Taming Toddler Aggression
Some aggressive behavior is a typical part of child development, especially between the ages 3-9. A limited vocabulary, poor emotional regulation, and poor coping skills, along with a child’s growing independence, can cause communication frustration. Often a child uses aggressive actions to communicate their strong feelings to compensate for their limited verbal and reasoning skills.
Understanding how to respond and minimize your child’s aggression can teach him or her how to communicate positively and help curtail future outbursts.
Aggressive behaviors can change as the child grows and develops. Parents should understand that childhood aggression behaviors vary per child. Some common aggressive behaviors a child may display include:
- Biting a parent or child
- Throwing objects at others
- Playing rough with others
- Screaming and yelling
- Hitting others or himself
Responding to Aggression
For parents who are experiencing frequent childhood aggression, Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health recommends:
Step 1: Observing. Watch your child’s actions during aggressive outbursts and see if there is a pattern or an event that occurs before your child’s actions.
Step 2: Heading off Aggression. You can help reduce your child’s aggression by setting expectations, providing clear and consistent consequences, and praising non-aggressive behaviors.
Step 3: Responding. If your child becomes aggressive, it is important to provide consequences such as time out or privilege removal and to make sure you are not giving attention to the aggressive behaviors.
Step 4: Catching good behavior. Reward and praise your child when they make “good choices” when they are frustrated and use their words vs. aggressive actions.
Children engage in aggressive behaviors because they have difficulties communicating and expressing their emotions. It is important that you help your child identify their triggers, anger cues, and prompt your child to cool down when they are upset. These strategies help build awareness and improve your child’s ability to regulate their emotion and ultimately reduce their aggression.
As much as possible, parents are encouraged to stay consistent in discipline. If your child is aggressive toward another child, provide immediate consequences. Eventually the child will associate the negative consequence with the aggression. Parents can minimize aggressive behavior with a few techniques that include:
- Keeping your cool
- Minimizing "high risk" situations
- Avoiding negotiation (don't argue or explain too much)
- Helping your child problem solve solutions to conflict
- Rewarding good behavior
- Making your expectations for behavior clear
When to Seek Help
If your child has frequent outbursts daily for several days or weeks, or is causing physical injury to himself or others, is being sent home by neighbors or school, contact your pediatrician.
A big part of being a toddler is learning to assert some independence and kind of find out what you can get away with and test the limits to find out what are the limits. It's not uncommon that toddlers are going to have some aggressive behaviors whether it is biting or kicking or hitting. Part of why they do this might also have to do with they know what they want or how they want to do something but they don't yet have the expressive language to communicate that to you, so they get frustrated or you are doing something that they want to do themselves, they might be quick to reach up and swat at you. The second a bite or a kick or a hit happens regardless of where you are, the most important thing is to get right down to eye level and say no whatever it was, in your stern parent voice. So right away, no bite and then immediately they need a negative consequence which is you know, usually we recommend a time out when possible. We try to do a sixty second time out for a one to two year old, and longer if they are a little bit older but using that timeout and as soon as the timeout is done, just flip them around so they are facing you again and reminding them, no biting, we do gentle touches and right back to play.