All parents deal with conflict and aggression at one time or another, it is one of the most challenging issues in parenting. Challenging not only because of the effect that aggressive behavior has within the family, but also due to the potential impact it has in our schools, our communities, and the long-term development of our children. Too often the results of aggressive behavior in children are violent acts that jeopardize the health, safety and future of us all.
Violent behavior in a child at any age should be taken seriously. As parents it is important to recognize factors that contribute to violent behavior and the warning signs of violent behavior in children. It is impossible to identify any one factor that that accounts for violence in children; however, there are several factors that in combination can lead to an increased risk of violence. The following factors are not predictive of future violence by themselves, but serve to assist parents identifying situations and behaviors that indicate that their child may need assessed for some level of help. When several risk factors are present, a parent might want to speak to the child’s teachers, and/or a counselor about possible sources of assistance for their child.
Some of the risk factors are:
- The use of alcohol and other drugs – Use of these substances impairs a child's judgment and self-control.
- Being a victim of physical and or sexual abuse.
- Exposure to violence in the home or community – Children learn by example.
- Excessive feelings of isolation or being alone – Isolation or social withdrawal can be an indicator that the child may be in emotional distress.
- Previous aggressive or violent behavior – May indicate that the child chooses to resort or lacks the necessary skills to resolve issues peacefully.
- A combination of stressful family and socioeconomic factors – These can include poverty, marital discord, unemployment, single parenting, or loss of support from extended family.
- Inappropriate access to, possession of, and use of firearms.
- Prejudicial attitudes and lack of tolerance for those who are different.
- Low school interest and poor academic performance.
- Exposure to violence in the media.
There are a number of “red flags” that serve as warning signs for violent behavior. If several of the risk factors discussed above are present with the following warning signs, a child should be evaluated by a mental health professional.
The warning signs include:
Frequent anger outbursts or intense anger that is out of proportion for the situation. Persistent disregard for rules and authority. Cruelty to pets or other animals. Serious physical altercations with peers and/or family. Frequent talk about or fixation with violence or weapons. Specific threats of violence. Frequently ignores the feelings or rights of others. Gang involvement.
Early identification and exposure to treatment can assist children in learning to control their anger, express anger in appropriate ways, effectively resolve conflict, an accept responsibility for their actions.