From a very young age, my four-year-old son has had aggression issues. When he was a toddler, his doctor assured me that his biting was normal, but my son started school this year and I’m afraid he’s turning into the class bully. He also seems to enjoy pulling my hair and pinching me, and will usually lash out verbally when I tell him to stop. His behaviour worries me and I’m considering having him psychologically evaluated. Do you have any advice?


In young children, aggression is often a mask for fear, anger and other negative emotions. It may be your son’s way of trying to master his fears and feel more powerful. Try reading books about feelings with him, talk to him about his feelings, and model the behaviour you want him to use — practise describing your own feelings. This will help him develop the vocabulary he needs to be able to describe how he feels. Most children your son’s age haven’t developed empathy yet, but he will learn it by feeling understood by you. Over time, he’ll become less aggressive as he learns other ways to deal with feeling angry or scared.

Consider also that your son’s negative behaviour probably triggers angry responses from the adults in his life. He needs consistent, firm limits on his behaviour, but he also needs you to remain calm when he becomes aggressive. Avoid getting into power struggles with him, and be careful not to respond with overly harsh punishment. If you try these suggestions and you continue to have concerns, consider seeking help from a qualified mental health practitioner.

Written by Dr Ruwa Sabbagh. Originally published in Today’s Parent, May 2009.

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