By: Dr. Elisa Yoho, School Psychology and Educational Solutions, Inc.

When children display aggressive behavior, whether that be lashing out at classmates and caregivers or throwing tantrums in store aisles, it can be difficult to determine how to go about correcting these tendencies. Frustrated caregivers or educators may be tempted to use traditional punishment tactics, often getting upset or angry and letting those feelings dictate their response. These approaches, while common, are not typically effective in putting an end to the behavior, only serving to upset both parent and child further.

Disciplining with empathy is not a new approach, but it is one that is gaining credibility rapidly. To understand why it is effective, we must examine where the behavior it seeks to correct is coming from. All behavior stems from emotion, and when children feel angry, helpless, or frustrated, they lash out because they have not yet developed the tools they need to deal with these feelings in constructive ways. In fact, they learn how to regulate their emotions through the examples of those around them, particularly their caregivers. If an adult in their life often yells, or distances themselves when they are frustrated or angry, they will grow to understand this as an appropriate means of expressing their feelings. While punishment or behavior charts may work at first, in the long run you may find that the punishment has to continually be escalated, and eventually your child or student may end up with a complete disregard for the consequences, and no tools for understanding how to cope with their feelings.

Utilizing empathy in these moments stems from an understanding of the connection between emotion and behavior. Taking the time to listen to those feelings can make it easier to modify the behaviors they create. By remaining calm and talking through the situation, you give your child examples of language in which to express their feelings. For example, if a child lashes out because they didn’t get that new toy they wanted, take a moment to sit with them and explain, in language they can understand, a situation in which you felt something similar. Describe a time when you didn’t get something you wanted, how you felt, why you felt that way, and how you navigated that feeling. This may take more patience and time, but the connection and emotional support it encourages van make a huge difference.

To learn more emotional and behavioral development, contact Dr. Elisa Yoho at, or by phone at (321)749-2549.

About School Psychology and Educational Solutions, Inc.

Trained in child development, learning, behavior, assessment, educational interventions, motivation, and mental health, Dr. Elisa Yoho is a state licensed and nationally certified school psychologist dedicated to providing parents with resources to ensure their child’s success. Serving the Central Florida area for more than 15 years, she continues to provide her services for schools in the community in addition to her work with parents and children at her own practice, School Psychology and Educational Solutions, Inc.