Wondering how to help your aggressive toddler get along better with others? Today, we’re sharing a few parenting tips for dealing with an angry tot. We’ll also talk a bit about when to worry about your toddler’s aggression and seek outside help. Let’s check it out, shall we?
Today, a friend and I were sharing war stories of mom-dome, and we both recounted stories of our children being aggressive when they were younger. This situation is not an uncommon one – most moms I know have a child who has gone through bouts of aggression, and the moms are consumed with how to stop the behavior. Let’s learn a bit more about the types of aggression in toddlers and when to worry. Then we’ll share some simple, easy to incorporate ways to help your aggressive toddler.
What causes aggression in toddlers?
If you think about everything that our kids experience from about 18 months to around age 3, it’s not all that surprising that our tots sometimes become tiny terrors. Aggressive behavior in a 2-year-old (aka the “terrible twos”) is fairly common. Toddlers experience so many different emotions that they don’t really understand yet. They’re also just figuring out that they’re an individual and not an extension of you. They want to be more independent (“I do it!” is a common phrase during this time), make their own decisions. They know what they like or dislike, but don’t have enough worldly knowledge to understand that just because ice-cream tastes better doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to eat for every meal.
Try to imagine what it must be like for them. Put yourself in their shoes: you’re told what to do, where to go, what to eat, what to wear, when to sleep, when to play, who to play with, and even HOW to play pretty much 24-7. Whether you like it or not, you have to play with someone you don’t really like that much, eat food that makes you want to gag, and wear that scratchy sweater to grandma’s house on Sunday. You don’t really know how to tell mom that Timmy just isn’t fun, you don’t understand why you HAVE to eat your peas and carrots, and you can’t really describe the way that sweater makes you feel. I want to have a meltdown just thinking about it!
Toddler Aggression: When to Worry
A toddler hitting at daycare or toddler aggression towards mother may seem like a reason to worry, but don’t call in the child psychologist just yet. It’s hard for us to think about our tiny tots taking out their anger on us, but toddler aggression towards mother or father (or any primary caregiver) is probably the most common form. First, as a primary caregiver, you spend the most time with your tot, so it makes sense that you’d see aggressive behavior more often than others. Second, in your toddler’s eyes, you’re the one that’s causing the problem that makes him so angry. You’re the one who put the itchy sweater on him, or arranged a play date with the kid she doesn’t like. Yes, as grownups, we know WHY you’re doing it and that you have the best intentions, but again, look at it from your toddler’s point of view.
►Worried that your toddler’s aggression could be a sign of autism? Check out 6 Books That Help Both Moms & Kids Cope with Autism
So when you should worry about toddler aggression? That’s kind of difficult to answer because even the most extreme aggression can be a part of normal child development. On the other hand, in some kids, even mild aggression can interfere with their learning and growing experiences. So here’s a good rule of thumb: if aggression is interfering with your toddler’s ability to play with other kids at all or is making it too much of a challenge to even teach her basic skills, consider consulting a child psychologist. Another rule of thumb: if you’re worried, even if you think you might be over-reacting, run your fears by your pediatrician.
Now, let’s check out a few ways to help your aggressive toddler.
How to Help Your Aggressive Toddler
1. Stop feeling guilty.
You did nothing wrong. Kids go through periods of aggression while they are learning how to behave. I have one friend whose daughter started hitting shortly after she learned to high-five, and the mom thought she taught her daughter to hit. Within a couple months, the little one was still high-fiving and no longer hitting. Mom guilt has no place here, so let it go – it’s not helping your child’s aggressive behavior (or your stress level)!
2. Use positive correction.
Rather than telling your child, “Don’t hit!” or “Don’t bite!” try rephrasing in a positive light. “Don’t hit” becomes “We use gentle hands” and “Don’t bite” becomes “We use our teeth to chew our food.” Model the appropriate behavior as you say it, where appropriate. If your toddler hit the dog, gently pet the dog with one hand, help guide your toddler’s hand with the other, and verbalize, “we use gentle hands to pet the dog.”
► Need more tips on positive parenting? Check out the best way to handle misbehaving toddlers!
3. Wear her out!
So often, aggressive behavior is a by-product of boredom. Make sure your toddler has plenty of time to run around and play. Physical activity and exploration is imperative at this age. Remain present for the play so that you can gently correct if play gets too rough.
4. But, don’t overstimulate
As important as it is that children get plenty of time to run and let loose, also make sure it’s not too much. With my kids, the more tired or overstimulated they were, the more I would see them losing control of their behavior. If your toddler fights you on naps, implement some periods of quiet time throughout the day – even just sitting together quietly to read a few books will help your child wind down.
5. Teach him to own his behavior.
Although it may seem that your child doesn’t understand why his actions were naughty, it’s up to you to teach him. If he threw a toy and it hit a friend, calmly explain that the friend is crying because the toy he threw hit him. Say something like “we set down our toys gently when we are done playing with them. Now we need to apologize to Charlie for hurting him.”
6. Accept that children play differently.
It took me some time to realize that my son was not overly aggressive – he is a boy. He plays harder and rougher than my daughter ever did. That’s not to say that all boys play hard and all girls do not – not at all. Each child is unique and has different needs. Allow them to do what comes naturally to them and help them shape it into safe parameters. My son plays harder with his dad than with me because we taught him that his dad was comfortable with it and I was not. Once he learned those boundaries, he has very rarely tried to push them.
For most children, aggressive behavior is merely a phase that will end relatively quickly. These tips will help the end come even quicker. If you see that the aggressive behavior continues or escalates, mention it to your pediatrician; he or she may have other suggestions to help you manage the situation. Know that you’re not alone – we all go through it!