Understanding Toddler Aggression


Toddlers are in the early stages of learning to communicate verbally. They pretty much have no impulse control and are just new to the scene with social skills, so this leads to an instinctive physical response (hitting, kicking, biting, hair pulling, throwing things, etc.) to situations when they are frustrated, angry, excited, scared, or just plain ol’ tired.

Many parents wonder where their toddler picked up the behavior, not realizing that it is a normal and age appropriate reaction. Too often parents are told from other parents to spank their child to train them not to hit others, especially their siblings and friends children.

Many parents have the misconception that small children can understand forethought meaning if I get hit from my parent when I hit I will know not to hit, and if I do hit I am making a conscious decision to disobey. The prefrontal cortex, where reasoning, logic, and forethought take place, is not fully developed in toddlers and actually won’t develop fully until the mid-twenties.

Toddlers act impulsively under all circumstances because that is all they have for social skills. Remember it takes a lifetime working on social skills so we can’t expect toddlers to just get it. When they are stressed, even the small amount of self-control they may have isn’t going to stand much ground and before they know it they’ve reacted physically to their environment.

The true facts are and regularly show that a gentle approch to physical aggression is literally the only response that parents can make that won’t actually reinforce the aggression. Responding with aggression on a child, whether physically or verbally, gives them the idea that what they did wasn’t all that wrong because that’s how they get treated.

When you have a child who is acting out physically, it’s very important to remain in visual contact with them whenever they are with other children. If you can’t be right there then get creative and ask the child to help you, or have the children do two separate things while you can’t fully supervise. It’s unfair to the child and yourself to set them up for failure and then in turn they are getting in trouble for something you could have avoided.

As I’ve mentioned in some of my other post redirecting is huge. You have to remove the child from their present situation and put them in a better environment with a positive outcome. Sometimes with an aggressive toddler it can be as simple as “Johnny! Did you just see that?!” And point to something outside or on the tv or make it exciting. They can’t help to follow along. Then once the child wants to resume back to playing with another child simply revisit that we don’t hit and we need to be nice and share if we want to keep playing. 

The biggest thing is we the parents have to understand where our children are as far as stages in their lives. This hugely is knowing and understanding the development of your child’s brain. You can only expect so much from a toddler. Practice and patience is key to successfully having moments of breakthrough with your toddler. As long as you aren’t meeting their aggression with your aggression you should see these behaviors disappear as they grow and gain better social skills. 

Remember they are still building their vocabulary and are learning how to communicate with the world. It can be very frustrating for them. Think if you as an adult now couldn’t get your words out 100 percent and everything took work to make even the simplest point, you’d probably feel all their emotions and maybe even tripled! 

I know in moments of frustration with your child these things don’t just simply pop into your head, but the more you work on bettering yourself in these times, the more you will see results in your children. You are their biggest role model. So be your best you for them!

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