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Dealing with aggressive and delinquent behaviour

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.

Signs of Delinquent Behaviour

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:

Aggression towards people and animals

  1. Often lies or breaks promises to obtain goods or favours or to avoid obligations
  2. Frequently initiates physical fights (this does not include fights with siblings)
  3. Has used a weapon that can cause serious physical harm to others (for example bat, brick, broken bottle, knife, gun)
  4. Often stays out after dark despite parental prohibition (beginning before 13 years of age)
  5. Exhibits physical cruelty to other people (for example ties up, cuts or burns a victim)
  6. Exhibits physical cruelty to animals
  7. Destruction of property

  8. Deliberately destroys the property of others and one’s own (other than by firesetting)
  9. Deliberately sets fire with a risk or intention of causing serious damage.

    Deceitfulness or theft

  10. Steals objects of non-trivial value without confronting the victim, either within the home or outside (for example shoplifting, burglary, forgery).
  11. Serious violations of rules

  12. Is frequently truant from school, beginning before 13 years of age
  13. Has run away from parental or parental surrogate home at least twice or has run away once for more than a single night (this does not include leaving to avoid physical or sexual abuse)
  14. Commits a crime involving confrontation with the victim (including pursesnatching, extortion, mugging)
  15. Forces another person into sexual activity
  16. Frequently bullies others (for example deliberate infliction of pain or hurt, including persistent intimidation, tormenting, or molestation)
  17. Breaks into someone else’s house, building or car Besides these signs, another common yet very important sign of aggressive behaviour is a child throwing temper tantrums, using aggression to seek attention or to get their demands fulfilled. Reinforcing such behaviour by giving in to the child’s demands can strengthen temper tantrums and aggressive behaviour in children.

What Parents can do?

  1. Spend time with your child and develop a positive relationship
  2. 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.

  3. Praise and reward for sociable behaviour
  4. 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.

  5. Clear rules and clear commands
  6. 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.

  7. Consistent and calm consequences for unwanted behaviour
  8. 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.

  9. Engage children in constructive activities and sports
  10. 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.

Quick tips for parents

  • Talk to children about incidences of violence and crime in the city and the country. Try to understand what children are thinking and what they feel about it. For instance, in the Nirbhaya case, how did children perceive the role of juvenile in it and why?
  • Engage and show them positive examples in media, through stories, to explain to children as to why they should not endorse aggression and violent activities. E.g. Discuss with children the case of Malala Yousufzai and other children who raised their voice against violence.
  • Teaching children how to think and respond to situations and NOT REACT. For instance, share examples of road rage with children.
Source : Raising Happy children and providing safe childhoods - A Reader by Ministry of Women and Child Development


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