While not all toddlers engage in aggressive behaviour, it is a normal developmental phase. With a little bit of patience and a few tricks and tools from clinical psychologist Jenny Perkel, you’ll find it easier to cope with your child’s unruly behaviour.
The reasons for your toddler’s aggressive behaviour are often not as menacing as you think and can stem from a lack of language skills, the desire to be more independent, frustration, hunger or even a change in routine or boredom. Sometimes the behaviour is purely experimental. Toddlers need to test boundaries, so regardless of the cause, the best course of action is immediate intervention.
What to do
- Punishment should fit the behaviour. Removal from the situation works well as your child has a chance to decompress away from what caused the behaviour. A brief time-out and removing the toy or object that triggered the event are consequences that will stop the behaviour.
- Set clear boundaries. Make a picture chart of behaviour that is not acceptable, and put it up in your toddler’s bedroom. Regularly show and tell him what you expect. When a rule is broken, refer to the list and say, “One of our rules is no throwing toys. I am taking this toy away from you because you threw it.”
- Be calm. Yelling and smacking will result in heightening the behaviour. Be calm and just repeat the rule, “There’s no throwing. Toys break when they are thrown.” Then remove the toy for a few minutes.
- Be consistent. The same rules should apply in every circumstance, whether you’re out or at home, on a play date or alone. When the rules change to fit the circumstances, it’s impossible for your little one to understand.
- Equip them to describe their feelings. Label your toddler’s emotions to help them make sense of what’s happening.
- Pay attention. Tantrums can be avoided if you’re tuned in to your child’s mood. Try not to push him past his coping point around food or sleep.
- Be proactive. Try and set boundaries before they’ve transgressed.
- Focus on something else. Use distractions and other methods to calm them down.
What not to do
- Don’t reason. Toddlers don’t have the cognitive ability to understand reasoning and lengthy explanations. They respond to immediate consequences that make sense.
- Don’t prolong the incident. Once your child has calmed down and is engaged in a different activity, it’s over.
- Don’t try to win every time. Pick your battles wisely.
- Don’t ignore their feelings. Allow and acknowledge your toddler’s feelings of ang