Aggression refers to any behavior that is hostile, destructive, and, at times, even violent. Aggressive behavior has the potential to cause harm, both physical and psychological, to another person as well as damage to a person’s property. Additionally, the term aggression can include a wide range of behaviors. In children or adolescents, this type of behavior can present as fighting, disobeying authority figures, destroying property, or harming animals. These behaviors can also take the form of emotional regulation problems to severe, manipulative behaviors and have the ability to occur mentally, physically, or verbally. While many people may think that physical aggression is more severe, non-physical aggressive behaviors, including starting rumors and excluding others, can be just as damaging.
When a child or adolescent is experiencing uncontrolled anger and aggression they could potentially begin to have serious problems at school, not be able to socially engage with their peers appropriately, and may begin to engage in risky behaviors that will only lead to more problems. However, with proper treatment and support, a child or adolescent can get his or her aggression under control and avoid any long-term consequences.
Causes of Aggressive Behaviors
Aggressive behavior can be the symptom of many different underlying problems, such as certain mental health disorders, medical conditions, and as a side effect of certain medications. In some cases aggressive behavior can have genetic causes or has been learned from repeated exposure to aggressive behaviors in the environment in which they have been raised.
Genetic: Children and adolescents who have been born into a family that has a history of mental health problems or antisocial behavior have been known to engage in more aggressive behaviors themselves. Additionally, research has shown that there may be a genetic link to the development of aggressive outbursts.
Environment: The environment plays a very crucial role in how a child learns to interact with the world around them. There are various factors in a child’s environmental that will increase his or her susceptibility toward the development of aggressive behavior. Any combination of stressful family and socioeconomic factors can cause a child to have a strong negative reaction toward others around them. More specifically children who experience poverty, deprivation or neglect, as well as growing up in a single parent home can all put a child at greater risk.
Physical: Children that have been severely punished or have been abused may go on to act hostile towards others a result of this abuse. It has been shown that children who have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse exhibit more violent behaviors than children who have not been abused. Additionally, children and adolescents who have suffered a traumatic brain injury also tend to display aggressive behavior.
Mental health disorders: Aggressive behavior is a symptom that commonly appears in children and adolescents who have certain psychiatric disorders. If not properly treated the aggressive behavior may be even more apparent. Some of the most common mental health disorders that have been known to elicit aggression in both children and adolescents include the following:
- Conduct disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Intermittent explosive disorder (IED)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance abuse
- Oppositional defiant disorders (ODD)
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- Sexually maladaptive disorders
- Intellectual disability
Effects of Aggressive Behavior
Aggressive behavior in children and adolescents can be distressing; not only for the child, but for individuals who are a part of their life. An aggressive child may be argumentative, verbally offensive, defiant, and may appear very resentful. As a result of not being able to control their temper, they are often disruptive at school, are not able to make friends, and can also potentially harm another individual. If someone does not intervene and help a child who is struggling to control their aggressive behavior, they are at risk of developing more serious problems. Some of the direct effects of untreated aggression in children and adolescents may include:
- Development of a serious mental health disorder
- Suspension or expulsion from school
- Inability to develop adequate adjustment skills
- Substance abuse
- Social isolation
- Inability to develop healthy interpersonal relationships
- Hospitalization from injuries sustained during angry outburst
Treatment for Aggression
First and foremost, if your child is engaging in extreme aggressive behavior, you need to take them to a physician or mental health profession who will be able to complete a thorough evaluation, helping them identify the root cause for this behavior. Treatment for your child will be developed on an individualized basis ensuring to take into account your child’s specific situation. Generally, the overall goals for the treatment of aggressive behaviors is helping the child more appropriately control their anger, learn how to be responsible for their actions, and be able to accept the consequences of their actions.
There are a variety of different options available for the treatment of aggressive behavior. Depending on the severity of the aggressive behavior and the presence of another mental health disorder, a residential treatment program may be the best place for your child to get the help that her or she needs. Not only can a residential treatment program meet your child’s therapeutic and medication needs, but it provides a structured and safe environment, which is perfect for beginning the recovery process. Fully qualified mental health professionals are able to provide around-the-clock supervision and can immediately jump in to defuse any aggressive situation that may arise. This can give you peace of mind knowing that your child will be well looked after while completing treatment. Through a variety of therapeutic techniques and the unconditional support of the residential treatment staff your child will learn how to more effectively manage their anger and develop the skills needed to cope with the symptoms of an existing mental health condition.