Having a toddler that is hitting or becoming aggressive can be a frustrating, but very common problem. If you’re experiencing this with your toddler, know that you are not alone and that it can get easier.
Toddlers are going through a stage in their development where they are becoming more independent. They are experiencing big emotions that they don’t always know how to properly express. They are also testing the world around them, and sometimes push buttons to see what reaction they will get.
The good news is that as you begin to understand what this behavior means, and how to redirect it, life with your toddler will become much easier.
Here are my 5 best tips for dealing with an aggressive toddler.
1.Understand Why Your Toddler Is Being Aggressive
Usually, a toddler’s aggression has to do with one of these five things. If you understand why the behavior is happening, it will be much easier to redirect the behavior into something positive.
- They are feeling disconnected, and are trying to get your attention
- They are feeling frustrated
- They are feeling excited
- They Think it’s Funny
- They Don’t Understand it Hurts
2.Show Them What You Want Them to Do Instead
When we draw attention to a certain behavior, we will usually see more of that behavior.
When your toddler is aggressive and they get punished, reprimanded, or receive any type of negative attention, they may begin seeking out that negative attention even more.
If you focus on putting most of your effort into teaching them how you want them to behave, your toddler will be more likely to seek more praise and gratitude instead of negative attention.
For example, my two-year-old often will pull our dog’s ears. Telling him to stop, and giving him a consequence did not help the behavior. However, showing him how to use an open hand to pet usually does the trick.
Show Them How to Be Soft
A lot of times toddlers don’t actually understand that they are hurting someone else. They might think what they’re doing is funny, affectionate, a way to get attention, or that they’re just expressing their big emotions.
Show them how they can touch softly. Take their hand and show them “soft.” Be soft with them as well.
Don’t forget to praise them as they practice the soft behavior with you.
Give Them the Words to Say
Toddler’s don’t always know how to express their new and big emotions.
If you identified the reason for their behavior in step one, help them articulate their feelings in words. Practice coaching them through a conversation with you or whomever they are being aggressive with.
Teach them to say “I’m bored”, I want to play with you,” “I didn’t like it when you took my toy,” “Can I please have your attention?” etc. Giving them the words to communicate their big emotions will empower them and help them find an alternative to hitting, kicking, or any other aggressive behavior.
3.Redirect Your Aggressive Toddler
The element of distraction is an important skill to learn when you have toddler age children. Their little memories are somewhat short, so they can often be distracted pretty easily.
If you’ve already dealt with the root of the problem, it then can be helpful to help them focus on something else. If they’re bored or frustrated over a certain toy, find something new to draw their attention to. They’re likely to forget the aggressive behavior altogether.
Use this as a time to help them learn to regulate their emotions. You can do this through connection (co-regulation), or through calming activities like squishing play dough, or playing with a fidget toy.
4.Use a Natural Consequence
If the situation calls for an appropriate consequence, try making the consequence as natural as possible.
For example, my toddler went through a phase of biting while he was nursing because he thought it was funny. He didn’t stop until I started using a natural consequence, which was to tell him “We won’t nurse if you bite. I don’t mean forever, but I will not let you bite me.”
If your toddler is being aggressive with friends and steps 1-3 aren’t working, it might be appropriate to find a consequence that will teach them something about the natural consequences of that behavior like taking a toy away for some time, or leaving a playdate early. Check out this post for more ideas on how to correct and hold consequences for a toddler’s aggressive behavior.
5.Try Your Best Not to React to an Aggressive Toddler
Toddlers are like little scientists, they are testing the world around them to see how people react. Sometimes it can be hard to curb your natural reaction, but if you yell or react in a big way, your toddler is likely to repeat the behavior to make the big reaction happen again.
Instead, express what you are feeling to them calmly. Calmly say “That hurts” or “I won’t let you hit me”. Etc. When you stay calm and express how you feel, your toddler is more likely to understand and stop seeking out the negative attention and strong emotional reactions from you.
Aggressive behavior is, for the most part, just part of a toddler’s learning and developmental process. Start implementing these skills to help your toddler learn how to get their needs met and express their emotions appropriately. As they learn these skills, you will build your trust with each other, and this phase will be over before you know it!
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