Aggressive children and the anger of adults

Recently I gave a lecture to curative educators, educators and social educators on the developmental interests of children who behave aggressively. The central theme was the consideration of what children need in order to arrange themselves peacefully with each other.

(By Dipl.-Psych. Anton Hergenhan)

In the course of this lecture ...

... a kindergarten teacher came forward and asked the question loudly and deeply whether one could also think about what pedagogues need in order to survive mentally in the face of childlike aggression. The care of children who appear to be aggressive is often extremely stressful, and one often feels completely exhausted. You come home totally frustrated and no longer feel like anything.

That was a very explosive question: What do educators need, for example, when they supervise children at homework or play and experience that they throw swear words around and perhaps even strike?

In an honest discussion, we came to the following conclusion: It would be much better if the pedagogical specialists gave themselves permission to react emotionally to the children's behavioural problems. Often, caregivers say they have to be "above the line," sovereign, and pretend to be "emotionally in control. My colleagues confessed to me that they were totally exhausted: love, understanding and professionalism had to be the order of the day! That often overstrains them the most.

I can understand that well. From my own work with children with behavioural problems I know that we carers are not supermen or superwomen. We have feelings, get angry and sometimes resign ourselves. Parents also tell me again and again that they get angry at their children when they "tick out" and "spin around".

We do well to be honest with our anger. This requires caution. Because sometimes anger and annoyance lead to hard words, which you might regret afterwards. I have had to apologize to children several times when I made a mistake.

I would also like to gain something valuable from our possible anger in everyday pedagogical life. In my daily work as a curative teacher, I often find that children with behavioural problems value the emotions of their carers. And these emotions not only include joy and satisfaction, but sometimes also anger and annoyance. Children find it easier to orient themselves when adults become recognizable by their feelings. This can create close proximity. I have often experienced that children seek my closeness when they can perceive me emotionally. When I got loud and my "ticker" died down, they grabbed me by the arm, sought a conversation with me and wanted to come into close contact with me. I was allowed to feel that emotional authenticity and genuineness can be used by the children as great wealth.

Anger can be a witness of this authenticity. In my book "Aggressive Children? Systemic curative education solutions" I plead several times for this authenticity.

Finally, I would like to take up the above-mentioned question by my colleague, what teachers absolutely need.

A suitable answer includes the assurance that, as carers, we absolutely need the courage to have feelings, including strong feelings, with which we sometimes distance ourselves and clearly signal that and what does not suit us.

I am now very comfortable with this attitude.

Author of this contribution: Dipl.-Psych. Anton Hergenhan, director of a curative day care centre for children with behavioural problems in Munich, book author, available at:


[This is a translation of the German original article: Aggressive Kinder und die Wut der Erwachsenen]

Über die Autorin/den Autor
Diana Saft ist staatlich anerkannte Heilpädagogin und Heilerziehungspflegerin. Sie sammelte bisher Erfahrungen in einem Seniorenheim, in einem Wohnheim für Menschen mit Behinderungen, in einem integrativen Kindergarten und in einem deutschen Kindergarten in den USA.

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