Toddlers look so cute. A combination of genes, the budding independence and confidence. I mean, they look you square in the eye and say “No” to anything you ask. They also have a no-so-cute side which includes aggressive behaviour like hitting and biting. This is a natural progression at this age and also a huge concern for many parents. No one likes being hit or bitten by a toddler. Then it is one thing to take it at home but then your child hits or bites another on the playground and you become so triggered. And sentences like, “I will not allow you to be a bully” start to form in your head.
Hold your horses! Your toddler is not a bully.
When you think about it, it is understandable. You probably feel frustrated at times. Like I got stopped twice by the VIO in one morning and I arrived my destination just upset. Or you have invited friends or family over and just as you put in the rice to boil, your cooking gas is finished. It is frustrating.
Imagine how much more difficult that is for a little one who is eager to explore the world, but unable to express their thoughts when they run into trouble.
You can ask others to respect your boundaries. Your child may think knocking a playmate over is the logical way to get their toy back. The other day at the playground, my son was on a swing and this other boy came by and started pushing the swing really fast, and he said “no” but the boy didn’t stop. I was making my way to them and I could still hear him saying “no” and just before I intervened, he hit him. He just needed his boundaries respected AND hitting is not appropriate behaviour.
We can teach our children that there are healthier ways to handle these situations.
Positive reinforcement and close supervision can help keep the peace and speed up the learning process. Here are some strategies for dealing with aggression in young children.
- Limit temptations: Some triggers are avoidable. Childproof your home by keeping fragile and dangerous items out of reach. Choose activities your child will find engaging. They probably like messy play more than they like eating out in a formal restaurant.
- Distract: Keep distractions on hand. Play games or sing songs if you need to lighten the mood.
- Your child is more likely to act out if they are tired: And unfortunately, they are not going to say, I am tired. Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep each day, which may mean one or two naps. A balanced diet and plenty of physical activity helps too.
- Talk about feelings. Help your child to understand their emotions and empathize with others and this you can do by modelling just that. How would you feel if someone just grabbed your phone while you were scrolling and wanted to play with it? Not happy for sure. So, step into their shoes.
- Rehearse responses. Practice what to do in various situations. That way your child will be more prepared for disagreements during play dates and long lines at the supermarket.
- Monitor media consumption. Movies and TV shows contain a lot of violence, and small children are especially impressionable.
- Be a role model. When you’re calm and peaceful, you teach your child to make smart choices too. They’re watching to see how you handle traffic jams and rough days at work.
- Break it up. It’s often preferable to let children work out their differences themselves. However, there are times when you need to step in if emotions are too strong or someone may get injured. Safety is important for all involved.
- Go home. Public tantrums happen even when your parenting skills are top rate. However, removing your child from the situation can help them to calm down and until they are calm, you cannot teach.
- Model. You cannot ask them to not hit others and you hit them. It is conflicting information. Frequent spankings tend to undermine a child’s self-esteem (“It is bad to hit someone but my mummy/daddy hits me, so what is wrong with me that I deserve it?”) and it also increases the chances they’ll use physical force themselves.
- Seek professional help. If your child or even you seem unusually violent and angry, speak to a professional. There may be something else going on.
And don’t forget to appreciate positive behaviour. No one likes it when they feel like everything they do is not right. Appreciate when they are responsible and kind including resolving differences with words and taking turns.
Most toddlers and preschoolers will naturally develop more self-control as they grow older. Until then, you can reduce aggressive behaviour by providing a loving home, consistent positive discipline, practicing peaceful alternatives to aggression, allowing space for conflict resolution and practicing non-violent communication.