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Aggressive behaviour in Toddlers

(children 3 -5 years)

Compiled/shared by Petro Fourie – MA(SW)

Children who are aggressive could be frustrated or under stress. The stress could be as simple as not wanting to share, or something larger such as a change in the family or a new sibling. Aggression could also be a behaviour that children learn from other family members or friends.

You might notice aggressive behaviour—hitting, shoving, and even biting—when your toddler is playing with her peers.

These acts are often a way of exerting independence, expressing frustration, and learning self-control.

Like everyone else, toddlers get bored, hungry, tired, and overwhelmed. The difference is they lack the verbal skills to identify and communicate these emotions, which can make them even more frustrated. Toddlers also don’t have the self-control to stop themselves from acting on their feelings.

“Since your toddler’s vocabulary isn’t fully developed yet, they’re more likely to use their body to show their feelings or to strike back in disagreement”

What causes aggressive behaviour in toddlers?

Aggressive behavior in toddlers (hitting, kicking, biting, etc.) usually peaks around age two, a time when toddlers have very strong feelings but are not yet able to use language effectively to express themselves. Toddlers also don’t have the self-control to stop themselves from acting on their feelings.

Anger exercises or how to deal with anger outbursts.

  • When your child lashes out physically, address the behaviour right away. Get down on their level by touching the child firmly on both shoulders, wait until the child look you in the eyes, start to speak in a calm but serious voice, and explain to the child this his/her behaviour was wrong, but ask them to tell you in their own word how they are feeling. When your child lashes out physically, address the behaviour right away. Get down on their level, look them in the eye, and say in a calm, firm voice, “It’s OK to be mad/frustrated/upset; it’s not OK to hit.” That’s all you need: Validate the emotion (it’s OK to feel their feelings) and hold the boundary (but it’s not OK to express their feelings through aggressive behaviour).
  • Remember, toddlers have little natural self-control. They need you to teach them not to kick, hit, or bite when they are angry, but instead to express their feelings through words.
  • Try to distract them, not bribing them but effectively changing their focus.   Ease the tension between children by introducing another toy or game. Distracting kids with a new activity is often the easiest way to diffuse a dispute.
  • If they’re fighting over a toy, give them a minute to see if they can resolve the conflict first. If it starts to escalate into hitting, say, “If you can’t take turns, I will put the toy away and we can try again later.” Don’t let your child keep a plaything that they’ve snatched aggressively. By making them give it back, you’re letting them know that being rough won’t get them what they want.
  • Sometimes children have too much energy, another exercise is to take a double page of a newspaper, let the child hit or kick the newspaper, this is helping to get rid of the extra energy or frustrations.
  • Be proactive, take note of which situations lead your child to hit others, and try to preempt them. Do they strike when they’re tired or hungry, when they’re feeling crowded, or when they have to leave a friend’s house? These are common triggers for kids.  Side-step them with a little pre-planning: Make sure your toddler takes regular naps, keep snacks at the ready, and prepare them for transitions. Get creative when you plan, if they lash out because they always want their playmate’s favourite toy, for example, ask if they can put the toy in question away before the next playdate.

Prevent Aggressive Toddler Behaviour

There are many times when your child’s behaviour warms and embraces your heart. But there are other times when it probably drives you a little crazy. As a toddler or preschooler, your child may lack the self-control to express anger peacefully and may naturally lash out, perhaps hitting or biting in frustration.

While occasional outbursts are normal―especially during temper tantrums―there are things you can do to shape your child’s behaviour.

Teach the house rules. Children don’t know the rules of the house until they’re taught them, so that is one of your important parenting responsibilities. Toddlers are normally interested in touching and exploring, so if there are valuables you don’t want them to handle, hide or remove them. Consider setting up a separate portion of your home where your child can play with books and toys. Whenever children break an important rule, they should be reprimanded immediately to understand exactly what they have done wrong.

It is always more effective to positively reinforce desired behaviors and to teach children alternative behaviors rather than just say, “Stop it or else.” Tell them that the next time they are angry, they should use their words instead.

Enter healthy distractions. While teaching your child other ways to respond, there’s also nothing wrong with distracting him at times or trying another approach. As long as you’re not “bribing” him to behave differently by offering sweet snacks. For example, there’s nothing wrong with intentionally changing his focus.

“Control yourself.” Well, they can’t yet. Remember, toddlers have little natural self-control. They need you to teach them not to kick, hit, or bite when they are angry, but instead to express their feelings through words.

“We don’t hurt each other.” Supervise your child carefully when she is involved in disputes with playmates. If a disagreement is minor, keep your distance and let the children solve it on their own. However, you must intervene when children get into a physical fight that continues even after they’re told to stop, or when one child seems to be in an uncontrollable rage and is assaulting or biting the other. Pull the children apart and keep them separate until they have calmed down. If the fight is extremely violent, you may have to end the play session. Make it clear that it doesn’t matter who “started it.” There is no excuse for trying to hurt each other.

Instead of fighting. Teach your child to say “no” in a firm tone of voice, to turn his back, or to find compromises instead of fighting with his body. Through example, you are teaching your child to settle differences with words—more effective and more civilized—than with physical violence.

“Great job!” Praise your child for appropriate behavior and help explain how “grown-up” she is acting whenever she uses these tactics instead of hitting, kicking, or biting. And always reinforce and praise behavior when you catch your child being kind and gentle.

Time-outs are OK. There’s also nothing wrong with using a time-out when your child’s behavior is inappropriate, and they can be used in children as young as one year old.

Always watch your own behavior around your child. One of the best ways to teach him appropriate behavior is to control your own temper. If you express your anger in quiet, peaceful ways, your child probably will follow your example.

Stay strong. If you must discipline your child, do not feel guilty about it, and certainly don’t apologize. If your child senses your mixed feelings, he will convince himself that he was in the right all along and you are the “bad” one. Although disciplining your child is never pleasant, it is a necessary part of parenthood, and there is no reason to feel guilty about it. Your child needs to understand when he is in the wrong, it is important to take responsibility for his actions and be willing to accept the consequences.

Remember, children may have a bad day or just need some space. If they had a very busy day with a lot of exciting things that happened, they may simply lash out because they’re cranky and don’t have many coping skills. “Even kids who don’t hit or bite often can lose control when they’re stressed, or at the end of a long day.”

What is the difference between discipline and punishment?

Discipline is a way of teaching and a way of enhancing a good parent-child relationship. When you discipline, you should provide your child with praise along with instruction in a firm tone, with the intent of improving his or her behavior.

While it can be worrying when your toddler hits someone else, try to remember that there’s no malicious intent behind it. Your little one means well—they just need to learn better ways to express their feelings, which will happen in time.

Punishment is a negative in which you’re dispensing an unpleasant consequence when your child does or doesn’t do something. Punishment is a part of discipline, but only a small part.

Until age three and sometimes later, children simply don’t understand the concept of punishment. Setting limits is a much better approach than punishment; most children will respond to clear, calm, and decisive limit-setting.

Source and References:

This information was compiled from various internet sites.