Monday, September 30, 2013

How to Discipline Verbal Aggression

We are making camel lips!

Peter is usually very even-tempered, but he *is* still learning to express himself, to be independent, to understand rule-setting and boundaries. His weapon of choice when things go wrong is screaming. Not loud crying, that is a more natural response, used when he is sad or hurt. He screams when he is angry or embarrassed or frustrated.

And I'm having a hard time knowing how to respond.

If he were being physically aggressive, I would hold him on my lap, ending the aggression and being present with him while he regained control. But verbal aggression? That's what this is (and why I won't tolerate it as "expressing his emotions"). He sometimes even gives us warning, "If you do that, I will scream." The equivalent to holding him would be covering his mouth, but that doesn't seem at all like a loving response.

I have lots of training in behaviorism, but as a parent I try to keep consequences natural or at least logical (if you kick my chair, I won't sit next to you). The natural consequence to verbal aggression is no one wants to be with you, but sending him to his room or walking away from him doesn't help him learn how to cope. If I try to hold him or talk to him, usually the screaming escalates.

He screamed halfway through a 2 hour car trip Saturday night, waking Anne and making her cry. No one was happy. (Cause? He threatened to drop his cookies on the floor because I couldn't find his bowl and I told him that was his choice.) Since Saturday, I've been trying to proactively parent, framing questions and shaping situations in such a way that he is unlikely to get upset. It has mostly worked, but... eventually something will upset him. He needs to learn how to express himself without being aggressive toward those around him. Ideas?

I know punitive discipline would probably end the screaming, but that "fixes" the symptom without addressing the problem. Additionally, it teaches him that aggression is OK, as long as it comes from someone bigger.


  1. Not that I know much about this, but my mother ran an at-home daycare, so I've seen how she managed it. My mother would say something to the effect of "When you're ready to talk nicely, we will talk, but you need to use your words and be calm." Sometimes she needed to get into our face to make sure she heard it, but you know. She didn't leave the room but she didn't pay attention to us either, and would pick up a book or do something else within the room. Basically it showed us that we're not going to get a response with that behavior and that it was pointless to threaten to scream or make noise. It gave us time to calm down on our own. We could leave if we needed alone time to calm down but we always had to talk with her eventually about whatever the problem was. Sooo I dunno, take that with a grain of salt. =) Good luck! Let us know what works!

    1. Thank you! That's a great strategy. We're still working our way through this... I'll let you know when I find something that works. :-/