The Causes of Childhood Aggression

The causes of child aggression are varied and respond to several factors. It's essential to detect the reason in order to find a solution.
The Causes of Childhood Aggression
Mara Amor López

Written and verified by the psychologist Mara Amor López.

Last update: 03 December, 2022

The causes of childhood aggression can vary greatly. It’s one of the main reasons why parents seek help for their children in psychology offices. Adults often complain about the rebellious and manipulative behavior of young people, that they ignore the rules, don’t obey, and are defiant. In this situation, the main thing to do is to find a solution as soon as possible, as this can lead to oppositional defiant disorder.

These aggressive behaviors don’t appear suddenly in children and adolescents. On the contrary, they have a specific cause, either of an internal nature or due to the influence of the environment. Therefore, it’s very important to find the real cause in order to be able to carry out a correct intervention and proper treatment. Here, we’ll tell you some of the possible causes of childhood aggression.

Know the causes of childhood aggression

Aggression in children may be due to external causes or internal or medical problems that produce this type of behavior. Let’s take a look at some of them.

External causes

We all have to be clear that the environment is an important factor that intervenes in the development of the personality and character of children. Some of the causes of this aggressiveness related to external factors are the following:

  • Behavioral models: Depending on the behavioral patterns that a child witnesses, mainly in their parents, they may develop childhood aggression. This means that children, by imitation, will follow in their parents’ footsteps, as they’ll understand that this is an adequate model of behavior.
  • Family discipline: It’s in the family where a child acquires certain basic rules of coexistence, as well as certain limits that will mark their behavior. For this reason, the discipline that parents put in place will play an important role in terms of child aggressiveness.
  • Inconsistency regarding childrearing: This is another cause of aggression in both children and adolescents. When parents reject and punish bad behavior with aggressive or threatening behavior, they’re contradictory. Therefore, they won’t be able to eliminate the behavior. Also, it’s an incongruence when both parents can’t agree when it comes to establishing the rules and each one goes their own way when it comes to raising their kids.
An angry child turning his back to his angry father.
The discipline imposed by parents can have a direct impact on the child’s actions. For example, a very demanding education or, on the contrary, a very permissive one, promotes aggressive behavior in children.

Internal causes

The causes of childhood aggression aren’t only external. There are also internal causes. This explains why children who grow up in adverse environments aren’t always violent and, on the contrary, why those who grow up in balanced environments sometimes are.

  • Organic causes: Many cases of child aggressiveness are the consequence of organic problems, such as hormonal alterations or affections in certain brain mechanisms that are in charge of regulating behavior.
  • Lack of social skills: Social skills help us to relate in a flexible, tolerant, and open way with others. When children lack social skills or haven’t developed them, they may tend to respond aggressively. In this regard, they’re not able to manage the stress or frustration they feel in other ways, as they don’t have the tools to do so.

The psychological causes of childhood aggression

There are also medical and psychological problems that can cause aggressiveness in children and adolescents, such as the following:

  • Impulsivity: Children with attention deficit disorder are often impulsive, and this can make them appear aggressive, but in reality, these behaviors are unintentional.
  • Behavioral problems: Many of these problems have aggressiveness as a common characteristic. The difference is that these children do use it intentionally, so the treatment will be completely different from the previous case.
  • Frustration problems: Some children with communication or cognitive difficulties may have certain aggressive behaviors. These are actually their way of expressing frustration or anxiety caused by their challenges.
  • Mood disorders: Certain children with mood disorders may become aggressive at times, become impulsive, and lose self-control. This happens especially when they’re very irritable.
  • Psychosis: In cases where there’s a psychosis or schizophrenia disorder, the child may feel insecure at times and, in response to this fear, act aggressively.
Psychological disorders, in many cases, are the cause of aggressiveness. Psychosis, schizophrenia, or frustration problems, among others, can trigger episodes of violence in the child who suffers from it.

Resources to control child aggression

We can try to improve these aggressive behaviors by implementing a series of strategies:

  • Promote emotional dialogue: Help the child to identify their emotions and talk about them.
  • Reinforce loving relationships: Don’t respond aggressively to undesirable behavior, but rather with love, serenity, and understanding.
  • Maintain a firm educational style: You must avoid extreme permissiveness and authoritarianism. Try to establish limits and rules that must be complied with, but always with flexibility and dialogue.
  • Encourage reflection: Teach them the appropriate ways of relating to others and help them find solutions to their conflicts.
  • Emphasize the consequences: Help them to understand that their behavior has negative consequences on other people and can even harm them, not only physically but also psychologically.

About the causes of childhood aggression

Now that you know more about child aggression, it’s important for you to know that this type of behavior in children always has a cause and also a solution. It’s true that parents can’t always put an end to this problem, but with the help of a professional, you can surely find a solution. The important thing is to identify that the child has these behaviors and establish a plan of action to act accordingly.

Many times, the aggressiveness of children isn’t intentional, while in many others, it is. Therefore, it’s important to distinguish between the two and see exactly which group our child is in so that we can find the right solution to the problem.

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  • Gallego, M. M. Á. (2010). Prácticas educativas parentales: autoridad familiar, incidencia en el comportamiento agresivo infantil. Revista Virtual Universidad Católica del Norte, (31), 253-273. https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/1942/194214587011.pdf
  • Jiménez Flores, J., Flores Herrera, L. M., & Merino-Soto, C. (2019). Factores de riesgo familiares y prácticas de disciplina severa que predicen la conducta agresiva infantil. Liberabit25(2), 195-212. http://www.scielo.org.pe/scielo.php?pid=S1729-48272019000200005&script=sci_arttext&tlng=pt
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The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.