Taming Toddler Aggression

Toddlers are notoriously ornery. Here's how to handle with the hitting, shoving -- even biting.
Handling Aggressive Behavior
Handling Aggressive Behavior
toddler tantrum

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If you fear that your toddler will never have any friends because she won't share her toys, take heart. Conflicts over sharing usually subside by the age of 4, when kids not only understand better why sharing is important but also have greater self-control.

Another less-than-pleasant by-product of "toddler togetherness" is aggressive behavior-hitting, shoving, and even biting. These unpleasant bullying tactics often stem from anger or territorial issues, the same egocentric mentality mentioned previously. But other instances seem almost random (and, hence, can be highly worrisome to Mom and Dad).

However, rather than a sign that your child is destined for a life of crime, such actions are usually experimental, and that's how you should take them. Your child may be thinking, "What will happen if I push Kevin?" "Is it okay to bite Molly's arm?" It may sound sadistic, but the behavior jibes with both the toddler's endless curiosity and her limited ability to empathize. Also, many kids this age lack the capacity to express feelings in less offensive ways. Frustration or anger may cause them to lash out at a playmate in a kind of primitive response.

Which isn't to say that such conduct should be tolerated one bit. A parent or caregiver must deal with it immediately in a calm, firm manner. First, make sure that your child understands the rule as well as the reason behind it: "We never hit people. Hitting hurts." If your child is going through a phase of aggressive behavior, watch him closely when he's interacting with peers. Try to intervene just as the misbehavior is about to take place. Say no sternly, and send your child to a designated time-out spot (or improvise if you're not at home) for two minutes. Never punish your child's aggressive behavior by hitting or biting him to show him "what it feels like." The message delivered -that it's fine to hit someone as long as he's smaller than you-will ring loud and clear.

It's just as important that a child's aggressive behavior not result in a desirable outcome, such as gaining possession of an attractive toy or having Mom and Dad cave in to a demand. Also, with an eye to preventing aggressive behavior before it occurs, praise your child for "good" social behaviors. After an amicable get-together, you might say, "You played so nicely with Kelly today. It really makes me happy when you share your toys so easily and willingly."

As your child heads toward her third birthday and her verbal and reasoning skills expand, guide her to better ways of dealing with her negative feelings. For example, if she has just hit a playmate in a squabble over a stuffed animal, you might ask her, "How do you think hitting Caroline made her feel?" and "Can you think of a better way to get the teddy bear?" When a toddler takes part in coming up with a solution, she's then far more likely to carry it out.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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