Early Warning Signs of Violent Behaviour in Children

Ignoring signs of violent behaviour or condoning violence during childhood can result in a child adopting violent behaviour. Read on to understand early signs of such behaviour to nip it in the bud.

By Arun Sharma  • 9 min read

Early Warning Signs of Violent Behaviour in Children

Most children love rough play like tackling, tumbling and pushing. But, with some children, these and other such childish antics seem to border on the edge of extreme aggression or violence. Left unchecked during childhood, some of these children can turn into anti-socials in the future.

Causes of violent behaviour:

Our mental conditioning makes it difficult for us to believe that children can also indulge in violence. However, according to the paper, ‘The Development of Physical Aggression,’ by Richard E Tremblay, published on child-encyclopedia.com (2012), “Studies have now shown that most children start to use physical aggression between the end of the first and second year after birth.”

So, what is it that causes a child to begin displaying violent behaviours?

An article titled, ‘Understanding Violent Behavior in Children and Adolescents’, published on AAP.org (2011) lists several factors that can cause children to become aggressive. According to the article, some of the factors are: being a victim of violence; sexual abuse; watching violence on media; stressors like poverty and hunger; and damage to the brain. A child’s temperament and relationship with parents plays an important role as well.

Early signs of violent behaviour in children:

With increasing realisation that children can indulge in acts of violence, parents are generally advised to keep an eye out for such behaviour in their children. However, not many parents are able to differentiate genuine acts of violence from false positives.

Here are some behavioural signals that you should watch out for in your child to understand if she may be exhibiting early signs of violent behaviour.

  • Severely aggressive outbursts, even for minor issues
  • Out-of-control temper tantrums
  • Detached attitude; does not mingle with peers, stays away from parents and siblings
  • Shows interest in violent content (movies or games) on TV or other media
  • Displays cruelty towards other life forms (hurts animals and insects)
  • Is insensitive to the feelings of others
  • Indulges in impulsive and aggressive behaviours (issuing threats, destroying property and so on)
  • Engages in disruptive behaviour (while playing with peers, in the classroom, social events)
  • Has problems with discipline
  • Is in the company of kids of violent nature
  • Fares poorly in academics
  • Displays feelings of rejection (due to being rejected by peers and others)
  • Exhibits self-injurious behaviour
  • Threatens to use violence

What should parents do when the child indulges in violent behaviour:

Exhibition of violent behaviour by children is not just limited to home, but happens outside as well like in the school or the playground. During times when the child exhibits violent behaviour:

  • Stay calm and do not attempt to punish the child
  • Use an authoritative tone as well as gestures to try and stop the child
  • Listen to what the child has to say and try to understand him
  • Try to distract the child and redirect him towards something else
  • Ask the child to move away from the scene and take a break

Also, during violent outbursts, it is important to observe if the child is holding on to something that he may use to cause hurt. If so, while intervening, take safeguards against getting hurt.

How can parents prevent children from acting in a violent manner:

Appropriate measures taken at the earliest to curb violent behaviour can prevent it from becoming a part of the child’s habit. According to Richard E Tremblay, “Early childhood is probably the best window of opportunity for helping children at risk of becoming chronic physical aggressors because most children learn alternatives to physical aggression during that period.”

Some of the things that parents can do are:

  • Teach self-calming techniques
  • Teach self-control, to reduce impulsivity
  • Help the child develop empathy
  • Give the child enough time and attention
  • Help the child develop self-esteem
Mrs Rose Sunderraj, Counsellor, Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru, says, “The day a child is born, its parents are also born again, as parents. They are now part of a new creation that belongs to the future. The new being has a soul of its own to be recognised and nurtured with love and protection. In our Indian tradition, the family is considered sacred. It lays emphasis on raising children who possess maturity and integrity. But, today, with progressive knowledge and technology, this has changed. So, as parents, we need to introspect and consider – 
Are we growing with our children or letting them ‘grow themselves’? Does our ego interfere with our responsibilities to our children? How do we inculcate responsibility and values in them?
We need to help them know the importance of ‘WE’ over the ‘I’. When we walk together, eat together, share together and pray together, we grow our relationship. Yet, we will argue, disagree, etc. All are part of our learning to understand and bond. Children must be made aware that their parents need not be perfect. They should also learn about forgiveness and receive forgiveness. The act of pardoning and being pardoned is a sign of compassionate love and this goes a long way in stemming the violent feelings that grow from lack of self-esteem or from being compared to others (including one’s own siblings).
Maybe, if they are accepted for who they are, children will grow with confidence. And, no child is born without some kind of talent or creativity. Discerning and encouraging without too much expectations will go a long way in cementing a healthy and bonding relationship between parents and children.”

Looking for fun ways to keep your preschooler engaged at home during the pandemic? Check out Little Learners at Home, a home learning programme specifically designed for 3 to 5 year olds by our team of experts.

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