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How to Address Violent Behavior in Children
Allowing a child to kick, hit, bite or hurt another person without consequences can cause a child to become violent in a worrisome way, child behavior experts say.
"You have to make it very clear that it's not acceptable," says William M. Buzogany, a child and adolescent psychiatrist based in Dousman, Wis. "You have to break the cycle. If he can get away with it, he's going to do it again."
But in addition to disciplining a child, it's also important to have a discussion about what violence is and why your family doesn't tolerate it, adds David Lowenstein, a psychologist in Columbus, Ohio.
After an incident, ask the child to come up with a better way to address his or her feelings, Lowenstein suggests. Spend some talking about what happened, why it was wrong and how to do better the next time, he says.
If a child tries to find a solution to his or her behavior, it's more likely to stick, Lowenstein says.
It's also important for parents to follow through with threats and punishments, he says, adding that if you tell a child you're taking his or her cell phone away for a month, you've got to do it.
Parents should worry if a child shows no remorse for violent behavior, Lowenstein says, and that parents need to help their children develop a conscience.
"We can breed (violence) by not giving (children) a sense of responsibility," he says.
Violent behavior that becomes repetitive, chronic or harmful also is cause for worry, Buzogany says. When you notice a problem, talk with the child's teachers to see if he or she is having issues at school, he says.
It's a good idea to discuss concerns with a pediatrician or family doctor before consulting with a psychiatrist.
Parents have to walk a fine line between seeking help "way too quickly" and waiting "until there's some serious trouble," Buzogany notes. "You don't have to go to a psychiatrist right away," he says. You want kids to "take some responsibility for their behavior."
He also recommends counseling before trying to use medication to change behavior.
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