Handling Aggressive Behavior in Toddlers

A certain amount of pushing, grabbing and even punching is normal when young children get together. Most of the time it's nothing to worry about. Injuriesare few; disputes are soon forgotten.

Coping Equals Aggression

Some toddlers and preschoolers, however, get into repeated and escalating tussles. For them, aggression becomes their main approach to coping with almostany situation. They're not bullies; in fact, they sometimes pick hopeless fights with children who are much larger and older than they are. As toddlers andpreschoolers, their developing nervous systems do not seem to let them control their impulses as much as their age mates do. With others, it's more amatter of their needing to learn and practice social skills.

When Aggression Works

In other areas of their lives, aggressiveness is often rewarded. A child who cuts ahead of the line to go down the slide at the playground will likely getto use that slide the most. The one who acts up in preschool will probably get extra attention from the teacher. From a child's point of view, thedifference between assertiveness and aggression may not be clear.

Spotting the Signs

The best way to handle an overly aggressive child is to prevent the behavior in the first place. Many of these children show a clear pattern to theirbehavior. They may be aggressive only at home or only in public. A child may be much more likely to be aggressive in the afternoon when he's tired, or whenhe's feeling frustrated. This part of the pattern will help you be better prepared to intervene.

Also, most aggressive children this age go through a consistent sequence of behaviors before they lash out with a punch or a kick. Some may clench theirteeth and stare. Others may rock back and forth.

Helping Your Child

Once you've determined the most common triggers or timing, and can spot the escalating behaviors, the simplest thing to do is to remove the child from thatenvironment. Greater structure also seems to help these children. With structure comes predictability, which helps them feel more calm and in control.Tempting as it may be at the time, spanking an aggressive child for his behavior does not work. In fact, it will probably make matters worse since you'remodeling the very behavior that you want him to stop.

Girls VS. Boys

While aggressive boys get more attention, girls get into fights too. Their aggression may be more verbal, even at this age. It may also be physical, butless obvious than a boy's punches and kicks. Like boys, aggressive girls need help learning better social and problem-solving skills.

Could It Be Depression?

Finally, remember that aggression is sometimes a sign of depression in young children. If your child seems uncharacteristically aggressive and isn'tresponding to your efforts to change things, talk to your healthcare provider about what's going on. The sooner you take action, the easier it will be forboth you and your child.

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