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Aggression and Children  

After the last series on how to help children with anxiety problems, I thought I would address some more common difficulties that children, and parents, have. The next series is going to focus on aggression or general misbehavior and opposition to parents, something most parents have experienced at some time.

I was recently reading some about a relatively “new” therapy called Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT). It is appealing to me because it puts a big focus on the relationship between parent and child, but I was also struck with how similar it was to one of the first “behavioral” parent training programs I learned 30 years ago. Both focus on two different sets of parenting skills: one to increase the ability to create a positive emotional tone between parents and child and one to increase the ability to achieve compliance from a child. Both sets of skills are needed to create parenting that is maximally effective. That is what this series will be about, describing those skills and how to implement them.

The PCIT program focuses on younger children, 2 to 7, but the ideas and principles can be adapted for older children. It is worth noting there is a big payoff to addressing problems of aggression or noncompliance while children are quite young. First, it is generally easier to make changes with younger children. Frankly, while this may disturb some people, a part of this is because it is easier to physically control young children. It is relatively easy to put a four year old in a time out room. A fourteen year old – not so much. In additions, any behavior pattern becomes more difficult to change the longer it lasts.

 Misbehavior often tends to escalate as children get older and the types of oppositional behavior you get from a fourteen year old generally has more severe natural consequences than that from a four year old (with the exception of things like running out in the middle of a road).

Next month I will start out with the first set of skills – how to improve the emotional tone of the parent-child relationship.