As every parent knows there are times when your toddler will become aggressive. For toddler’s, this aggressive behavior is normal. They are learning to become independent and have an undeveloped impulse control. “Some degree of hitting and biting is completely normal for a toddler,” says Nadine Block, executive director of the Center for Effective Discipline in Columbus, Ohio.
Toddlers usually do not understand that their behavior has hurt someone. They may feel ashamed because they know they disappointed you not because of their actions. Toddlers often do not know their own strength. She may not have meant to push the other child down, just tell him to back off.
But just because the behavior is normal parents still need to curb aggressive behavior, set limits, and discipline after occurrences. Read on for ten ways you can help prevent aggression in your toddler.
1. Stay calm. When you see your child exhibiting aggressive behavior, stay calm yourself. Remove your child from the situation. Comfort the child who has been hurt first. Then talk to the child who was the aggressor. Talk to them about what they have done and explain that their behavior was inappropriate. Most toddlers do not feel empathy so don’t ask things like, “How would you feel if Tommy hit you?” or “How do you think Tommy feels?”
2. Learn what triggers the aggressive behavior. Many children become more aggressive when they are tired, hungry, or experienced a disruption in their routine. Maybe they don’t get along with a certain child. When I was doing daycare my son frequently bit another little boy just a few months younger than him. Yet he never bit the two older boys that I also watched. I soon realized that they younger boy was taking my son’s things and my son was reacting accordingly. If you know what triggers your child intervene before the aggression happens.
3. Be a good example. Children always watch and often imitate the behavior they see in their parents. Make sure that you are reacting appropriately when you are upset. When your child misbehaves don’t react aggressively to him. When my children are fighting I will separate them. Then explain calmly why they cannot act the way they were acting.
4. Set clear limits. Let your children know what behavior is inappropriate. Talk about how you want your child to act. Before attending play dates or other activities talk about appropriate behavior.
5. Discipline consistently. If you don’t allow hitting you must discipline your child every time they hit. This doesn’t always mean time out or other form of discipline. But you need to acknowledge that hitting is wrong and talk to your child about it.
6. Use logical consequences. If your child throws a ball at a child a normal consequence is too take the ball away for a time. Explain that if the ball isn’t used right then she won’t be allowed to play.
7. Reward good behavior. If your child doesn’t react aggressively praise them for controlling themselves. Praise positive behaviors like sharing and using words instead of actions to express anger.
8. Limit media violence. Children are affected by the violence that they see on television, movies, and video games. Limit the amount of media violence that your child views. They do not understand the difference between the media and real life.
9. Teach alternatives. Provide your child with strategies that they can use instead of aggressive behavior. I often told my children when toddlers, “Use your words.” This reminded them that they could say what the problem was instead of hitting. They learned that talking was more effective than hitting.
10. Provide an outlet. Many children have an abundance of energy. If your child is one that does make sure that he has the space and time to release that energy. Pent up energy often releases itself in the form of aggression whether intentional or unintentional.
If you find that your child continues to exhibit aggressive behavior out of your control and your efforts do not seem to make a difference don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your child’s doctor.