Aggressive Behaviour

Naughty and niceHow do you deal with it?

When a parent is confronted by aggressive behaviour from a teenage child it can be nerve-wracking, not least because that child is possibly bigger than you are! For a single parent, who doesn’t have the back up of another adult and is probably alone in the house, maybe with younger children, it is frightening indeed.

The important thing, if you find yourself in this situation, is to keep reminding yourself that this is your child, the child that you nurtured and brought up, and most essentially, even though it can be a hard thing to remember in the midst of what can feel like a nightmare, the child you love. Remember the school bully? It is well understood now that this kind of aggression comes from fear. Inside this person in front of you is a small child who is feeling scared and insecure.

It is very normal to react to this kind of behaviour by getting angry yourself, particularly if you have other younger children in the house – after all, you are scared too. However, anger, criticism and blame will fuel the situation and your son or daughter is likely to react by getting more aggressive. So try to stay calm and talk firmly to her. Remember that she is feeling insecure so being firm, calm and clear will help her to feel safer. It is useful at this point to remind yourself of that age-old parenting mantra – ‘label the behaviour, not the child’. So, tell her that what she is doing is frightening you, that you don’t like it and you want her to stop. If she doesn’t stop and the violence escalates then do what you need to do to keep yourself, and any other children you have, safe. That might mean leaving the room or the house and maybe phoning the police. It can help if you are able to explain what you are doing and why, particularly if you do ring for help. Also, if you feel able, tell her that regardless of what she does, you still love her.

It can help to spend some time reflecting on what might trigger your teenager’s aggression. Think about the quality of your current communication and whether there are areas that you could work on. Teenagers are extremely sensitive to criticism, even if it is done jokingly. It may be that there is something that she is having difficulty coping with outside of the home, pressure of school work, a difficult relationship, or bullying. Can you see a pattern to how the conflict develops? Sometimes an argument starts around one thing and then gets sidetracked into being about something else; for example, if your son or daughter starts swearing at you. As a single parent you are likely to be particularly sensitive to such things as you probably feel solely responsible for how your child behaves. Could you maybe try to overlook the swearing next time an argument starts so that you can both stay focussed on the original issue? It is even better if you have a friend or relation that you can discuss the situation with and who can help you make some sense of it.

If you find that you are blaming yourself for your teenager’s behaviour because they only have one parent, remind yourself that sometimes having two parents involved in a conflict situation can actually make things worse as your son or daughter can feel like they are being ganged up on. And in a two parent family it may very well be that the parents are also in conflict and that’s a whole lot of fun that thankfully, you have been spared! Hooray for single parents, you’re doing a great job and in most cases, aggressive teenage behaviour is a phase that will pass: stay calm and ride the storm as best as you can.

Useful Links

Growing Kids website -  has some useful pointers on how to understand and deal with aggressive behaviour

By parents for parents website - ways to help your teenager to understand the difference between being aggressive and assertive

Psychology today website - not about aggressive behaviour in particular but does focus on the negative behaviour of teenage girls from a psychological perspective