Discover how to manage aggressive behavior in toddlers, particularly if your little angel is becoming a bully. Use these expert techniques to stop your toddler or preschooler from hitting, biting, and engaging in other aggressive actions, fostering a more peaceful environment at home and in social settings.
Preschoolers and toddlers are small individuals with tremendous emotions. Their ability to control emotions, effectively communicate feelings, comprehend another person’s perspective, and resolve problems is just beginning to develop. Perhaps you’ve witnessed your child strike a sibling who refused to share or bite a classmate who wasn’t playing restaurant “properly.”
But before you beat yourself up over such behavior, you should be aware that punching and biting at this age are often not malicious and occur more frequently than you might believe. Aggression is a typical (and thankfully transient) aspect of maturation. They are virtually invariably the result of a child’s inherent curiosity and lack of language abilities, emotional management, and impulsive control.
Discover how to stop your toddler’s or preschooler’s striking and biting and other violent habits.
Why Little Children Act Out
Toddlers and preschoolers engage in inappropriate behavior because they are learning social rules and testing limits. Patricia Mikell, associate director of the Graham Windham Manhattan Mental Health Center and a child therapist in New York City, adds, “Biting is typical because toddlers are in an oral stage; they explore the environment with their mouths.” Yet other toddlers may be accidentally encouraged to bite by family members or caretakers who give them snacks for fun.
Currently, toddlers are also asserting their autonomy, and some children exhibit their willfulness by assaulting others. It is unclear where toddlers get the notion to hit, yet most do it occasionally. This may be largely due to their innate impulsiveness and difficulty controlling their emotions. Your youngster may also strike or bite as a result of their enthusiasm for trying a new skill. Also, some children are simply more easily angered than others.
Hitting is also guaranteed to elicit a response, and even negative attention can satisfy the attention needs of many young children. However, if they have ever received a positive reward for aggressive behavior, such as the item they were fighting for or a giggle from you, they may continue to behave aggressively for the possible payoff. Yet, you may rectify this habit by creating boundaries and consistent consequences moving forward.
Is My Preschooler an Aggressor?
According to Kurt Fischer, Ph.D., professor of human development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts, aggressive conduct is more prevalent in group situations where conflicts are more prone to happen.
For instance, an argument between two toddlers over a toy might easily evolve into a physical altercation. “If young children interact frequently, such as at daycare or preschool, hitting and biting become social skills and a survival instinct,” he explains.
But is this behavior called bullying? Most likely not.
Bullying, according to researchers, is recurrent, intentional aggression directed at the same child over time, and there must be a power differential between the bully and the victim. According to Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., a Parenting advisor and author of Developing Friendships, “if there is no power disparity, then it is likely just a quarrel and not bullying.”
Dr. Kennedy-Moore notes, “Little children aren’t particularly skilled at determining whether or not a friend’s behavior is deliberate, and they tend to insist that every activity they don’t like was “on purpose.” This occasionally warped vision is an additional reason why they may respond violently to confrontations. People may imagine a friend did something on purpose when in fact, it was an accident or misunderstanding. The combination of a sense of wrongdoing and intense emotions frequently elicits an extreme response.
Ways to Prevent Aggressive Behavior
Some aggressive conduct is typical at this age, but you may prevent it with appropriate discipline. Fundamentally, it assists in equipping your toddler or preschooler with more suitable tools for processing their emotions and communicating effectively. Enhance their self-control using these professional techniques.
Instantaneously after your youngster throws a punch, state calmly and firmly, “No! We do not hit.” At this age, self-control does not come naturally. Therefore you will need to repeat yourself frequently to drive home your point. But, despite the importance of telling children to stop, you should avoid becoming unduly excited when you scold their violent behavior. You must express your dissatisfaction while avoiding giving their inappropriate behavior extra attention or losing your composure.
Take your child out of the situation. Calmly take them to a quiet spot and explain that punching or biting is not acceptable. This will allow them some time to regain composure. In addition, this answer communicates that their aggressive behavior will result in separation from the other child or the item or activity they were enjoying prior to the punching, biting, or other infraction.
If possible, block the assault. If you see an attack coming, catch your toddler’s hand in midair or place your hand over their mouth. The abrupt stop will undoubtedly convey the message that this behavior will not be accepted. Again, if they realize that their attempts at aggressive activities will be prevented, they’ll often lose interest.
Apologize for your child.
If they hit or bite a playmate, divert your focus to the victim. Check whether the youngster is okay, and make sure your toddler hears you apologize. They’ll notice that you don’t like how they have behaved, and they’ll gradually develop empathy. Also, apologize to the other parent, who will likely understand that you’re attempting to curb your child’s passing behavior. Nonetheless, allow them (the other child and/or their caregiver) space to be sad, and avoid taking it personally.
Never hit back or bite. Teaching your child how their actions affect others is an unsuccessful technique. Instead, it communicates that this action is appropriate when someone does something you dislike.
Do not simulate fighting.
While playing with a youngster that is prone to violence, it’s best to avoid biting or hitting. If your child strikes you, you should respond with a scowl or a sorrowful expression. You could say, “It hurts your mother.” Never laugh off violence. Little children have a tendency to perceive things in black and white, so if “play fighting” is permitted, they find it difficult to comprehend why genuine fighting is not permitted.
Help young toddlers utilize language and gestures to communicate. They may be able to gesture to their cup and use simple words like “angry” when they are frustrated. If you praise your child’s efforts to communicate and express his or her emotions, he or she will learn that words are a more effective and socially acceptable approach to meet demands than violence.
Help Your Little One Handle Tough Circumstances
Follow this advice to discover how to decode indications that your child may be getting picked on and educate them on how to respond appropriately.
While an older child might not report bullying for fear of being made fun of, preschoolers tattle a lot. Your youngster likely doesn’t know the word bullying yet and may instead claim that a classmate was rude or complain about a friend’s behavior (“Lila called me a foul word.” “Henry will not allow me to play with the trucks.”). A quieter youngster may weep, withdraw, or appear afraid or furious about attending school without being able to articulate why.
Urge them to use their words.
You undoubtedly encourage your child to “use their words” when they’re complaining, but it’s also an excellent tactic when they’re having a difficult interaction with a peer. If they’re upset because their friend grabbed their toy, first comfort them by rubbing their back, then teach them what to do if it occurs again: “Next time, tell Riley, ‘I was using that.'” You can assist in preventing your child’s arguments from developing into bullying by counseling them on better methods to manage their problems before they escalate to anger, says Dr. Kennedy-Moore.
Teach effective reactions.
Use your child’s dolls, stuffed animals, or puppets to make “I” statements during pretend play, such as “I’d like to try now” or “I don’t like that.” You can also illustrate taking turns listening to one another by singing a song or counting to ten, then switching off and allowing your youngster to do the same.
But, it is crucial to remember that your child does not need to encounter a naughty classmate for this to be a useful opportunity to teach compassion. You may assist your child to develop empathetic skills by highlighting ordinary situations involving emotion management. For example, you could remark, “Charley feels sad because their block tower was destroyed. What steps can you take to make them feel better? In the future, your child will be more likely to spontaneously offer to assist in picking up the pieces.
The occasional striking, biting, or other unpleasant physical or verbal actions are normal at this age, although it may be surprising, distressing, upsetting, or embarrassing if your little angel acts aggressively. Toddlers and preschoolers are still exploring the world around them, the effects of their actions on others, social norms, and how to regulate their own intense emotions.
Establishing clear limits and constantly enforcing punishments and redirection when these infractions occur will assist in guiding your child toward more acceptable behaviors. As their socioemotional abilities and awareness develop and as they become accustomed to family expectations, their tendency to lash out will decrease.
However, if hostility persists, you should consult your child’s pediatrician. They can offer additional assistance and specific strategies to discourage the behavior, connect you with other helpful resources, and, if necessary, evaluate the possibility of something else occurring.