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.
Dealing with Aggression:
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.
Holidays are so exciting. It is a time for the whole family to reconnect and this is necessary especially if most of the family do not live in close proximity with each other. Eid is round around the corner but these tips will work for any holiday with family. Eid is a very exciting holiday and it is such a blessed time to be around family. However, this comes with some anxiety for most parents and then some more for those who have chosen to parent differently or more intentionally. There is this invisible demand for perfection and comparison. And so holidays or time with other members of the family can be overwhelming AND exciting for both the parent AND the child.
There is the stress of traveling with your children, a change in their routines or rhythm for the day, a new space and sometimes this results in more overwhelm than excitement and as such, is a great recipe for tantrums and connection-seeking (We don’t say attention-seeking). There is a tendency to shift to fear-based parenting. Where we tell our children that when they obey us, do as they are told without question and behave well then they get a reward and the compensation for “misbehaviour” is that they lose something or they don’t get something earlier promised to them. This backfires as it further increases anxiety and even erodes the child’s confidence.
So what can we do instead?
Keep your child(ren) in focus
It is supposed to be an exciting time for bonding and you may need to talk to them about the people visiting or the people you will be visiting. The children are the first priority and it helps to keep your actions and inactions child-focused. Let it not become something they dread.
It is so hard to just sit and listen to unkind comments thrown at you or your child. You could smile and excuse yourself. Or you could decide to hold a boundary. Know that people’s one-off comments are not enough to unravel all that you have done to lay a good foundation with your child. However, it is important to decide what you are going to do, maybe it is okay to let this slide or maybe it isn’t okay and there is a need to hold a boundary. What is your child needing? What are you needing?
It is important to have clear expectations. It isn’t just about rules and regulations but let your children know what to expect and who will be there and a possible timeline of events. Children thrive best with rhythms and routines and so much unpredictability can be overwhelming and that never looks good. Go ahead and prep them for social expectations as well. For example, “what do you need to do before you go into any room?” and you can make it fun with some role playing and games.
Consider your child’s personality
If your child is more reserved, they may need a lot of timeouts and that can even be just trips to the bathroom especially if they recognise it as the only private place (And would be better without some aunty yelling that they are going to pee too much or making them the focus of the conversation because they moved in their seat). For a more outgoing child, it could be challenging getting them ready to leave and so it is important to notify them and get them prepared before they really have to go.
Have a CODE word
Sometimes there might not be space for privacy and you child really needs to communicate something to you but they may feel embarrassed to just say it out. You can decide a random word that lets you know that they need a break or some private time with you or they just need space. Feel free to pick any word – ‘Hammer’, ‘Green’, etc. And honour it!
Show yourself some grace
It is a stressful time and it is okay if you feel overwhelmed too. However, if you are unable to stay grounded, your child(ren) can absorb all of that and that will look like more tantrums, and connection-seeking behaviour. So take deep breaths, practice smiling and find moments to slow-down within the day. Holidays can be very fast-paced. Remember, your child depends on you to regulate their emotions.
Peep the food
That sugar-high behaviour can be so unpredictable and the celebrations are filled with so much sugar treats and candies. Be conscious and feel free to step in and hold a boundary. It helps to have healthy choices on hand.
You are the best parent for your child. You are your child’s advocate. Set your child up for success. Don’t put them on the spot asking them to redo something they recently accomplished. Don’t force them to hug or shame them when they ‘forget’ to greet or if they ‘forget’ to say thank you. No need to yell. Just gently remind them by saying, “Thank you Aunty Aisha for the gift or money.” Wait people still give children Eid money right?!
If you have read till here, you are awesome, just because you are trying to do right by your child and I appreciate you.