Childhood Aggression

A recent study has distinguished between aggressive behavior subtypes. The most obvious distinction is between aggressive behavior primarily in response to provocation and impulsive or retaliatory in intent (dubbed hostile or reactive aggression) and aggressive behavior planned and designed to achieve a specific outcome (dubbed instrumental or proactive aggression).

Meaning of Aggression

Several definitions of aggressiveness have been proposed, with the majority agreeing on a common aspect of behavior meant to hurt others. Aggression is not a diagnosis in any of the commonly used classification systems; however, it appears as part of the clinical picture in several disorders, either as a primary symptom (e.g., in conduct disorder) or as a commonly associated problem (e.g., among children with developmental delays).

Prevalence of Childhood Aggression

Although estimates of the prevalence of aggression vary depending on the definition used and the characteristics of the sample, all reports agree that aggressive behavior among children is relatively common and that it poses a severe and significant mental health concern for a small group of youth. Mothers claim that a quarter of their 30-month-old children have physically attacked others, and over one-third of high school students have physically confronted them.

Against this backdrop of overall aggressiveness rates, a tiny subset of children (about 5%) are particularly violent at a young age and whose hostility continues. On the other hand, physical violence decreases with age in most children from early to middle childhood. Although guys exhibit more overt and physical violence than girls, girls exhibit greater relationship hostility.

Correlates of Childhood Aggression

Aggression in children is associated with violence and a lack of resources in society. Childhood aggressiveness is frequently connected with parental aggression, harsh and inconsistent parenting, poor parent-child connection, marital conflict, and family social disadvantage at the family level. Aggressiveness among siblings is frequently associated with juvenile aggressiveness in other situations, and high levels of sibling conflict may serve as a training ground for the development of aggression.

Although biological elements (e.g., arousal) may be associated with aggressiveness in children, environmental and psychological factors are crucial. Aggression, for example, is linked to impairments and distortions in processing social information.

Aggressive youngsters, in particular, are more likely to pay attention to aggressive indicators in interactions, assign ambiguous peer behaviors to hostile intents, and produce and value more violent solutions to social difficulties. Not unexpectedly, violence is connected to peer rejection, and violent children frequently group together but with low friendship quality. Bullying often occurs among aggressive youngsters, particularly those lacking social competency or assertiveness. Finally, research has repeatedly shown a link between aggressive behavior and exposure to violence on television.

Assessment of Childhood Aggression

Adequate assessment of aggressiveness, like all children's diseases, necessitates obtaining evidence from various sources across diverse contexts. In particular, evaluation should concentrate on the child's behavior and traits and the social environment in which the behavior occurs. Assessing the antecedents of aggressiveness (e.g., peer bullying, violence modeling at home) and the consequences of the behavior (e.g., instrumental benefits) is crucial in understanding aggression and planning therapy.

Given that many types of aggressiveness are not prominent and may be overlooked by adults, peers' perspective is frequently invaluable in judging kid hostility. Various well-validated questionnaires with substantial normative bases have been created to collect parent, teacher, and child self-reports of violent behavior. Observations, peer evaluations, and nominations are also valuable.

Prognosis of Childhood Aggression

Aggressive behavior has the unpleasant distinction of being one of the most constant features of children. Children who exhibit frequent, severe, and varied forms of violent behavior in various situations are at a high risk of developing various issues in adolescence and adulthood, including crime, drug misuse, and academic underachievement.

When violent behavior is combined with peer rejection, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), low intellect, or familial circumstances such as teen pregnancy, the chance of poor child outcome increases. On the other hand, a healthy parent-child connection, an upbeat parenting style, better child intellect, and prosocial peer interactions are protective factors against the development or continuance of aggressiveness.

Treatment of Childhood Aggression

Efforts to reduce childhood aggression have shown some effectiveness, with community or school-based interventions reaching at-risk families with young children. However, a lack of community resources may limit the total benefit of these programs. As previously stated, parenting challenges are frequently a component of the clinical presentation of child aggressiveness, and behavioral parent training is a suggested and effective treatment.

Similarly, the social information processing issues that characterize aggressive youngsters have prompted the creation of successful social or problem-solving skills and anger management training therapies for elementary-school-aged children. These types of parent and child training are typically combined to improve treatment outcomes. Pharmacological therapies are ineffective in regulating juvenile aggressiveness, and treatments focused on catharsis or releasing "pent-up" violent behavior are ineffective.

Antisocial Behavior

Antisocial behavior is not a specific diagnostic category; instead, it refers to various behaviors that signify transgressions of social conventions. Aggression or violence, bullying, stealing, fire-setting, lying, or truancy are examples of antisocial behaviors. According to arrest records, the most prevalent delinquent activities are arson, vandalism, thefts, burglaries, assaults, rapes, and status offenses (running away, curfew violation). Youth with antisocial behavior may also be referred to as juvenile delinquents or young criminals (terms vary by jurisdiction) or as having Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) or Conduct Disorder (CD). Antisocial behavior is regularly linked to social disadvantage in society and the family.

Antisocial behavior is more widespread in socially disadvantaged, hazardous communities with many deviant peers and tolerance for deviant behavior. Antisocial behavior is strongly associated with inconsistent, harsh, and forceful parenting and poor parent-child bonding. These parental challenges, particularly in a child with a challenging temperament, raise the chance of antisocial behavior among boys.

Furthermore, parents of antisocial children frequently have high rates of depression, antisocial behavior, drug addiction, marital conflict, and life stress. Youth who engage in antisocial behavior are more likely to face early parenthood, academic and attentional challenges, drug addiction issues, internalized issues such as depression and suicide, and to become victims of crime. Antisocial behavior with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) appears to be a specific risk factor for more severe and long-lasting antisocial behavior.


Aggression is a common aspect of behavior meant to hurt others and can be divided into overt and relational aggression. Aggressive behavior among children is relatively common and poses a primary mental health concern. It is associated with violence and a lack of resources in society and is linked to impairments and distortions in processing social information.

Assessment of aggressiveness requires evidence from various sources and across diverse contexts. Treatment of aggressiveness has shown some effectiveness, with community or school-based interventions reaching at-risk families. Pharmacological therapies are ineffective in regulating juvenile aggressiveness.

Updated on: 09-May-2023


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