By Melodie Veldhuizen
Parents are shocked when their good-natured toddler suddenly slaps a friend or attacks him with a toy, or even bites.
Why do toddlers sometimes act aggressively?
· It is a way of giving expression to their emotions. They do not yet possess the skills to express their irritation, anger or frustration in a civilised and socially acceptable manner.
· Curiosity to see what will happen when they display such behaviour, especially when they have been warned not to do it. They want to know why it is wrong to hurt a sibling or a friend.
· To be droll or make fun, because they don’t realise the impact of their behaviour, or that it is wrong.
· To seek attention, even if is negative attention.
· Imitation. They see other children hitting or biting one another, or they are victims themselves and react impulsively by doing the same.
The intention therefore is not always negative, but it is essential to nip such behaviour in the bud as soon as possible.
How does one stop aggressive behaviour?
- If it happens for the first time, act immediately. To say, ‘Control yourself’ is meaningless because toddlers’ self-control is limited. Look her in the eye and say firmly that it is unacceptable and explain to her why, for example, ‘It hurts. Would you like it if your sister hit you?’
- Remove her from the situation to a safe and friendly environment until she calms down.
- Divert her attention by for example taking away the toy that led to the unpleasantness or replacing it with something else that interests her.
- Encourage her to apologise to her friend or brother/sister. Set the example by consoling the other child.
- Try to establish what was the underlying reason or trigger for her behaviour. Is it suppressed anger, a need to control the situation, or to protect her possessions or herself? Or is she hungry, tired or ill? Is she perhaps being bullied? Or did she just consider it a game? Handle the situation accordingly.
- If aggressive behaviour is emanating from anger or anxiety, expose her to play that encourages gentle behaviour, such as giving her teddy a hug or lulling her doll to sleep.
- Teach and demonstrate alternative ways to handle a situation, for example by saying ‘No’ when someone wants to take her toys from her, or ‘Don’t hit me’ when someone hurts her, or walking away from a situation that displeases her. Encourage her to seek help if she doesn’t know how to handle the situation (this may perhaps appear to be snitching, but in some cases it is justified).
- Be empathetic and acknowledge her feelings. If she is not yet able to verbalise her feelings, help her by for example saying, ‘I understand you are angry because your friend took the doll which you would like to play with’ or: ‘I see you are tired. Let’s go and rest a bit’.
- Monitor her behaviour. Is it continues, keep on explaining why it is unacceptable and defuse the situation. Eventually she will outgrow this phase.
- Reward positive behaviour by praising her when she displays socially acceptable behaviour and acts in a friendly manner towards friends and siblings.
- Be consistent with enforcing the rules. Continuously emphasise, ‘We don’t hurt each other – we never hit, kick or bite, even if someone else hits you first. There is no excuse for hurting someone else’.
- Discipline her every time she comes to blows with someone, even if it’s just to try and be ‘funny’.
- If she is exposed to too many TV programmes or other visual material such as DVDs containing violence, decrease viewing time. And be more aware of what she is exposed to.
- Set a good example. How do you conduct yourself when you are angry or when someone has treated you unjustly? If you handle it in a calm, peaceful manner, your child will follow your example.
Healthy Children.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/Pages/Aggressive-Behavior.aspx