I am so frustrated I could just…
Kelsey was a little “bull in a china cabinet” when she was a toddler! She soon learned as most toddlers do, how to handle aggressive feelings!
When my oldest was about 1 1/2, I belonged to a neighborhood playgroup. We would meet in the mornings at a neighbor’s house and the moms would chat and the toddler and preschool aged children would play. Corri had a very quiet temperament, and was often at the wrong end of a toy struggle. I can remember “rescuing” her and putting her on my lap. At the time, I was thinking, “I will NEVER allow a child of mine act that way!” About two short years later, I watched my then 18 month old 2nd child bulldoze over several children at a playgroup. Several moms “rescued” their children to their laps as I tried to corral Kelsey. My how things change when your child is the bull in the china closet!
Most toddlers will have periods of aggressive behavior. At some point in the 2nd year of life, a child will realize that he or she is a separate individual and has feelings. Sometimes those feelings are expressed with a hit, a bite, a shove, or a kick because the toddler often has no other means of expressing anger or frustration. They don’t have the words! So how do you tame that little bull in a china closet? As a parent, we want to help our little toddlers gain some control over their feelings so we don’t have an aggressive 4 or 5-year-old that is still acting out frequently.
1. Watch what triggers your child. Most of the time, we can almost predict what will set a child into aggression mode. A toddler that is hungry, tired, or overstimulated often will act out. A toddler that is to the point of frustration with an activity or a toddler that has been interrupted during an activity that he or she is enjoying will often react with aggression. Whatever triggers your child, try to prevent it when you can.
2. Watch your child. Prevent your child from reaching the point of aggressive behavior. If you see your child begin to melt down, or begin to get frustrated, or reaching to grab a toy from another child, or see another child grab a toy and there is a reaction, step in and help your child handle the emotion. This is not “rescuing” your child, but demonstrating how to handle disappointing or frustrating events with control.
3. Explain the feeling. When your child melts down or gets angry, explain what your child is feeling. Name it for your child. Most of the aggressive behavior is because your child usually does not have the words to say, “Stop it, that is mine!”, “I am so mad these blocks won’t stay up!”, “I want the cell phone!”, or “I don’t like you talking on the phone right now!” and many other confusing feelings a toddler may have. Being empathetic and saying, “I know it makes you sad when you can’t play with my phone, but we don’t hit!” will help your child develop the knowledge of what he or she is feeling. Check out a few books on feelings and emotions from the library!
4. Be firm and clear. If your child hits, or bites, or shoves, or pulls hair…your response should be firm, clear and quick. You do not need to yell, but you need to use your firm Mommy or Daddy voice. Show your disapproval with a simple statement, by physically stopping the aggressive behavior, and removing your child. An example would be if your child hit another child and took a toy. You would respond by saying in a firm voice without yelling at your child’s eye level, “Stop, we do not hit! Hitting hurts!” Physically hold your child’s hands or hold your child’s arms down at his side gently but firmly. Comfort the victim, then remove your child to a time out place to take a break. You will help your child “say sorry” after the break. Most children at this age cannot verbalize an “I’m sorry” which is why we help them. “Johnny says he is sorry.”
5. Redirect. You can give your child appropriate ways to discharge angry or frustrated feelings. Show your child that it is OK to say “I’m mad!” or hit a pillow, or knock a block tower over, or some other way to express frustration. Maybe a bit of time outdoors to run off some energy would help discharge some of the feelings of frustration. Remember, toddlers are very physical.
6. Avoid physical punishment. Do not slap, spank, or bite your child back. This sends a very mixed message to your child if you respond to an aggressive behavior with aggression. Stop and think what lesson this actually teaches your child. Work hard at responding with firmness, control, and a plan.
7. Be patient. It takes time for a child to learn how to develop self-control. I know many adults that are still working on it! Channeling your child’s energy in a positive way, providing firm,clear and quick responses that are consistent to aggressive behavior, and realizing that young children are aggressive not because they are “mean” or “bad”, but because they are learning how to handle their feelings, will help your child develop tools and words to handle these feelings. This will in turn eventually result in a child that has developed good coping mechanisms for disappointment, anger, and frustration when he or she is older.
We never want to squelch our child’s emotions, we just want to provide our child with the opportunity to learn how to manage those feelings. Aggression that is controlled, is often a personality trait that will serve a person well in adulthood. I can thankfully say that my little bull in a china cabinet, Kelsey, has grown into a very disciplined, driven, and kind adult. I will say though, don’t challenge her in a competition….she will compete to the end!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.