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Help with an Aggressive Child


​​​​​I have a 13-year-old son who is extremely verbally abusive to me. I have called the police so many times and they refuse to act unless he touches me.



​Thanks for reaching out to the Hotline. Your son's verbal aggression towards you is not acceptable. You are correct that the police will typically not cite youth unless they have actually assaulted you or made a threat to do something specific to you. However, if you feel your imminent safety is at risk, you should contact the police.

Teens who display aggressive behavior could be doing it for a variety of reasons, including:

  • It could have been modeled for them.
  • There might be a medical or mental health issue that is not being treated.
  • They have not learned and do not have the skill set to manage their own anger.
  • They might be looking for attention, even if it means it is negative attention.
  • They have tried this kind of aggressive behavior in the past to get their way and it worked so they keep repeating it.

If your son has not been in counseling before or worked with a behavioral therapist, that would be a good place to start. This could help pinpoint the origin of his behavior and teach him replacement behaviors that are acceptable. Any time there is a skill deficit (in this case, it is being able to express feelings without hurtful words or harmful actions), there is an opportunity for teaching or to improve.  

Another option would be to reevaluate what your current parenting plan is when he becomes aggressive and adjust the plan. Kids tend to escalate even more if we meet their hurtful words with our own, yell at them, or even use physical discipline. Kids will not learn anything positive from these kinds of consequences. They need to be taught acceptable ways to react to something they do not like, like when you give them a “No" answer. 

Keep in mind that teaching moments won't be effective if they come in the heat of arguments or during aggressive outbursts. Instead, wait to talk to your son during a calm time. Then, review what the new plan of action should be when he gets angry –  e.g., he can ask to go outside for 5 minutes to cool down, go to his room to listen to music, or take 3 steps away from whatever is angering him and take 10 very slow breaths before trying again. Come to agreement with him on what kind of self-control strategy would be good for him and acceptable to you.

We do not know if he is earning negative consequences for his misbehaviors. Negative consequences have to be something that are meaningful to him. At his age, typically a cell phone, going out with friends, gaming, or music are popular and meaningful. All of these are privileges that you have the option of removing if he is not complying. Think about what motivates him. It might be electronics, skateboarding, snacks, or talking to a girlfriend. All these are examples of privileges – they are not rights. If you do remove one or more of them, let him know specifically what he could do to earn them back little by little. If you remove everything at once, sometimes the child feels like he can continue to misbehave because he has nothing else to lose. If you feel you have tried these things already, give the Hotline a call. 

Consistency is very important, too. If you give in to his misbehavior one time, your son will push again with the hope that you will back down again. Talking things through with a crisis counselor can help identify what you can add or what needs to be tweaked to see if you can get a better outcome. You are not alone. We hear a lot about aggression with teens these days. Sometimes, it can be tied to substance abuse – even with vaping because it can cause irritability – so watch for that, too. 

We hope this gives you a few ideas to try. You certainly are welcome to call the Hotline if you would like to discuss other ideas with a crisis counselor.