Translating Psychoanalytic Terms into Everyday Life:

Aggression in Our Children — It’s Not What You Think!

Most people think of aggression as a bad thing.

Especially when it comes to our children.

“He’s too aggressive” is something you do NOT want to hear from your child’s teacher!

However, it is important to consider other meanings of this word.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, talked about people having two drives: the aggressive and the libidinal — or loving. He believed that these two drives motivated all human behavior.

Modern day psychoanalysts do not necessarily think this way anymore — but we do still think about aggression — and not necessarily in the way that you think.

Henri Parens, a wonderful child psychoanalyst, moved the field forward by MILES by talking about the aggressive drive as having more than one component.

He talked about the HOSTILE aggressive drive which is the one we normally think about.

And then he talked about the NON-HOSTILE, NON-DESTRUCTIVE aggressive drive. This is the one that provides motivation in life. It is the “oomph” that moves kids forward to learn, to be creative, to get up and DO! It is the thing that drives curiosity and exploration.

All kids need SOME aggression –

They need the first kind in order to be able to protect themselves and to stand up for themselves.

This is the kind of aggression that is built into our DNA in order to ensure that we survive as a species — as well as in our individual lives. Being able to fight back is not a bad thing! It is only when this form of aggression is expressed in excess or in situations that do not warrant it, that it becomes problematic.

And children need the second kind of aggression — the non-hostile, non-destructive type, to learn new things, to move forward in life, to achieve, to do MORE.

The non-hostile, non-destructive type of aggression is so important to kids to provide the motivation to do what they need and want to do. And some children have more of this than others. These are the children that are more active, more curious, more energetic and seem to want to just do MORE.

It sometimes feels like a burden to a parent to have a child like this —

BUT if you can help your child to channel this energy, to use it for productive purposes, if you can support their energy level by engaging in productive activities with them and encouraging them to engage in some on their own, if you can provide them with the materials and activities they need — whether legos or art supplies or science kits or music lessons or teams to play on or model airplanes to build, if you can set sufficient limits to help them to contain their energy and to channel it, you may find that you have a future CEO or artist on your hands!

For more on this subject, see Henri Parens’ book,

Aggression in Our Children