Aggression In ToddlersJul 04, 2022
Some aggression and "defiance" in toddlers is age-appropriate, normal and healthy and should be met with clear boundaries set with acknowledgement of their struggle.
For example: Your toddler starts hitting you when you tell him he can't use your lipstick, you simply take the lipstick and acknowledge that he really wanted to play with it, "...and I can't let you hit me." End of story.
However, EXCESSIVE aggression even in toddlers is a sign that something is not ok with them. This is when we need to investigate with compassion what's going on.
Here's a checklist of things and how to address them.
1- There's been a big change in the child's life (like a new baby sibling or move to a new country or divorce)
What Can You Do: When they act out, see that as them letting you know how much they're struggling and respond with empathy and compassion. Validate their struggles. Make sure not to add any "buts"- this is not the moment for lectures and corrections.
2- They feel like they have no control over their life
What Can You Do: Offer choices as frequently as you can but only 2 or 3 choices. Too many overwhelm them. Include them in decision making ("should we go for a walk or play in the yard?") and assign them jobs which won't be "corrected".
3- They're feeling like the resident "bad guy".
What Can You Do: Refrain from labeling and constantly reprimanding them for aggressive behaviors (See 1). If others do so, make sure to let the child know that the adult is not being fair or kind and that it must be hard for them. Offer hugs and comfort.
4- The boundary-setting is vague and unclear
What Can You Do: If you're going to set a boundary, don't let their emotions change your mind. Acknowledge the emotions with validation but don't keep giving in. That's unkind and makes them feel confused and even anxious which leads to really chaotic behavior. Children WANT to see that their parents are in control.
5- One or both parents are consistently responding to the child with their own aggression.
What Can You Do: This is probably the toughest one, but at the very least if we understand that our child's aggression is a result of how we address their aggression then we can stop viewing them as "the bad guy" (Ganda bacha) or "problem child". There are really no short cuts here, unless we want to pass on aggression as a family heirloom, we HAVE to #healourselves (though miracles are always possible).
6- They're in the care of someone who isn't kind
What Can You Do: If your child is at a daycare facility or with a caretaker at home, it's important to ensure that they practice at least some form of respectful parenting and aren't constantly indulging in the above behaviors that trigger aggression. This would also include (God forbid) inappropriate touches by someone. (Please don't lose sleep over this last one as long as you've ensured there's no possibility of it happening).
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