Difference Between a Child’s Anger and Aggression

Do you know what is the difference between a child’s anger and aggression?

child's anger and aggression

Image by Hanna Kovalchuk from Pixabay

A child’s anger or aggression can cause worry for any parent. However, anger and aggression are not the same thing and should be handled differently in a child’s development process. Understanding the differences can go a long way toward proper management of these emotions and behaviors.

The primary difference between anger and aggression is that anger is an emotion, and aggression is an action. As is often the case, emotion is far less problematic than an action.

Anger is a protective emotion in response to frustration or threat. A person almost always feels anger when basic needs are not met. This emotion motivates us to take action against the wrong and protect our interests.

Properly managed anger can be useful in successfully navigating society. It can be a secondary emotion to sadness, fright, or loneliness and can compel us to correct the situation. Encourage a child to acknowledge their anger and coach them through healthy resolutions.

Anger can cause problems when unaddressed or when mismanaged. When angry, the body produces more cortisol and adrenaline. If unaddressed, the build-up of these hormones can cause physical ailments such as ulcers and hypertension.

A person may also mismanage their anger. This includes being easily triggered, using anger to dominate or being self-absorbed to the point of seeing themselves as a constant victim. Here are a few steps for helping a child manage their anger:

  • Teach your child to recognize anger. Point out physical changes they might notice. Encourage them to express when they are angry and the intensity of their anger.
  • Develop a plan for handling anger. Kids can be taught to put themselves in their own time out or be directed towards calming behavior like coloring when they are upset. Regular sports and other physical exertion also help children burn off excess emotion.
  • Ensure that angry outbursts are not effective. Do not give in to a temper tantrum and, when necessary, make sure that inappropriate behavior has consequences.

Aggression is defined by most social psychologists as an action with the intent to harm. The intent can be minimal as is the case in impulsive or emotional aggression, or there can be a great deal of planning. Violence is a subset of aggression in cases where the intent is extreme harm.

It is important to note that being assertive is not the same thing as being aggressive. Assertiveness is acting boldly and with self-confidence. It is not an action intended to cause harm. Children should be taught to use assertiveness rather than aggression to resolve issues that cause anger.

Most people will experience some outbursts of aggression from time to time. While normal, all aggression violates social norms and should be examined and managed. Here are four types of aggression observed in children and ways to address the behavior.

  • Instrumental Aggression: An action designed to take and keep something from another person. Often observed in two-year-olds, this aggression is a normal part of identity development. Help the children involved talk through a way to resolve the territorial dispute.
  • Reactive Aggression: A verbal or non-verbal retaliatory impulse. This is an emotional reaction usually caused by fear. Remove the child from the situation and help them to understand their response.
  • Relational Aggression: A verbal assault intended to alienate the victim from society. This form of bullying is common online and among teenage girls. Encourage your child to develop empathy and self-confidence, monitor electronic use, and address any abusive behavior early.
  • Bullying Aggression: A verbal or physical assault against a victim unlikely or unable to defend himself or herself. Hopefully addressing anger management issues or early signs of aggression will prevent an escalation to bullying. If not, remember that this behavior can also be addressed with communication and patience. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if necessary.

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This is part of a larger guide from the working the doors website about anger management techniques.

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