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A Playful Way to Stop Aggression

Child hitting his mom

Parenting is a journey filled with surprises, and one unexpected turn for me was when my three-and-a-half-year-old son started exhibiting aggressive behaviors like pinching and biting. Despite my attempts to curb these actions with traditional discipline, I found myself at a loss. Little did I realize that beneath his seemingly newfound aggression lay complex emotions tied to separation anxiety.

Understanding the Whys Behind Aggression

Aggression in children, I came to understand, is often a manifestation of deeper fears. It's a cry for help, not intentional harm. Even when it seems like my child wants to hurt me, it's crucial to remember that this behavior doesn't come from the rational part of his brain. Instead, fear triggers his limbic brain, flooding it with stress hormones and clouding rational thinking.


One evening, after my son went to bed, I stumbled upon a Hand-in-hand video that provided a new perspective on handling aggressive behavior in children through play. Intrigued and hopeful, I decided to implement this approach the very next morning.


As anticipated, during our morning cuddle time, the pinching resumed. Armed with the knowledge gained from the video, I created a safe space for him to express his emotions. It was during this play session that I discovered the profound impact of connection over confrontation.


Instead of reacting with frustration or hurt when he attempted to pinch me, I skillfully dodged the pinches and responded with affection. Snuggles and nuzzles became my tools of connection. This morning's playtime not only allowed his fears to surface but also provided an opportunity for him to feel secure enough to express the tears and sadness underneath the aggression.

A Special Moment

A transformative incident occurred during his swimming class, where a seemingly trivial incident – not getting the desired red towel – triggered an emotional response. On a typical day, my son wouldn't have been bothered, but today was different. Instead of brushing it off, he cried about how much he wanted that red towel.


Choosing to let him feel and express his emotions without interference, I took him to the back of the class. Holding him in my arms, he sobbed and melted into a release of pent-up feelings. After a few minutes, he stopped crying and continued with the class. The change in his demeanor for the rest of the day was nothing short of remarkable.

What This Journey Taught Me?

This journey taught me invaluable lessons about understanding and transforming children's tough feelings:


1. Fear Behind the Anger: Aggressive behavior often conceals a child's underlying fear.


2. Brain in Stress Mode: Fear triggers the limbic brain, affecting rational thinking.


3. Seeing the Signal: Aggression is a child's way of signaling for help, even when it doesn't seem that way.

Parenting Tips for Aggression

To the parents out there, when faced with off-track behavior in children, it's essential to remember a few guiding principles such as:


1. Making a Safe Space


Create a comfortable environment where children feel secure expressing their emotions. This safe space serves as a refuge for them to open up and share their feelings without fear of judgment or retribution.


2. Hugging it Out


When faced with challenging behavior, it's easy to react negatively. However, a more effective approach is to offer lots of love. Hugs have a magical way of making children feel safe and reassured, helping them navigate through their emotions with the support of a caring parent.


3. Letting Them Feel


Allow children the freedom to show their feelings without judgment or interruption. Sometimes, the simple act of letting them express themselves can be a powerful tool for emotional release and understanding.

Mom and child hugging

Some of the Biggest Lessons I Learned

Starting the adventure of being a parent, I've learned that our kids express themselves in their own unique way.


One significant lesson in my parenting journey was figuring out why my son sometimes acted aggressively. Turns out, the root of it was his struggle with feeling separated.


When he began kindergarten, which seemed like a happy time, it unexpectedly made him feel upset inside. Instead of expressing this with words, he showed it through aggressive actions. It wasn't about wanting to hurt anyone—it was his way of telling me he needed help and, most importantly, a strong connection.


Understanding this made me see that behind behaviors that seem disruptive, there's a silent request for help and a deep desire for connection. This realization changed how I responded to his actions. Instead of frustration, I approached him with understanding, empathy, and a focus on strengthening our connection.


The limbic brain's response to fear further underscores the importance of approaching these situations with empathy. Fear triggers the limbic brain, releasing stress hormones that affect rational thinking. During their aggressive behavior, it becomes crucial to recognize the signals they are sending—a cry for help, a plea for understanding, and a need for reassurance.

The Power of Connection and Affection

The morning play sessions, where I skillfully avoided pinches and responded with affection, highlighted the transformative power of connection. By creating a safe space for my son to express his fears and emotions, I helped him navigate through the tough feelings that were manifesting as aggression.


The incident in his swimming class further reinforced the impact of allowing children to feel and express their emotions without immediate solutions. The tears and subsequent emotional release resulted in a noticeable change in his behavior for the rest of the day.

The Bottom Line

You see, addressing and transforming children's tough feelings involves going beyond the surface-level actions and delving into the emotional needs of the child. Through connection, empathy, and a safe space for expression, parents can pave the way for a harmonious relationship with their children.


By recognizing the root cause, responding with affection, and allowing children to feel, we can manage the complexities of tough behaviors, fostering a loving and secure environment for our children to thrive emotionally.


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