With some rare exceptions, no one wants their toddler to be aggressive. If Baby starts to bite, hit, or show other signs of aggression, it’s best to nip those behaviors in the bud and deal with them as quickly and consistently as you can.
Why toddlers act up
Around age two, toddlers still can’t vocalize a lot of their emotions and desires. This causes them to act out physically when they feel scared or don’t get what they want. Most toddlers don’t yet know how to deal with stress or emotions in a constructive way, which makes them act out aggressively. Because they don’t have a well-developed sense of empathy, it’s also hard for them to consider the pain they can cause others.
How to handle aggressive outbursts
The way that you respond does depend at least a little bit on the situation itself, but there are a few steps that are genuinely good to take if you see your toddler acting aggressively. In doing these, always try to stay calm and keep a clear head.
- Remove: Remove Baby from the environment right away. Whether Baby is in a sandbox, in a group of kids, or on the top of a slide, take them out of the environment right when you see aggressive, unacceptable behavior. If you do this consistently, it will help reinforce to Baby that aggressive actions mean no more time with friends or on the playground.
- Recognize: If possible, try to understand why Baby might be acting out like this. Was another toddler also acting aggressively? Is Baby reacting to something that they think is unfair? Or could Baby be exhausted or hungry, which is why they are acting this way?
- Reinforce: Remind Baby what the rules are. Tell them in very clear language that, even if they are upset, what they were doing is wrong. For example, say something like ‘I know you don’t want to leave right now, but we do not hit’, or ‘I know you are hungry, and we are going to get some snacks, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to scream in here.’ Show or tell Baby a more appropriate solution to whatever was bothering them.
- Redirect: If Baby seems especially upset, distract Baby with a different toy, snack, or activity. This might sound a little too easy but switching tracks might be the best thing for them if they are struggling with emotions right now.
When to talk to a pediatrician
After all of this is said and done, when is aggression a sign that parents should bring their toddler to a pediatrician? Here are some signs that you should get a toddler’s aggressive behavior checked out.
- If your toddler seems reckless and unconcerned for their physical safety
- If your toddler pushes, hits, or is generally aggressive more than other children
- If your toddler has been more aggressive lately and there’s something serious going on in your family
Final thoughts on toddler aggression
It’s totally normal to worry that a toddler’s aggressive behavior might say something about their personality. While this might be the case with adults, the truth is that aggression in toddlers is usually a result of them still being so young and undeveloped – basically, they really don’t know any better. That’s not to say that you should let it go when your toddler acts in an aggressive, hurtful, or violent way, of course. But it is important to remember that with the right amount of repetition, discipline, and encouragement, your toddler will be able to learn these important lessons.
- “Aggressive Behavior.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, Nov 2015. Web.
- “When your toddler hits you: A new perspective.” HandinHandParenting. Hand in Hand, 2017. Web.