To get to self-direction, there are a few universal caveats that apply to the described behavior. First, our children need to understand and agree with both the need for the rule and the consequence for breaking it. Only when they come to agree with our rules, through their own internal dialogue, will they become self-directed. Second, look to your own parenting strategy as the possible source of some of the problem. Are you over-controlling or over-protective? Either trait can elicit an externally directed response, as your children react to an unhealthy situation. Third, remember for all these parenting challenges how important it is for you as parents, to model the right behavior. If you're expecting your children to act one way and you act another, the double standard will throw a monkey wrench into their whole internal dialogue machinery.
And lastly, don't forget to laugh.
Aggressive Physical Acts
Why they do it
Children resort to physical aggression for many reasons. Some aren't quite mature enough to think about the consequences and control their impulses. Some are more skilled non-verbally than verbally, so they don't know how to handle conflicts with words, especially in the heat of the moment. Some children can't handle feelings that overwhelm them, especially anger and frustration.
They should be removed to another place to cool off. Once there, guide them through an appropriate reasoning process. Show them that you understand their feelings: "I know how angry you must have felt when Jimmy took your turn in line. It's okay to feel angry, even with one of your friends."
Teach them empathy: "How do you think Jimmy felt when you bit him?" "How does it feel when someone bites you?"
Help them find alternatives: "What words can you use next time to let Jimmy know he's making a bad choice?"
Teach them to make amends: "What can you do now to make Jimmy feel better?"
If they persist in using aggressive acts as a means of resolving their conflicts, tell them, "I'm afraid you might make the same bad choice again, so Jimmy has to go home, now."
Let them know that you have faith in them to make better choices: "Maybe you and Jimmy can play together tomorrow when we go to the park. I know you'll choose to use your words next time."
Solutions toward self-direction
Use questioning: "James, what are the rules about hitting in our family?" "What do you need to do next time instead?" "What do you need to do to make your sister feel better?" This questioning helps them develop their own internal dialogue later on.
Give impartial descriptions and information: "Hitting is not allowed in our family." "Sarah looks like she was really hurt by that kick."
Some children benefit from learning relaxation techniques like breathing exercises and meditation. These techniques allow children to cool off enough to think about the consequences of their actions.
Give limited choices: "When you stop pulling cat's tail, then you can play with her again."
Occasionally, children with speech/language disorders can have trouble with aggression. If you think your child may have such a disorder, ask the teacher to make a referral to the school speech/language pathologist.
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