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Aggressive Behavior in 6-Year-Old


​​Our 6-year-old son becomes physical – hitting, pinching and kicking – his classmates when he believes they are not following the rules in a game or they are bothering him. We have taught him strategies to deal with his frustration such as walking away, squeezing a ball or talking to the teacher. Although he can verbalize these practices, he cannot employ them in the heat of the moment.  

We have tried punishment (no TV) and a reward for a full week without incident, but neither seems to be working. In fact, it is getting worse. Now he is lying about his misbehavior. His teacher is removing him from the classroom when he becomes aggressive. He will not tell us the truth when we ask; we have to consult the teacher.  

The school counselor suggested a speech/language evaluation, and we are waiting for the results. In the meantime, what specifically can we do to send the message that hitting and lying have consequences? Do we take privileges away?  He has a Cub Scout camping trip coming up. Would it be an appropriate consequence to take this away, or is this consequence too far removed from classroom infractions?


We are very happy that your son is being evaluated for a speech/language deficit.  We are also glad that you are communicating with school staff, and that you have taught him acceptable alternatives to use when he feels frustrated.  

Using consequences in conjunction with teaching alternative behaviors is generally the most effective way to change a behavior. Perhaps you need to tweak what you are currently doing to bring about the desired result. 

First, provide him with the words he can ​use when others don’t follow the rules or bother him. Give him the words and have him say them back to you. Pair these words with the physical alternative that you have taught him. Next, have him SHOW you that he understands by practicing at home. Use both pretend and real-life situations that have occurred in the past. Keep the practice brief and make it fun. Do it daily until it becomes second nature. It is like a fire drill. You don’t just tell your children what to do: we have them actually do it and do it frequently.  

You ask about appropriate consequences. Effective consequences are meaningful to the child, are equal in size to the infraction, occur immediately after it and are contingent on the behavior. Your son’s consequences must be immediate so he can make the connection between his misbehavior and the resulting action (cause and effect).

Whether it is a positive or negative consequence, it must be immediate. Perhaps his teacher can reward him with a token each time he uses words instead of his fists when he is frustrated. Or maybe she can reward him for every 30 minutes that he demonstrates appropriate responses. Then at the end of the day, he can trade in his tokens for a special privilege. 

You can reinforce this at home. Ask the teacher to send a note home each afternoon reporting his behavior. Have him reenact his successes at school for you at home. Praise him and continue to encourage him. Do this daily since waiting a full week may be too long a period for a 6-year-old. As his behavior improves, immediacy will not be as important. But for now, it is very important.

Canceling the camping trip, therefore, would not be the most effective consequence. However, do ​alert the Cub Scout leaders about your son’s behavior issues and suggest how they can handle his frustration should it ​occur.