All children break rules or engage in aggressive behaviours. Some degree of aggression like hitting or acting out, is normal in young children, and in some degree it might appear to be delinquent behaviour. The crucial question is how and where do we draw this line? There is no definite answer to this and things vary from culture to culture.
The International Classification of Disease (ICD) -10 outlines fifteen (15) behaviours that are listed to be considered for a diagnosis of conduct disorder, which usually but by no means exclusively apply to older children and young people. For these aggressive behaviours to be classified as delinquent they must be present for at least six months in a child/person.
These behaviours may be grouped into four classes:
To cut into the cycle of defiant behaviour and recriminations, it is important to build a strong relationship with your child. Parents can do that by playing with their children and recognizing their needs while playing. For instance, if a child likes playing with toy guns or violent games, instead of scolding them, parents can engage in discussion with the child on why they like such games and violence and respond to it sensitively.
The more parents talk, play and spend time with their children, the children in turn begin to like and respect their parents more, and become more secure in the relationship.
Parents can reformulate difficult behaviour in terms of the positive behaviour they wish to see by encouraging the expected/wanted behaviour. Instead of criticizing the unwanted behaviour, if the parents recognize and reinforce the positive behaviour, the same may yield positive results. For example, instead of shouting at the child not to run, they could praise him whenever he walks quietly; then he will do it more often. Through hundreds of such prosaic daily interactions, child behaviour can be substantially modified. When some parents find it hard to praise, and fail to recognize positive behaviour when it happens, the result is that the desired behaviour becomes less frequent.
Rules need to be explicit and consistent; commands need to be firm and brief. Thus, shouting at a child to stop being naughty does not tell him what he should do, whereas, for example, telling him to play quietly gives a clear instruction which makes compliance easier.
Disobedience and aggression need to be responded to firmly and calmly, as aggression can never be countered by another form of aggression. For instance, if your child is throwing a temper tantrum, instead of screaming at him/her, you can put the child in a room for a few minutes. This method of ‘time out from positive reinforcement’ sounds simple, but requires considerable skill to administer effectively.
Children are full of energy and if this energy is not utilized constructively, children might feel restless, agitated and frustrated. Un-channelized energy might find an outlet in aggressive acts and push children towards violence. Thus, parents should try to engage children in sports and other creative activities. Sports and creative activities serve a two-fold purpose: i) constructive use of children’s energy and ii) inculcating team spirit and appreciation of different skills and perspective through collaborative works.