Toddler Survival Tip #3
Try to keep this short - could write a few chapters on this subject.
Most parents have gone through it and you hear it from many others if you have not. All toddlers and pre-schoolers go through an aggression period. Their minds don't know how to express their feelings and thoughts as well as adults do. They don't understand abstract concepts the way adults do, such as sharing. (some adults still need practice understanding their own aggression as well)
Toddlers have known to head bang, bit, hit, yell, stomp, scream, throw tantrums, push, pull hair, pinch and more. You name it they have tried it.
There are many theories as to why and where it comes from and for each of you, you may have a different approach. I will send you my approached that worked with my family. First lets look at what some scientists believe is why aggression happens in toddlers and the young... and it varies.
Some WHY'S are:
1. To test boundaries and see if 'the adult' really means it when they say no, will they follow through? Will they stop them next time? Test, Test, Test... See if they really love me.
2. Predisposition to aggression. Some children are super sensitive, easily offended, quick to anger. Maybe they see this aggression with people in their lives, or it maybe in the bloodline of aggression. Many children are tense and usually active, even as infants, they may have had a difficult time to soothe as babies.
3. Instinct. Some people believe aggression is animal instinct to 'protect, defend, attack, survive. It's up the parent to show where the boundaries lie and that this behaviour is not necessary in our society.
4. Frustration and learning emotions. Most scientists and child psychologists have agreed this is usually the case for most children's cause of aggression. They just don't have the skills yet to handle their new strong emotions and frustrations.
5. Physical issues such as Tired, Angry, Lonely, Bored, Hungry, Scared etc.
Now that we may know why our children are being aggression, what can we do to stop it?
1. From my Power Struggle Blog, reminder to try to prevent aggression when you can by redirecting, supervision, distracting, giving limits, preventing physical issues such as enough sleep, food and love and attention. Another thing to remember is to LIMIT their playtime with other children to about an hour for successful learning. (under age 4)
2. Model what you DO want. Sharing especially is difficult at this age. Train your children to share by sharing with them and say things like, "I will share my cake with you." "Let's take turns bouncing the ball." "I'll count to 5 and then it will be your turn to share the ball."
Give opportunities to share, "I know you love that toy, so which toy will you share with Michael today?"
3. Validate feelings! I know I have said this a lot, but it can't be said enough. Just validating how your child feels will help to take away aggressive feelings and thoughts. Change their thought patterns after the validations. "I can see with your clenched fists and growl, you are angry. I know it's hard to share. You don't have to share all the time, and I have faith that when you feel ready you will share." Offer a hug, change the space, take them into another room and 'calm down' together. Play with something else and get their thoughts off the situation. No one can think if they are activating their negative emotions. We must change our thoughts, before we can reason anything out as adults, why expect anything less from our toddlers? Once they calm down in a safe room while playing or reading, come back into the room and try again. Short successful sharing will encourage better behaviour. Know when it's time to go home and try another day.
4. Avoid labeling your toddler such as he's "Naughty,a monster, wild,a beast, crazy, off the wall, cranky, a tyrant. Doing this does not encourage sharing, it damages self esteem and has the child believing this is who they are and how they should act.
5. HUGS! This may sound shocking to some readers and this worked for my family. Pay more attention to the 'aggressive child' than you do the victim. Let me explain.
If you pay attention to the victim and ignore the aggressor, you will show them who is the bully and who is the victim and they will continue to play their parts. The victim learns to be coddled as a victim and loves the attention and will continue to do so to get attention. The aggressor will feel neglected and shameful and continue to act aggressively in order to get any attention, even negative attention.
Children DO BETTER when they FEEL BETTER.
Try something different, try hugging the one who hits or bites. Invite 'him' to help you comfort his 'brother'. This does not reward the misbehaviour.
When you have a child who is frustrated about something and doesn't have the skills to express his feelings, he finds a way. (Sign language can help to give them a 'voice' and a way to express feelings and thoughts before they can talk.)
So, comfort him and teach him skills at the same time. This lesson will need to be taught over and over and with time and practice, they begin to understand. But remember your SUPERVISION at this young age is necessary all the time!
Give the hitter a hug and model what to do now. "Look, your brother is crying. Let's go give him a hug." Say, "see, hands are for hugging, not hitting." Then after a few seconds and things have calmed down, teach him. Take his little hands and show him how to do "nice touching." If there was a bite, take your toddler to get some ice and show him how to put it on the wound to help 'heal' what happened. Give him the power to learn how to heal other and not hurt them. Keep saying stuff like, "Nice touching, gentle. Good job being gentle with your brother."
Remember BOTH boys needs your compassion and understanding. They are not acting out of evilness, they are tiny toddlers learning how to deal with frustration and confusion.
Toddlers can't understand abstract concepts, but they do develop a sense of things and begin to learn with your calm, firm, kind guidance and supervision. Think about HOW your reactions teach your toddler.
Redirection and supervision are the key with little ones in the house. Sorry, I have to say let the housework slide, and teach your babies to be kind first, when they nap, or relax and play well, then clean up a bit.
During play dates, don't sit in the kitchen with the other moms and wait for the screams from the bedroom. Go into the bedroom or living room and watch them play. Guide appropriate behaviour and watch for your child's social cues and triggers. Try to intervene and give them words and ideas of what to do BEFORE aggression happens.
Side note: A chronic biter may
need a teething toy to redirect
to. Teach him to use it when
he feels frustrated.
Feel free to contact me for further resources and articles on this subject. In the meantime I recommend Jane Nelsen's Positive Discipline books found on her website: