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The Active / Aggressive Child

by Sandy Friesen

With the increase of diagnoses and the use of drug therapy as the strategy of choice for active/aggressive children, it is becoming necessary that we as sponsors and parents understand the mind of these girls.

Many professionals agree that drug therapy alone does not offer these children the strategies needed to cope with the intricacies of life's decisions. It is still necessary that the girls (and adults) learn about their tendencies and how they can best redirect their activity and/or aggression needs.

First, let’s define or describe active/aggressive children. They are generally characterized as “on-the-go, impulsive, aggressive, acting instead of talking, trouble making, angry, sensation-seeking, risk-taking, daredevils, energetic, creative, enthusiastic, charismatic, and leaders.”

It is readily apparent that these children can grow into God-led, Spirit-filled, dynamos for the Kingdom. Unfortunately, it is possible also for them to grow into gang-leading, immoral con-people.

Why are these children difficult to have in the clubroom? Usually, it is because their agenda and need for attention or sensory stimulation takes over the clubroom atmosphere. Sponsors grow weary of trying to keep them busy, trying to keep them out of other's space bubbles, or trying to keep them from dismantling the furniture. Most clubrooms are not set up to address the needs of these girls. Most offer formal seating (desk or tables with chairs) and expect the children to sit, wait, and listen.

The essence of these children is motion . . . they tend to crave sensory input and may become frustrated when tight controls are enforced. They probably struggle with motor or movement planning (may have their feet in the aisle or be flailing their arms around inappropriately). Too often, they come across as "too rough" and "accidentally" hurting others, thusly, making enemies. They may turn to even riskier behaviors when under stress and may lash out when they're on overload.

What's a sponsor/parent to do? The goals then become to teach these children self-control, to lead them into self-understanding, to use their energy for positive behaviors, and to begin leading instead of aggravating.

We will still need to assume for the sake of this article, that we are dealing with "simply active/aggressive" children. This article is assuming that the children are neither psychopathic in their behavior nor are they struggling to process the information around them.

Patterns to avoid with active/aggressive children

Active/aggressive children give verbal and non-verbal cues as to what they're feeling. For example, Lisa may throw down her pencil and mumble, "I can't do this." Do not ignore this cue or treat it with casual reassurance, "Sure you can." Realize that Lisa is frustrated, and unlike other types of temperaments, Lisa will act aggressively very shortly if you do not intervene. Simple interventions could include statements such as, "Why don't you come over here by me, Lisa? I've got another craft I think you might enjoy" or "I'd like to help you learn this information. I'm sure we can find another way to study it or "Lisa, it sounds like you're frustrated. What would help your frustration level right now?” (a drink of water, a walk, a new project, a snack, talking it over).

Along with reading her cues, be sure to communicate your own. Don't assume she knows you are trying to help. Tell her, "I'd like to help. What can I do?"

Try not to vacillate between good guy/bad guy reactions. You are trying to role model consistency. Set up a game plan and be consistent.

Find ways for active/aggressive children to express their anger and frustration. Bopping a pillow, balloon, or bop bag is not the same as hurting another person and can be a great alternative. Provide anger-release activities for these children. (Running, exercise, etc., may help. Note: Use these activities as energy redirectives, not as punishments. Restricting these children from activities can cause more problems. They need the outdoor time, breaks, games, etc. Find another form of discipline rather than physical activity restrictions.)

Don't immediately restrict or immediately permit these children something. Build in “calm time,” time for you and them to process the direction their behavior is going and the consequences that are coming. For example, "Lisa, you're getting overly active, and I'm concerned someone will get hurt. Let's stop and think how we can prevent that."

There are many patterns to practice with active/aggressive children. Some include the following:

  1. Have lots of little interactions with them. You need to be able to trust one another. They need to know you'll be fair and that you have their best interest at heart.
  2. Encourage pretend play. Help them explore behavioral options through this type of play.
  3. Promote reflective thinking. Think out loud, "I wonder why you're all over the room tonight, and what I can do to help you control your behavior?" or "I can see this activity calms you down. I wonder why?"
  4. These children need more of you, not less—more security, warmth, and engagement. They don't necessarily know why they have this compulsion to act aggressively, but they do feel the sting of rejection it can produce from others.

You can be the mirror that helps active/aggressive children see they are gifts from God and that all this energy and aggression can be directed to help build the kingdom of God. God needs all of us. Pray that the Lord will give you wisdom, patience, and strategies to guide the active/aggressive child into fulfilling God's plan for her life.