Why do children become more aggressive these days

Behavioral research : Children are most aggressive at three and a half

They hit, bite, pinch. Small children can be terrifyingly brutal. Now researchers have examined the aggressiveness of the growing offspring. Accordingly, the physical roughness initially increases, reaches a maximum at around three and a half year olds and then disappears again by the age of elementary school. The results of the observational study on the development of 2223 children will be presented in the medical journal "Jama Network Open".

Not every child gets their aggressions under control

The analysis has a serious background: early childhood aggressiveness does not decrease again in every child. A small proportion still has a considerable tendency to physical violence at a young age, combined with a higher risk of violent crimes, disturbed social behavior, school failure and drug and alcohol abuse. But why?

Richard Tremblay's researchers from the University of Montreal (Canada) identified risk factors for this. This mainly included family circumstances in early childhood: parents with a low level of education or depression, a low socio-economic status of the family, a high number of siblings.

In the case of high-risk families, it could make sense to intervene with targeted measures during pregnancy and early childhood, say the researchers. This could help prevent children from being persistently aggressive.

The study included information from mothers, teachers, and boys and girls born in 1997 and 1998 in the province of Quebec. The mothers were interviewed seven times - each time their child was one and a half, two and a half, three and a half, four and a half, five, six and eight years old. Information from teachers was collected annually for children aged six to thirteen. There were also surveys of girls and boys aged ten, twelve and thirteen.

Physical abuse increases with the start of school

Aggressive behavior was rated if the child frequently engaged in physical confrontations, bit, hit, or kicked other children, or otherwise physically attacked. Girls were generally classified as less aggressive than boys. There were also greater individual differences among boys.

Among the six percent of boys who were classified as highly aggressive by themselves and their teachers as six to thirteen-year-olds, there was often a significant increase in physical abuse with the start of school, according to the mothers. According to the mothers' statements, they often did not appear particularly noticeable up to the age of five.

With the girls, the researchers found that children who were rated as aggressive at a very early age also remained in primary school. One possible reason for this, however, could be that the mothers classed such behavior in daughters as deviating rather than in sons, the researchers point out.

Annett Stein (dpa)

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