was redundant. In fact it would often escalate the anger and result in the child having nothing left. If a child has lost a lot already in their life loosing toys etc was nothing but enforcing their unworthiness leading to a “there’s no point” stance. Behind every negative behaviour, no matter how bizarre there is a reason. I personally found keeping the child near me even more during times of anger, if possible, worked. It takes practice to not react to insults and I’ve often failed, but deep breaths and invisible armour on. Then calm communication with empathy, as one commentator suggested “I can see you’re furious, I feel sad for you that you are so upset, do you want to tell me why or just sit near me where I can keep you safe”. Sometimes met with “fuck off and die you’re a shit mum” but keep your poker face of calm and ask if they want time out to shout etc, reassure you will be ready to talk when they feel calmer. I used to go up to their room when I heard damage and noise out of fear but learnt in our case it was better not to enter or say “stop doing that” It takes serious anger over forty minutes to subside so give it time if you feel the child is safe and not hurting themselves.
    Another simple but effective thing we used was “would you like a cup of tea and a snuggle on the settee it might help you to calm down as I bet your poor little heart is racing?”
    Traumatised children often expect anger and even violence in return for theirs, so kindness can begin to calm the situation ready to discuss the behaviour and accept an apology later. Letting the child make up later by doing something nice for you and helping tidy/repair any damage done is also effective.
    It took me a long time to regulate my own responses to anger and violence towards my person and belongings but learning to be nonreactive helped my children to not fear their anger but see it as something they have a chance to learn to control with my support. It also reduces shame which is unbearable for some children.
    As the body is often responding with stress hormones leading to anger before the child may even have connected with the trigger I found a chart made together with 1-5 stages describing feelings from calm to “volcano” a helpful visual tool…so in our case 1 was smiling, calm, happy, 2 was a bit whizzy and loud 3 was rude noises and swear words 4 was throwing, pushing, hurting others and 5 was volcano which meant reasoning ability was lost and calm management needed to keep everyone safe. As I sensed behaviour escalating we had the chart to refer to and an opportunity to discuss things before the tipping point.
    I feel it helped to see a childs anger as fear as this would in turn bring out empathy in me rather than irritation or anger as a response. Hope this helps and as has been said already we are doing an important and difficult job often without too much support, so final bit of advice…no guilt tripping yourselves and apologies to the child when, or if you get it wrong. I’ve made some absolute clangers in terms of responses on a bad day but I feel my children know I’m infallible and sometimes a moody person but im fair.


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