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Guest post: Verbal and physical aggression - how you can improve challenging behaviour

ParentingAdvisorParentingAdvisor Member Posts: 16
edited July 2017 in Guest blogs

I'm the @ParentingAdvisor on Scope's community. I run Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting and can give you advice on anything behavior-related to help you with your child.  

If your disabled child or teenager often lashes out in anger, either verbally or physically, you might be feeling frustrated and worried. You may be concerned for your own safety and that of siblings; you may also be wondering how your child will cope in later life if they continues to be so reactive. Thankfully, there is a lot that parents can do to improve very challenging behaviour. You don't need to live with aggression. 

Lady with glasses looking at laptop

Some children are quite easy-going by temperament. They do most of what they’re supposed to do without making much of a fuss about it, and they accept changes to their routine without becoming too upset.

Other children have a more extreme temperament. They are more sensitive and reactive, easily bothered by little things that another child might easily brush off. They are often very intense, given to big reactions. They tend to be impulsive, speaking or acting before they have had time to think about the possible consequences. They may also be inflexible; if they expect something to be a certain way, they get upset when it turns out differently. And of course, any special need or disability your child has is likely to add a huge amount of anger and anxiety into the mix. 

Do these characteristics describe your son or daughter? Unfortunately, there's no magic wand to turn a child with a tricky temperament into one who’s easy-going. But there are many things you can do to help keep your child’s mood and behaviour more stable, even if they have a condition that can make life more difficult.   

Of course parents want to know what to do in the heat of the moment to stop aggression. I will answer that question in a later blog post, but today I want to explain how we can prevent a lot of the aggressive behaviour from happening in the first place. So please bear with me; focusing on prevention usually improves even very challenging behaviour quite quickly. 

Following prevention strategies won't be a walk in the park, but the results will be worth the effort because family life will become significantly calmer, easier and happier. :)

The importance of sleep

1.       Getting enough sleep is very important; it will help your child feel better and behave better. Make sure they’re going to bed early enough. Most children up to the age of eight still need twelve hours’ sleep. Children from nine to 12 years old need at least eleven hours of sleep a night, although they often don’t get that much. Teenagers need between nine and 10 hours of sleep, although they think they don’t. If your child makes a fuss at bedtime, dawdles, or if they have difficulty falling asleep, start the bedtime routine much earlier. That way even with delays or time-wasting they will still be getting to sleep at the right time.  

Get some exercise

2.       All children need daily exercise to burn off their natural energy. If they don’t get enough exercise they often become moody, irritable and resistant to following the usual routines. You may have a child whose disability makes it difficult for them to get enough exercise, especially if they use a wheelchair or have problems with coordination. If you’re wondering how to do this, I would be happy to talk with you about it.

Cut out all the sugar

3.      Sugar and refined carbohydrates (especially any products with white flour) often make children more moody, angry and oppositional, especially children who are starting out with a more extreme temperament. I recommend removing all sweet foods and refined carbohydrates for a month to see what results you get. If you’re worried about doing this, please do check first with your GP or specialist. 

Low blood sugar is often the cause of mood swings, non-cooperation and tantrums. This is particularly true of children who, due to a medical condition such as cerebral palsy, might be more sedentary. Make sure that your son or daughter has a meal or a healthy snack every three hours throughout the day. Each of those meals or snacks should include some protein, some fibre and some complex carbohydrates for energy, but no refined carbohydrates. Children with autism may be very sensitive to certain tastes, smells and textures, and this can make it difficult to feed them a balanced diet. If you’re having problems with this I would be happy to give you some ideas on how to help your child gradually get used to foods that, until now they have rejected. 

Step away from the screens

4.       Too much time in front of a screen often makes children angry, reactive and uncooperative. My guidelines for screen time may not be what you want to hear! Below the age of three years old any exposure to screens can negatively affect mood and behaviour. Between the ages of three and eight I recommend no more than half an hour a day of leisure screen time (television, computer, tablet, Xbox, mobile phone, etc). For ages eight and older, I recommend one hour a day of leisure screen time.  

If your children are in the habit of having a lot more screen time than the amount I recommend, you may find that in the first week or two of this new limit on electronics they may be even angrier! Stay strong because your children will get used to the new rules, and soon you’ll see the benefits. 

Children with disabilities or special needs may become dependent on screens if they are not easily able to entertain themselves in more active ways. You may need to teach your child how to occupy himself during the times when screen time is not an option and no one is available to be with him. If you have questions about this, I would be glad to give you some suggestions. 

These are a few of the strategies that many parents have used to successfully guide children and teens to become less angry and reactive, more cooperative and more respectful. But as the parent of a disabled child, you may be feeling overwhelmed. It’s very easy to allow feelings like guilt to keep you from establishing, and then following through on, routines and rules about sleep, nutrition, exercise and electronics. If you’re not sure how you could put these strategies into practice, I would be glad to talk you through how you might be able to. 

This is the first of several blog posts where I will share practical and effective ideas for improving even very challenging behaviour.  I also invite you to visit the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting website and browse our free resources for parents.


  • Katymary321Katymary321 Member Posts: 17
    We already do most of what you suggest with our son  He still struggles with unstructured times especially during the holidays  he does not enjoy normal activities or toys but prefers cleaning hoovering and throwing objects high up on cabinets or over walls or fences. Even things he loves such as balls. Trying to keep him entertained all day is a very exhausting and time consuming. For us the holidays are not holidays where we can relax. Our son has issues with certain foods which actually works in his favour. He will not eat crisps chocolate sweets biscuits sandwiches or cakes. However he would do anything to get his hands on a bottle of coca cola or a tub of ice cream. Very problematic when we are out and about on holiday. Coke is everywhere and he always makes a beeline for it. If denied it the scenes are horrendous. Head banging and screaming tantrums are the norm. At home this is much easier to manage as we don't take him shopping or call for petrol while he is in the car. We are forever thinking ahead. We have worked with a very good CAMHS psychologist recently who has suggested we build one coke a day into his routine using picture symbol strips.  This works at home reasonably well but it has not reduced his obsession with the stuff. Any sensible suggestions welcome!  Thank you.
  • AliceSAliceS Member Posts: 22 Courageous
    @Katymary321 There are ingredients in coke that are addictive, could you slowly water it down until he's literally drinking water from a can. Sounds ridiculous but I did something similar with my son who is obsessed with fruit juice. If I ever buy fruit juice, he'll get up really early and literally drink the whole lot. Nightmare. So we just don't buy it any more, or if we do, I put it in a bottle he doesn't recognise.

    @ParentingAdvisor When you say you'd suggest removing all sugars, you don't mean naturally occurring ones do you? We have recently removed all gluten from our sons diet as I have been reading how many autistic/learning disabled children struggle to break down the proteins in gluten. I saw a nutritionist and we thought this would be a good experiment.
    Thanks, Alice
  • KENDAL123KENDAL123 Member Posts: 13 Connected
    really finding it hard to cope with my 5 year old he seems to lash out at the smallest things
  • Katymary321Katymary321 Member Posts: 17
    Do you have any support from any health professionals @KENDAL123 ? Does your son go to mainstream or a specialist school? We have been struggling with the behaviour of our son for many years as he is non verbal and if he can't communicate his needs that's when the trouble starts (sometimes this happens really suddenly almost out of the blue but there's always a reason for it). I'm no expert just another parent but my son is almost 12 and I remember how hard it can be when they are so little. Thinking of you. Here if you need a shoulder or to let off steam....
  • KENDAL123KENDAL123 Member Posts: 13 Connected
    edited August 2016
    Thank you am trying to get him into a special school at the moment. Have took time off work to try sort things out but I seem to have more bad days than good with him 
  • Katymary321Katymary321 Member Posts: 17
    It's a struggle when you don't have the extra support you need. Do you get DLA? Do you have a social worker? You can request an assessment from your local authority.  Anything else I think of it will message you. Hugs.... 
  • KENDAL123KENDAL123 Member Posts: 13 Connected
    Just put in for DLA because he had a stroke an now got damage brain cells I should of been claiming it before. Feel like he has been let down from the system his not had the help he needs, How did you cope when your boy was little? most days seem a struggle. 
  • Katymary321Katymary321 Member Posts: 17
    It was very difficult he was usually awake at 2 am vacuuming the living room. Had to put a dog gate across his bedroom door to stop him escaping out of his room. Now we just put bolts on all the doors high up but he climbs on chairs to undo them. Very good at problem solving. Does your son have a diagnosis? 
  • KENDAL123KENDAL123 Member Posts: 13 Connected
    God sounds just like my little boy I don't sleep much with him. He sees a pediatrician his got signs of autism, sensory and other things going on waiting to hear about another Mri scan then he can be diagnosed. His already down for child development don't know how people mange find it really hard am such a calm person.
  • Katymary321Katymary321 Member Posts: 17
    When you get help it will get easier.  Sometimes you have to push hard especially when they are little. It is worth it though as you will get a break and he'll enjoy spending time with someone else. Have you heard of Portage Home Visitors? They can often help. Ask your son's paediatrician. 
  • KENDAL123KENDAL123 Member Posts: 13 Connected
    No have never heard of it but thank you I check it out 
  • AliceSAliceS Member Posts: 22 Courageous
    I have put a couple of videos on my blog about what to do first to get support with your disabled child. Please have a look at the link - the video was a few days ago. If you have any questions then I do a question and answer video blog every Monday evening so just shout. Happy to help in any way I can. A x
  • KENDAL123KENDAL123 Member Posts: 13 Connected
    Have just read up on your day with your son it sounds lovely I know how it feels to have a good day with your child,my son has a really good day if we go on a train or buses all day. I always find it nice to talk to people who understand and don't label him as the naughty child.
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