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Addressing kids' aggressive behavior in social situations

There are ways parents and kids can address

There are ways parents and kids can address aggressive behavior between young playmates, including allowing kids to try to resolve the conflict themselves, says Smithtown psychologist Dr. Deena Abbe. (Credit: iStock )

Sometimes playtime is anything but fun. A push here, a shove there between young playmates can turn into a flood of tears. Aside from carrying a hankie to wipe our kids’ tears, there are ways parents and kids can address aggressive behavior, including allowing kids to initially try to resolve the conflict themselves, says Smithtown psychologist Dr. Deena Abbe.

For example, when one kid pushes another on the playground, the child who’s being pushed can tell the other child, “ ‘Stop it. I don’t like it when you do that,’ Abbe said. “And when the kid does it again, the child can say, ‘I don’t want to play with you. I keep asking you to stop it and you’re not stopping and you are not playing by all of our rules.’” “If the child has said once and if the child has said twice, after the second time if they are still having issues let the parent step in.”

But if it’s “typical kids stuff give the children a chance to resolve it themselves because if they don’t learn how to resolve conflict there’s going to be a problem when they grow up.”

Another approach is for parents to model appropriate behavior. Abbe says, “It’d often be ideal if parents can come in play with the children and model the appropriate behavior . . .  thereby showing all of the children how to play and how to work it out.” This strategy is helpful for kids through second- or third-grades.

But if the offender is unrelenting, at that point the parent can step in. Before you approach the other parent, however, Abbe says with a laugh, “Take a large breath.”

The parent can say, “We tried to play and our kids were having some difficulty playing Duck, Duck, Goose (for example). How can we help the kids play Duck, Duck, Goose better?” If the parent is receptive, Abbe recommends having play dates between the two kids, preferably at one of the child’s home and the parent can help the kids play together.

“With more jointly shared positive activities there are between two children in a private setting, the more likely they’ll be able to share appropriate positive communications and activities outside,” Abbe says.

The rules are not hard and fast and depends on each child and each situation, Abbe says.

Also bear in mind that not all conflict can be resolved. “At some point it might be worth it to find other kids to play with,” Abbe says. “You are never going to resolve everything. There are always going to be people you have conflict with and at some point you need to learn how to say, ‘You know what? It’s not working right now. We can try this at another point in time.”

For older children, and depending on the situation, Abbe says, “One of the best ways to resolve a conflict is to put the two conflicting groups together on a joint desired project.” Let them be in charge and have a discussion and try to figure out how to work on it. “When you put two adversaries together for a joint goal the aggression and the bullying and the antagonism decreases.”

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