Aggressive behaviour in primary schools can be common. Underlying causes and reasons for aggressive behaviour can vary between different children and contexts, and they can impact other students, teachers, families and the child themselves. There are different presentations of aggressive behaviours in children, aggressive behaviours that may be seen in primary schools include:

  • threatening physical or verbal behaviour towards students or teachers
  • throwing things with intent to harm in the classroom or playground
  • yelling abuse at students or teachers
  • mocking others; calling others names
  • antagonizing others so they react physically or verbally
  • using technology to bully or undermine another child

There are varying reasons why children act in this way depending on the individual context. Possible reasons children may display these behaviours include:

  • seeking attention (e.g. they might feel left out for some reason or there might be learning problems)
  • lacking self-confidence, feeling inadequate (e.g. academic difficulties)
  • taking revenge
  • displaying power

Possible causes and origins of aggressive behaviours

When investigating possible causes and origins of aggressive behaviours through assessment, it is important to understand the child’s socio-ecological context. The KidsMatter framework adopts a socio-ecological model, which views children as active participants in their own development, both shaping and being shaped by their environment. (Diagram adapted from Bronfenbrenner 1977).

The socio-ecological model recognises that there are multiple influences on children’s mental health and wellbeing. The child is at the centre of this model, and development occurs within the context of relationships with family, community and education settings. To understand the origins of a child’s aggressive behaviour, one needs to understand the influences of culture, history, family, social, school and community.  

Possible origins and reasons for aggressive behaviour include:

  • individual influences – developmental, neurological, cognitive, temperament
  • family influences – parent modelling, socio-economic, unemployment, ill health (mental or physical), family violence, poverty
  • cultural influences –religious and cultural values, influences of migration and resettlement
  • environmental influences – influences in community (violent or deprived), neighbourhood, school (e.g. bullying)

Like any type of behaviour in children, there is often a mixture of the origins and causes mentioned above within the child’s socio-ecological context. Assessment therefore becomes imperative, to analyse potential causes and identify possible paths of intervention and support for the child exhibiting aggressive behaviours.



Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American Psychologist, 32, 515-531.