Toddlers are known for being self-centered, impatient and not the most eloquent communicators. Many little ones at this age get aggressive at times leading to the dreaded toddler tantrums. This doesn’t indicate bad parenting, but it is a call to action.
When a youngster under age three gets aggressive, it isn’t because the child is being disobedient or bad. Young children have yet to develop proper emotional habits and effective language skills. Therefore, they get frustrated when they are trying to tell you something and can’t. It is either a communication problem or the child may believe you are not listening and violently acting out is the only way to get your full attention.
When a child is not getting what they want, this is usually when a toddler tantrum happens. The little one could be seeking something reasonable like attention, a hug or food. Other times, it could be another kid’s toy, sugary snacks or something inappropriate or dangerous. The context matters. Like adults, toddlers are more prone to aggressive behavior if they are hungry, ill, worried, tired or stressed.
Put yourself in your child’s shoes, toddler’s have limited communication skills and are powerless. They have few options.
First, remember that punishment is not effective. If you react with impatience or anger it can add fuel to the fire by exacerbating your child’s frustration and worsen the situation. It also shows your toddler that giving in to negative emotions is okay.
When your young child gets violent, that is the time to teach your little one how to understand and communicate thoughts and feelings.
The following are four easy steps to help your toddler gain control of aggressive behavior, and learn new coping skills:
Stop the Aggression: If your child is being violent, gently end physical aggression by any reasonable means necessary. For example, if your toddler is lashing out at you and hitting, grab hold of the child’s hands firmly yet lovingly. Kicking, biting, scratching, using toys as weapons, this all must stop. Toddlers will use whatever they have available to inflict harm when they are out of control. It is a parent’s job to make sure kids learn early that is not acceptable to hurt others or themselves.
Go to a Private Area: If you are in a public place, or around other people. Remove the child immediately and go someplace private. Be prepared to pick up and carry your child, screaming and kicking. This secluded haven can be a separate room in the house, the back of a parking lot or a tugged away corner in a mall. There are three important reasons for seeking a quiet area away from other people. This allows your child an opportunity to calm down away from the source; it gives you the chance to address the situation without peering eyes, and your child can hold on to some dignity. Even at such a young age, it can be embarrassing to be dealt with in public.
Help Your Child Use Words Instead of Fists, Feet, Nails, etc.: Once you find a suitable area to address the problem, and your child has calmed down, look the toddler directly in the eye and say something like this, calmly and firmly, “We respect each other in this family, we don’t hit.” Be a good example of patient self-control. Be strong, yet kind when you make your point, regardless of how you are feeling.
Debrief: Once your toddler is in a better place emotionally, but not after too much time has passed, have a brief talk about what just transpired. Try something like, “It is never okay to hit. When you feel yourself about to lash out, instead, use words to tell me what you think or feel. Instead of causing hurt, say, Mommy, I am hungry, tired, or I need to tell you something, please listen to me.”