The problem: Is your child an angel at home, but suddenly turns on the aggression at daycare, the playground, or at a playdate? That’s normally because, in social situations, he is more likely to have his will challenged, whether it’s because another child wants a turn on the slide, or because his favorite toy is whisked away by another pair of hands.
The solution: If your toddler is old enough to empathize, and understand why his actions are not ok, pull him aside if he hits another child and tell him that hitting hurts other people, and that he is not permitted to hit. You might want to give him a minute or two to cool down on his own, isolated from the other kids, before returning to play. Younger toddlers may simply not have the communication skills or impulse control to understand what you’re trying to communicate. In this case, distraction is key. When you see a situation about to escalate, present him with a new activity.
The problem: If your toddler is just learning to speak, she may not feel confident that she has the skills she needs to tell you exactly what is wrong. This can result in her communicating her frustration in the most simple way available to her: aggression.
The solution: Encourage her to use her words by telling her repeatedly that asking for milk, a snack, or a specific toy or blanket, will result in receiving that item. This may take time, but telling her to say the word for what she wants will lead to her eventually trying that approach. When she does, praise her for using her words and reinforce this behavior by reminding her that getting milk is as simple as saying the word “milk”.
The problem: When you have a bad night’s sleep, skip lunch, or feel as if you’re coming down with a cold, you may not feel like playing nicely with others. When your child is having a tough day or feels a little “off”, he might resort to hitting or biting the way that adults might snap at one another when they feel under the weather.
The solution: Prevention, prevention, prevention. Staying ahead of a child’s need for food is key. Pack a snack when you’re out, don’t delay meals, and remember that if your child had a light breakfast, he may need a bigger meal later. Keep him on a sleep schedule that ensures enough rest. If you know that he’s coming down with a cold, keep your schedule low-key to avoid playground aggression.
It may seem as if the days of hitting and biting will never end, but rest assured that most toddlers do grow out of this stage. As your child gains confidence in her independence, learns to communicate effectively, and develops coping skills, she is likely to cease these behaviors and handle her frustration “like a big kid”.