Playing Away My Son’s Aggressive Behaviour

My four-year-old son had recently started being quite aggressive in his behaviour toward me and also his younger sister. At every point of frustration he very quickly descended into hitting, pinching, kicking or biting. At first I was quite shocked! He hadn’t been like this before, and it caught me off guard.

I managed to get through a few incidents of his aggression by attempting to set a limit, physically moving in to keep his sister or myself safe, and saying, “I can’t let you do that.” I was attempting to stay and listen after I had moved in with these limits; however, he didn’t appear to let go of any of the tension that I knew was causing this behaviour.  I could also feel myself starting to get frustrated, and a bit angry that he was being so hurtful. I decided to take my feelings about this to my listening partner, which I did one evening. I was able to clear a lot of my reactive feelings related to his behaviour, and noticed I had a lot more empathy for him, which increased my motivation to connect with him, and help him return to his usual loving self.

So, the following day, I was able to set aside a whole morning, just to focus on playing with my son, and also his two year-old-sister. We set up our living room as a “wrestlemania” station! There were pillows and cushions and blankets all over the floor, bean bags, and our swing that hangs from the rafters in the room. I was really excited, and so were my children! My husband and I often play “wrestles” with our two, and they are used to having the upper hand, us letting them be in control and “win” most of the time. I’ve found this kind of play really allows the child to feel you close, and build a strong connection. I knew my son must be feeling disconnected from me in some way, and that’s why he was showing aggression.


So we started playing, just rolling around on the floor, or my children throwing cushions at me, and me falling over dramatically! It was lots of fun for us all, but after only about five minutes, my son grabbed my arm hard and started pinching me. His whole face had changed in an instant, from relaxed laughter to hard tense and angry. This was my cue to counter that feeling. So I looked him in the eye, and said, “That’s a funny way to ask for a raspberry on your belly!” and tried as best I could to nuzzle in on his belly, while he immediately started laughing again. This “vigorous snuggle” is like tackling his yucky feelings (that were causing him to pinch), head on with my love and enthusiasm and acceptance of him no matter what his attitude.

We kept playing like this for about an hour, with a few drink breaks! The flow of it was directed by my son, I followed his lead, and also tuned in to what made him and my daughter laugh, and did more of that. Every time there was a show of aggression – and this did happen quite a lot – I was able to do more of the “vigorous snuggle” variations, or playfully set a limit, for example lightly saying, “what are these hitting hands doing?” while playfully trying to grab them. It was a workout for me! I had to keep a very close watch on my son, and be able to move in fast to protect myself or my daughter when he decided to have a swipe! But as the time went on, these incidents were fewer, and he was laughing more, and including his sister more in the games we were playing. I could sense we were all feeling very close, and we naturally moved on to doing other things in our day. For the remainder of the day, there was not one single show of aggression from my son. He was loving, thoughtful and very relaxed. What a change from the past few days! Over the following week there continued to be very few aggressive moments from my son, and when he did go to hit or pinch, I could easily connect with him through a vigorous snuggle or a playful limit, and his tension dissolved much more quickly.

Lyra L'Estrange, Certified Instructor in QLD, Australia. You can connect with Lyra on Facebook

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4 thoughts on “Playing Away My Son’s Aggressive Behaviour”

    1. Lyra L’Estrange

      Hi Malcolm,

      In this case, the initial cause of my sons aggression wasn’t clear to me, it could have been many little things that didn’t sit well with him that had built up, causing him to go “off track” and signal to me that he needed some connection.

      The great thing about using these Listening Tools, is that we don’t need to understand what is causing the unreasonable behaviour in order to help our children. Yes, it would be great for us if we had clear answers and reasons why, but for our children to heal, and offload the tension they are carrying, we just need to be present and listen.

      I hope that makes sense and has answered your question. Thank you for your interest.


  1. The description of your son, especially the face going from happy & relaxed to tense and angry is a lot like my 3 yr old. He slaps my arms frequently, often not hard but it can easily become too much. When his father can do play wrestling he really lets go of a lot of the tension but I wonder if you have any suggestions I can try? I’m heavily pregnant and have had a few issues in the pregnancy that have meant many of the physical games I played with my son are just too hard / painful for the last 4 months of so. Any ways of getting around this? Thanks!

    1. Lyra L’Estrange

      Hi Claire,
      Yes, the change can happen so quickly can’t it? It sounds like you are thinking well about how best to help your son, and I’m glad you reached out for some tips!
      Yes, it can be so hard to play fully and physically with our child when we ourselves are limited. I wonder if you are part of our online email discussion group (found by clicking on the “blog and community” button above)? There are many like minded parents who meet there, who might have ideas and experiences to share with you too.
      But here are a few ideas for you try. When your son slaps you on the arms, you could say something playfully like, “What are these hitting hands doing?” and trying to grab his hands but not quite getting them. Making eye contact and smiling while doing this could be enough to shift things, without having to be very physical. You could also hold a pillow up, and let him hit that if he needs to. There are many little things you can do playfully that help your son feel a sense of connection with you, which is what he is asking for in the first place! Making funny faces, putting something silly on your head (like a bowl when setting the table, or his pants when getting dressed), etc!
      I hope these give you some ideas to try during this time.
      All the best,

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