Aggression?Good Or Bad ?

T. A. Ratcliffe

the best, way of ending an individual tantrum is to give in to the infant's demands?and thereby he will have the value of learnt aggressive behaviour as a weapon in gaining his own ends. Some sibling jealousy is inevitable; and brothers and sisters will certainly quarrel, or fight each other, on occasions. To the parent, such aggressive behaviour may seem the very negation of brotherly, or sisterly, love (although often, in fact, it may be one of the proofs of the presence of a close bond of affection). Some parents almost "fall over backwards" to avoid any unfairness towards their children which might provoke such a scene, or are deeply anxious, if it occurs. Yet surely the need is just as much to such normal allow aggressive behaviour at reasonable times and to a reasonable degree, as it is to show disapproval of such aggression when it is excessive, or ill-timed.

TT is

a striking fact that quite a number of words, whilst retaining their official dictionary meaning, gradually come to have for us what we might call a new "emotional meaning"; and usually this has a much more derogatory colouring than had the original. A good example would be "asylum"; and another is "aggression". We speak of "aggressive wars" as






wicked type, although any war, by its very nature, must be aggressive in the real meaning of the word. And we associate aggression very closely with our concept of violence and violent

crime. Yet, basically, aggression is


much more normal than this. We all of us feel aggresive now and then; and most of us are aggressive sometimes. But it is probably in children that we see "normal aggression" in its most open and active form. Tt is not surprising, therefore, that such childhood aggression can, and often does, provoke the adult to



anxiety?or sometimes


considerable satisfaction.



All young children, at one stage of their development, form "gangs" and battle in one way or another for supremacy in such groups. Any small boy, given the opportunity, will play at Cowboys and Indians, or with toy soldiers, or shoot off his toy pistol. Nor are small girls entirely immune from similar activities. There is a strong aggressive element in all this behaviour, and our adult attitude towards such activity is very much coloured by our own feelings about aggression. At one extreme, we may try to prohibit such play; by

Nor need


surprise us, although it may worry us, that the adult is tempted himself towards aggressive retaliation in response to the child's behaviour. TEMPER TANTRUM Mary, aged three,

in the throes of

active temper tantrum, is certainly being aggressive; and to the young and inexperienced parent such a tan-





ing which costs.

very frightenbe cut short at all



Now the quickest, though

not 17

this method, or by our anxious attitude towards such activity, and our inner conviction that our child is thereby heading for a life of violent crime, we may provoke much guilt in

approve each on occasion. We shall

the appropriate help him, too, by

example, being neither too aggresourselves, nor so afraid of our own normal aggressive feelings that



our child over any sort of aggression. On the other hand, we may take the view that the child who is actively encouraged towards a more active use of aggressive play at this stage of development is less likely to become the gunman of the future; such overenthusiasm on our part is equally liable to make the child afraid of his own aggression, or unable adequately to control it.


cannot show these even in reason-

able and



T. A. ??'The author: Ratcliffe, M.A., M.B., D.P.M., D.C.H,, Consultant Child Psychiatrist Nottingham Children's Hospital, Notts. County Guidance Services. and Derby Borough Child





It would seem, then, that the solution of this problem, and Jhe avoidance of these pitfalls, lies in our more realistic, more confident, and less anxious handling, and understanding, of what normal aggression means. We need to accept that aggression is one of the basic inborn driving forces of the human race, and not something that we need be frightened of, or automatically condemn. At the same time,

new-found optimism for 'cures' we should come to



admit all new psychiatric cases to wards in general hospitals (or, worse, 'cream-off' the most 'desirable' cases) find the we should community psychiatric hospital becoming the dumping ground for those who are grossly disturbed, chronic, or of There apparently bad prognosis. would then be a recrudescence of the stigma of mental illness and, before long, a lowering of standards of treatment for long-stay patients. Their chances of recovery would be lessened and their isolation much increased. The greatest risk inherent in the Mental Health Act is that the long-

we must accept equally our responsibility as adults to train the child, to help him to learn reasonable control of his aggression and of the techniques whereby it can be modified into socially more acceptable, and, ultimately, adult, forms of behaviour. The need is not to abolish aggression, nor to pretend that it does not exist in the child or in ourselves; it is to see aggression as a potentially construc-

stay patient might become neglected

forgotten again


psychiatric hospitals,






though officially '''doomed', "will bedumps. With much loose talk about 'the community' it is well to remember that the hospital itself is


tive force, and to re-channel it accord-


within it.

Moreover, it is within tolerant whole".

We shall be helping the child to grow up into a mature and reliable adult, and helping him to cope successfully with his own aggression, when we become able to say "yes" or "no", to give or withhold, to approve or dis-








the Introduction to

the Report of the Moorhaven Hospital Management Committee for 1961. J8

Aggression-Good or Bad?

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