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Determining if a child has a serious problem with aggression

From: Chapter 5, "When is aggression a concern?," in Acting Out (© 2007)

Determining if there is a serious problem

If you are trying to determine whether or not a young person has a serious problem with aggression, ask yourself the following series of key questions. You may need to speak to the young person's parents (or other adults who have worked with the person) to get some of the answers.

What type of behaviour is the young person displaying?

  • Does the young person show any behaviours of concern for his or her age group?
  • If so, how many? (The more such behaviours displayed, the greater the likelihood that the young person needs special help.)
  • Are you concerned about the young person's behaviour for any other reasons besides aggression?

How severe is the behaviour?

  • Is it difficult to calm the young person down after an outburst?
  • Does the behaviour persist despite your best efforts to talk to the child or youth, to set fair and consistent discipline measures, or to use any other strategies to intervene?
  • Does the behaviour appear to be getting worse?

How often does the behaviour occur?

  • Does it occur every day, every week or every month?

What triggers the behaviour?

  • Does the young person explode at situations that don't bother other young people?
  • Does he or she explode for no obvious reason?

How long has the behaviour been occurring?

  • Has the young person been behaving aggressively for a long time?
  • Did he or she display any behaviours of concern at an earlier age?

Has the young person's behaviour had any serious consequences?

  • Has he or she injured himself or anyone else?

Has the behaviour affected the young person's daily life, relationships or school performance?

  • Does he or she take part in everyday household activities?
  • Does the young person's behaviour lead to conflicts with parents or siblings?
  • Does the behaviour lead to conflicts with peers?
  • Does the young person have problems making friends?
  • Do all the young person's friends behave aggressively or anti-socially?
  • Does he or she have any learning problems, either long-standing or new?
  • Have his or her school grades fallen?
  • Does the young person's behaviour lead to conflicts with teachers? Does it disturb other students?

Think about each answer carefully, and take into account the portrait created when you consider all the answers together. Depending on the situation, you may find it more or less difficult to decide whether a particular young person needs help.

As you consider your decision, remember that, most of us react to situations from the perspective of our own culture and background. How you analyze the answers to the above questions will therefore be influenced by your cultural and social background, as well as by your life experiences. If you take some time to reflect upon your own background and how it might influence your perspective, you may be less likely to jump to inappropriate conclusions.

Taking the time to identify young people who are having problems with aggressive behaviour is worthwhile. You may then have the chance to guide their parents to find the right kind of treatment. The earlier a young person with an aggression problem is identified and receives help, the greater the chance that the chosen treatment will have lasting benefits.

In Addressing aggressive behaviour

Discouraging bullying

Addressing "normal" aggression

 - Preventing aggression

 - Managing aggression

Determining if a young person has a serious problem with aggression

Working with young people who have mental health problems that may include aggressive behaviour 

 - Disruptive behaviour disorders

    - Oppositional defiant disorder

    - Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

    - Conduct disorder

    - Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder