7 Common Causes Of Aggression In Children

For most parents, hearing the news that their child has committed a crime is distressing.  And when ongoing violence enters into the equation, more than not, parents and others might have failed to make the connection.

“Deeply traumatic experiences, especially during childhood, can have an even deeper impact in adult life. They can significantly shape an individual’s personality and life choices, spurring research into the connection between childhood abuse and criminal behavior,” writes Nicola Davies, PhD.  “In particular, the extent of childhood abuse reported among serial killers has raised the question: Are serial killers born or made?” she added, “Not all abused children become serial killers, and not all serial killers are victims of childhood abuse. However, the connection between the two cannot be dismissed as simply coincidence.”

On average, professionals who study violent kids say that by age 7, aggression should slow down or stop altogether.  Still, just because a kid is aggressive after the age of 7, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have the making of a killer on our hands.   Yet, once the threshold of violence occurs ongoing after a certain age, then it becomes a societal issue.  Aaron Campbell was a 16-year-old who abducted, raped, and murdered a youngster “causing “catastrophic injuries, before dumping her body in woodland on the island.”

Aaron Campbell was a 16-year-old


In 2000, there was a story involving two brothers, Danny and Ricky Preddie, ages 13 and 12, when they killed 10-year-old Damilola Taylor.  The incident took place in southeast London.  By all accounts, Taylor was minding his business as he was walking home when the brothers ambushed him, cutting him on his left thigh from a broken bottle. Taylor escaped to a nearby stairwell and bled to death.

Danny and Ricky Preddie, 13 and 12 (2000)

Then there was 13-year-old Eric Smith, who had run into a four-year-old named Derrick Robie who was walking alone.  The incident took place in Steuben County, New York.  According to court reports, Smith convinced Robie into a wooded area where he strangled him, hit him with two massive rocks to the head, and then “sodomized the body with a tree limb.”


The syndicated TV show on A & E airs a series called Kids Who Kill.  The program is two hours and explores the reasons behind child killers.  Similar to many crimes’ investigative programs, the show offers opposing views from prosecutors, defense attorneys, and child psychology experts, who all attempt to offer counter-arguments about the best course of action for killer kids.

Aggression in children is often a symptom of an underlying issue that’s being untreated or poorly managed, whether that’s a psychiatric condition, a medical issue, or the circumstances they may be facing. To treat the symptom, it’s vital to understand what’s behind it.

Here are the 7 common causes of aggression in children.

  1. Mood Disorders—Mood disorders, also known as affective disorders, are often one of the most common reasons for aggression in children. These conditions cause extreme, persistent mood changes and are difficult to manage, affecting the child’s emotional state. This causes them to lash out because they are going through something they can’t manage independently, which is why diagnosis is essential.

2. Conduct Disorders—A conduct disorder is when a child is inclined to antisocial behavior, meaning they ignore basic rules and standards of conduct. Aggression is a significant component of conduct disorders. Other symptoms include irresponsibility, skipping school, running away, stealing, and physical violence towards others.

3.    Psychotic Disorders—Aggression is also a common symptom of psychotic disorders. A psychotic illness makes it difficult for people to think clearly, communicate effectively, make sound judgments, and understand reality, among other things. For instance, children with schizophrenia often respond to disturbing internal stimuli, making them paranoid and mistrustful, so they tend to lash out when they are scared.

4. Disruptive Behavior Disorders— Children with disruptive behavior disorders can be aggressive, and they are often uncooperative and defiant. These disorders make children more irritable, stubborn, and disobedient because they have very little control of their impulses. Their decision-making process is also poor, leading to behavior often perceived as aggressive, especially in response to authority figures.

5. Trauma—In some cases, aggression in children is caused by stressors present in their current life circumstances. That means the aggression doesn’t stem from an emotional disorder. However, this situation is rare. When aggression becomes habitual, it could indicate an underlying emotional issue to be diagnosed and treated.

6. Frustration— Children who are intellectually impaired or have problems communicating, such as autistic children, tend to be aggressive. Children with these conditions turn to aggression because it’s challenging to deal with frustration, anxiety, and negative emotions. They can’t verbalize their feelings effectively, so they become more impulsive, which leads to aggressive behavior.

7. Injury—Last but not least, aggression can be a symptom of injury. Aggressive behavior often has organic causes, such as damage to the frontal lobe or certain kinds of epilepsy. In such cases, aggressive behavior comes in outbursts without apparent reason, and the episodes could be dangerous.

More often than not, aggression in children can be managed and treated, as long as there’s an understanding of the underlying cause. Children don’t simply wake up and decide to be aggressive, so seeking a diagnosis should always be the first step.   In addition, Dr. Alan Kazdin a Yale University Professor of Child Psychology, suggests, three possible ways for parents to contain acts of violence in children early.

“Don’t use violence. Modeling proper behavior is more practical than telling a child how they should act,” he said.  “Take your child to a pediatrician immediately if you receive repeated complaints from their school about violent behavior.   When delinquent behavior interrupts daily life, it’s a warning sign that your child needs help,” and do not take your child’s rude behavior as a sign of emotional release or deep-seated anger. Research has found that a child’s offensive behavior can be linked to corporal punishment or violence.”

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