Remember it’s just a phase

Chances are good that every parent will live to see their well-loved child either hitting, kicking, biting, or knocking over another child at some point. Often there seems to be no good reason for the outburst. While aggressive behaviour in toddlers is common, it can leave parents mortified, relationships strained, and children upset. Parents must address issues like biting and hitting calmly and consistently or risk seeing the behaviours escalate.

It can be shocking to see a small child hit or push another, and a parent’s first impulse is to immediately give the child a stern scolding. This is understandable, but reacting emotionally to a child’s bad behaviour can be counterproductive. If we notice a child has been acting aggressively toward others, we must ask what might be motivating their behaviour. Often young children resort to hitting and biting because they lack the words to express a strong emotion. Another reason could be to get attention from adults, even though the attention may be negative. It is undeniable that taking a chomp out of a friend’s arm is a surefire way to bring caregivers running.

Combative behaviour may be more common when a child is hungry, tired, ill, or overwhelmed. Or perhaps there is a specific trigger. For example, a child will share snacks with no complaint but will find it unacceptable that another child touches a prized teddy bear. Taking the time to understand the causes of toddler aggression is vital, since knowing why a child lashes out at others will determine the best response to it.

Once we understand a child’s aggression, we can take steps to reduce the likelihood of any incidents. Teaching a child to put words to their feelings helps them express themselves peacefully, unfortunately young children who are still developing their language skills will struggle and become frustrated.

Remember if a group of children is provided with many similar toys to play with, a brawl will not break out over the only truck in the room. Any special belongings should be kept safe in a child’s closet if friends are expected. Finally, even if a child’s behaviour is worrying, providing plenty of affection and positive attention is crucial. Remember this is phase and it will soon pass.

It takes time for a child to learn to control his emotions, and even if you work diligently to minimise outbursts, conflict is bound to arise. Intervening before a child resorts to actions may allow the child to express his feelings peacefully. Be sure to praise a child who stops themselves from reacting, even if they does so with bad grace.

When a child does lash out, calmly and immediately enforce a consequence. The best consequences to teach a very young child self-control are simple, tangible, and brief. A short time out is a great choice. A quick reminder, such as, “You can not kick,” may be helpful as you do this. Lecturing or reasoning with an angry child will likely only confuse him. Console the injured child while the offender calms down. Forcing an apology or exaggerating the plight of the victim can deepen the aggressor’s feelings of frustration and shame and may actually trigger another meltdown. Instead, after the incident, the children could share a positive experience, such as colouring at the same table or exchanging hugs.

Above all, model composure when responding to unacceptable behavior. Children will imitate adult behaviour, and screaming or behaving roughly with a child sends the message that angry outbursts are normal. Consistently attach predictable consequences to aggressive behaviour and reward cooperation with praise and fun. This phase is simply a stage of their learning to interact with others. Providing calm, consistent feedback will help this process, and soon the child will move on to behaviours that get a more social acceptable.