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Why is your child acting up by shouting, growling or hitting

I wonder if you have been out somewhere in a public place, with friends or family, or even alone at home and your child has done something unenjoyable. Maybe they spoke in a certain way, hit you or someone else. Maybe they growled instead of talking.

I wonder what it felt like for you? Maybe you felt embarrassed, ashamed; maybe you felt like others believed you or your child were bad in some way? Maybe you felt judged for the way you are parenting especially if it doesn’t fit into the more mainstream behavioral parenting paradigm.

So many emotions may come up when your child does something that may be perceived in a negative light. Feelings can often arise around needing to feel respected and treated with care and not being physically hurt.

I really encourage you to have someone listen to the emotions that arise for you when you are responded to in an unenjoyable way. Your feelings may also be connected to when you were young and were responded to with harshness.

So often there can be a charged phrase that comes up when something happens with our children. If we can identify that phrase and have someone lovingly listen to us, it can make it so much easier to listen and be with what is happening for our child or children. If we have processed some of our own emotions, we are likely to be more present with our child, as a result of not having to manage both our and their emotions at the same time.

I wonder if it’s helpful to remember that there might be one of two things happening for your child when they act out. It can be helpful to work out whether:

  • They may have an unmet need or
  • They may have a build-up of emotions that are needing to be expressed

Emotions are likely to arise when a child has an unmet need or they have a build-up of emotions. When your child is experiencing big emotions, it’s likely that the more primitive part of the brain is in control and they are therefore not able to respond cognitively if we try and rationalize with them.

If your child has an unmet need they may begin to act out. For example, your child may start shouting because you have been talking to someone else and they need your attention again. Maybe they feel like they have waited and now they are bored and want to do something with you.

If it is not an immediate need then unenjoyable behavior can result from a build-up of emotions or trauma. This is most often the reason for unenjoyable behavior around hitting and biting. Children act out in these ways because feelings of frustration, disappointment, fear, hurt, trauma, and especially feelings around powerlessness build up and require an outlet.

When children’s emotions build up they can often come out as shouting, hitting, or biting. When your child does any of these things it can be really helpful, before even responding, to actively bring into your immediate awareness the following:

  • Your child is pure love
  • They are acting out because they are hurting
  • They have a build-up of emotions that their little beings are trying to release
  • That they are doing it with you because they feel safe and loved by you

If you can find a mantra that works for you along the lines of the points above it can be really helpful to hold it while responding to your child. Your child will energetically sense when you come from a place of compassion and love.

I wonder if it’s helpful here to remember a time when you were really upset. What was it like, could you concentrate on someone else, was it harder to be calm and levelheaded? Maybe you said something you later regretted, shouted, got angry, or withdrew. Children are no different from ourselves and act out when they have a build-up of emotions.

When you are able to give your child deep love and acceptance no matter what they are doing or how they are feeling, then they will feel your unconditional love. They will likely grow into adults that are able to be gentle with others and themselves. They will feel accepted and loved. Leading to greater ease and happiness in adulthood. They will believe that they are loved regardless of which parts of them are shown.

I encourage you here while reading this to be gentle with yourself and to remember it is never too late for both you and your child to heal from anything that has happened in the past.

One area that can contribute to more aggressive behavior can be around feelings of powerlessness. I find it so helpful if we can put ourselves in our child’s shoes when we think of their day and how many times they may not get to choose what they wanted.

There are also bigger things that may be impacting your child’s sense of choice. Maybe you got divorced recently, moved house, town or school. All of these have a huge impact on your child and will impact on their sense of powerlessness.

So what can you do?

In the moment you can deeply hear what they are feeling and have to say. Try not to fix it and rather be with the emotional experience so that they feel heard and seen. Saying things like “I hear you”, “I’m here with you and I’m going to stay with you while you feel like this”, you may also say, “I’m not willing for you to hurt me or someone else and I love you”.

Something preventative that you can do is a little Present Time with your child as often as you can manage. This is where you set a timer for however long you can manage, turn your phone and other distractions off, and then your child gets to choose exactly what they want to do with you for the agreed time.

If there are things you don’t want to do, decide, and agree on these before you begin to play. Then give your child your undivided attention. Their human need for connection and love will be met along with their need for choice, as they determine how the game will be played. Be prepared to do some listening time afterward, as the connection experienced by your child during your play can bring a feeling of safety, and as a result emotions may come to the surface to be heard and released.

Holding your child to stop them from hurting you can also be helpful. It is very important that if you choose to do this, that you do it with a loving embrace, and not with any anger or frustration. You can say “I hear you are really angry and you want to hit Mummy or Daddy and I’m not willing to let you hurt me”, “I’m holding you to keep us safe” and “I’m here and listening to your emotions”. Sometimes even gently touching their hand that is hitting can bring the connection to the emotions that are needing to be released.

Attachment games around powerlessness can also be really helpful. If you would like some suggestions here please let me know.

I hope what I have written is useful. If you have any questions or have anything you are struggling with please either comment below or get in contact with me directly. Much love xox