Aggression in toddlers can be frightening for parents and sometimes other children.
Let’s look at some potential solutions but first, some quick reassurance.
Aggression is often misdiagnosed
Some inexperienced parents see a little pushing and shoving or even hitting from their child as evidence of an aggression problem.
Of course, it may be – but usually, it is not. It’s more typically perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.
Experimentation with their bodies and sometimes a little confusion over what is or is not appropriate, is perfectly normal in toddlers. For example, if they come from a household where they have older siblings, they’re probably used to a little pushing and shoving over things like toys. No parent can guarantee to keep an eye on them every second to avoid such.
Top tips to avoid aggressive behaviour
However, it’s always a good idea to avoid a problem rather than deal with one. So, here are some top tips to help.
1. Remove sources of contention
A lot of aggression starts when two or more children want the same thing and start squabbling as a result.
There’s nothing you can do to totally eliminate that but you can reduce it by trying to ensure there are a lot of other things to keep the toddlers’ attention.
2. Allocate your time as evenly as possible across children
Jealousy and competition amongst children and siblings for the attention of a care provider or parent can lead to aggression. Trying to spread your attention and time evenly between them may help reduce tensions.
3. Avoid TV programmes and videos portraying violence as ‘fun’
This subject has been furiously argued about by psychologists for decades but there is some suggestion that even soft and comic violence of a sort seen in cartoons may encourage imitative behaviours in some toddlers.
4. Encourage children to take part in co-operative games rather than play individually
This is about developing social skills and respect for others.
5. Get kids playing sports (or generally exercising a lot at play) at an early age
Excess energy can sometimes manifest itself as apparent aggression.
Getting children to run that off can be a huge help.
6. Pick-up and correct undesirable behaviours immediately
This can be tricky because clearly, you do not wish to over-react. Also, major recriminations are not a good idea as a first response.
Equally though, entirely ignoring aggressive behaviours isn’t sensible, as a child can interpret that as tacit acceptance and see nothing at all wrong.
Instead, take the child to one side and speak to them calmly to explain why their behaviour wasn’t nice and shouldn’t be seen again. Talk to them about the feelings of those on the receiving end and ask them to apologise.
7. Consider sanctions in some more serious cases
Ultimately, one way we all learn is by experiencing the negative consequence on ourselves of socially undesirable behaviour.
So, if explanation and gentle reasoning don’t yield results, you may need to consider some form of sanction. The “naughty step” and other techniques are commonly seen but different people have very different policies on this one.
What is important is that there is some negative consequence.
8. Identify the cause
There are many potential reasons for aggressive behaviour. For example, it might simply be retaliation for something you didn’t see perpetrated originally by ‘the victim’ in this instance.
Talk to the child and try to identify why exactly they think they did what they did. If it’s possible, remove the thing that is causing the behaviour.
9. Keep children happy and occupied
Kids that are happy and fully occupied rarely demonstrate aggression. By contrast, those with not enough to do will be more inclined to turn to aggression.
10. Take professional advice
Serious aggressive tendencies in very young children are very rare. However, there may be underlying health or other issues that require investigation in persistent cases.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a professional assessment – your doctor will be able to put you in touch with someone.