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The roots of childhood aggression, and how to handle them with compassion

Why do aggressive behaviors occur? Like all other behaviors, aggression is a means to an end. A child is engaging in verbal or physical aggression because it is benefiting them in some way. They may be fulfilling a need or desire, attempting to self-protect, or attempting to get contact and connection. There are a variety of internal and external experiences that may precede the actual behaviors.


As a means of protection

Aggression plays the role of evolutionary protector. When we perceive danger, it has three options: fight, flight or freeze. The fight instinct results in aggressive behaviors. In addition to the basic instincts of the human body, each person has their own set of cues and triggers to indicate danger based on past experiences. This means that someone can perceive they are in danger in a situation where danger is not obvious to others.

Some triggers may be noticeable and easy to conceptualize. If a child experiences a car accident and then subsequently throws a tantrum each time he is forced to get into the car, it will likely be easy for adults to understand why the tantrum is happening.

Some triggers, however, are not so simple. Some children, especially those who have experienced interpersonal trauma, perceive a threat in a specific tone of voice, or very subtle body language. Regardless of the specifics, what is important with this type of aggression is to understand that it comes from a place of life-threatening fear.

When this intensity of fear is present, the child isn't able to process the experience until it subsides to a more tolerable level. This is because the child's thinking brain has taken a back seat to the more primitive and instinctual areas of the brain stem. There are a variety of ways to get the thinking brain back online, including providing relational support and physical containment, large motor activities like stretching, jumping and using manipulative toys and tools.

Another form of trigger may be the child's internal emotional experience. Like aggression, anger is a protector. I like to imagine anger as the bodyguard of the other emotions—stepping in to protect when fear or sadness feels too big, unmanageable, or when the expression of them is perceived to be unsafe.

As an adult who identifies as pretty emotionally savvy, I have definitely had this experience. For me, it usually occurs in the face of deep sadness. Internally, I have the feel, “this is way too much, I cannot handle this right now!" and anger steps in. Cue me ripping apart my closet ranting about why on Earth I have so much stuff. If adults can get so overwhelmed by emotions, imagine how overwhelming big emotions are for our littles.

In both situations, it's important to remember that just because you don't see a trigger, doesn't mean it didn't happen. Inside your child's body, an invisible process is taking place. Because you can't see it, you are probably left wondering why the outburst occurred seemingly out of nowhere.

As connection or to fill a need

Aggression as a means of connection, or to fill a need or desire is a more purposeful means. With that said, I want to refrain from identifying it as a manipulative behavior. When anything is labeled, “manipulation" it is much easier to brush it off, punish the child, or identify it as “bad." In reality, these behaviors have wisdom in them. The child inherently knows what he or she needs, and has somehow learned that this behavior is a surefire way to get there.

The next question is, “what is my child trying to achieve when engaging in these behaviors?" Every situation and every child is unique so there's no one answer. To determine what they're seeking, take a look at what happens during and after aggression occurs.

Do they get one-on-one attention from a caregiver? Do they get picked up by an adult and taken out of their current environment or away from their peers? What happens in other environments, like school, extracurricular activities, or with extended family members? Once you have determined the benefits of the behavior, you can find other ways for your child to meet that need and circumvent the aggression.

More often than not, a child simply wants contact and connection. Scratch that, everybody is seeking contact and connection most of the time.

Maybe a child is utilizing aggression because that is modeled in the way his or her parents connect. I am not even necessarily talking about a violent home life. Some families are loud and abrasive, and that is simply the culture of the family unit. There is nothing wrong with connecting in this way, as long as no one is getting hurt.

Maybe a child has learned that acting in an aggressive way gets them attention, because when they moves in to kick someone, a teacher or caregiver runs over, provides eye contact, tells them why that behavior is not okay. Getting in trouble or facing a consequence is better than not getting any contact or connection at all. In a room full of children and few teachers, this may be the child's best bet at receiving individualized attention.

When this experience of purposeful aggression comes up repeatedly, I find that parents become fixated on consequences. Then, they become increasingly frustrated when consequences aren't effective. The reason this approach isn't working is because, for the child, the consequence isn't the point.

If this is a pattern, they probably already know a consequence is coming. Their need for connection simply outweighs the drawbacks of the consequence. Where before they felt a lack of connection, now they have you completely focused on them. Brilliant, isn't it? Until the need is met in another way, the consequence isn't going to have any power.

The takeaway

It is incredibly easy to label aggressive behaviors as bad or wrong. It is just as easy to link these behaviors to your child or your parenting ability. By clarifying the causes of the behavior, you can have more compassionate lens.

Aggression is your child's innate wisdom at work—it's not a disease or a problem; it is simply a symptom of an internal experience. The best results come not from covering up the symptoms but from providing support to the core and the root of the experience.

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Whether you're filling out your own registry or shopping for a soon-to-be-mama in your life, it can be hard to narrow down what exactly new moms need (versus what will just end up cluttering the nursery). That's why we paired up with the baby gear experts at Pottery Barn Kids to create a registry guide featuring everything from the gear you'll use over and over to the perfect gifts under $50.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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They say there's no use in crying over it, but for pumping mamas, spilled milk is a major upset.

When you're working so hard to make sure your baby has breast milk, you don't want to lose a drop, and Chrissy Teigen knows this all too well.

The mom of two posted a video to social media Wednesday showing her efforts to rescue breastmilk from a tabletop. She used various utensils and a syringe to try to get the milk back in the bottle.

"I spilled my breastmilk and this is how important it is in this house," she says while suctioning up milk with what appears to be a baster.

In a follow-up video Teigen continues to try to rescue the spilled milk.

"We're trying," she says as she suctions up a drop or two. "I got some."

Teigen is currently breastfeeding baby Miles, her son with husband John Legend, and has been very public about the fact that she pumps a lot as a working mom.

She's also been open about the fact that milk supply has always been an issue for her, not just with Miles but with Luna, too.

"I actually loved [pumping] because I'm a collector of things, and so when I found out I could pump I [did it] so much because I knew the more you pumped, the more milk you'd make," she told POPSUGAR back in March. "So I loved collecting my breast milk and seeing how much I could get, even if it was very, very little."

Like a lot of moms, Teigen did struggle emotionally when a pump session wouldn't get her the ounces she wanted.

"I wasn't producing a lot of milk, and it was frustrating. When you're frustrated, [it can also make you] not produce that much."

Research backs her up. Stress has been linked to lower milk production. Because of that, she's trying to stay positive this time around, but captioned her video post "EVERY DROP COUNTS IN THIS HOUSE" because, well, they do.


So many mothers can relate. Have you ever tried to save your breastmilk?

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What is it about networking that's just kind of...awful? Typically inconvenient and often awkward, formal networking events rarely yield the results most women (and especially mamas) are looking for.

Whether you're reentering the workforce post-baby leave or simply looking to make a complicated career switch as a busy mom (or just struggling to juggle play dates and professional meetings), making the right connections is often a hurdle that's difficult to surmount. And more and more often, networking comes up short in providing what moms really need.

When time is truly at a premium—a session swapping business cards can be hard to prioritize. Shapr wants to change all that.

Designed with busy people in mind, Shapr is an app with an algorithm that uses tagged interests, location, and professional experience to match you with 10-15 inspiring professional connections a day. You swipe to indicate interest in networking with any of them, and if the interest is mutual, you're connected. (But don't worry, that's where the similarities to that dating app end.)

It makes it easier to connect with the right people.

From there, you can chat, video conference, and even meet in person with potential mentors, partners, and investors while growing your real-life network. No more wasting hours trying to pick someone's brain only to discover they don't have the right experience you need. And no more awkward, stilted small talk—even suggests a few preset icebreakers to help get the conversation rolling more quickly.

The best part? You could do virtually all your connecting from your couch post-bedtime.

It simplifies switching careers or industries.

Sysamone Phaphone is a real mom who was fed up with traditional networking options. When she quit her full-time job in healthcare to pursue founding a startup, she quickly realized that in-person networking events weren't only failing to connect her to the right people, they were also difficult for a single mom of two to even attend. "I was complaining to a friend that I was so tired and didn't know how I was going to keep doing it this way when she recommended the Shapr app," Phaphone says. "I tried it right there at dinner and started swiping. [Later], in my pajamas, I got my first connection."

From there, Phaphone was hooked. Her network suddenly exploded with developers, potential partners she could work with, and even people to hire for the roles she needed. She was also able to connect with and empower other women in tech. Now, checking in with Shapr connections is just part of her routine. "I look for connections after drop-off at school and on my commute into the city," she says. "Then after bedtime is done, I go on to check if there is anyone I've connected with."

It helps you find a mentor—no matter where they live.

Another common roadblock Shapr removes? Location. While you probably wouldn't fly to LA from New York for a networking event, the Shapr app lets you connect and chat with the person who best meets your needs—regardless of where they're based. Even better for parents, the "mom penalty" many women contend with when trying to get back into the workforce doesn't exist on Shapr—if you have the right experience, the connections will still come.

To connect, simply create your account, enter up to ten hashtags you want to follow (either industry related like #film or #tech or by person you're seeking, such as #developer or #uxui), preset what you're looking for (investors, collaborators, etc.), and indicate how you prefer to meet. To connect with more people at once, Shapr also has community groups within the app around interest topics that you can join. And even though the connection begins in the digital space, it often results in the in-person experiences mamas crave.

"I wish I could encourage more moms and dads to use it because it has been a lifesaver for me," Phaphone says. "It empowered my career and career choices, and it provides so much convenience. I can put my kids to bed and not go to an event, but still meet 20 people in a night."

For women looking to grow their business, position, or simply achieve a little self-growth, Shapr is changing the way we connect. This powerful new app could change everything, mama. Download it today to get started.

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