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How to stop your toddler from hitting, biting, and kicking

Here's what to do if you observe your toddler engaging in aggressive behaviour, such as hitting and even biting, while playing with pals.

Few situations are more challenging for parents than dealing with a toddler who is sweet as pie one minute and aggressive the next. It can be very concerning when your child bites, strikes, scratches, or kicks to get their way.

Aggressive behaviour is not uncommon among younger children at various stages of development. However, when it occurs frequently or appears to be your toddler’s consistent response when they don’t get their way, it may be time to implement steps to modify their behaviour.

What causes aggression in toddlers?

Children between 18 months and three years find it challenging to convey their needs to their parents, caretakers, and other children, especially when confronted with a challenging scenario.

Any or all of the following may trigger aggressive behaviour in toddler:

• Self-defense
• Being placed in a tense circumstance
• Lack of routine
• Extreme frustration
• Inadequate speech development
• Overstimulation
• Exhaustion
• Absence of adult supervision
• Imitating the aggressive behaviours of other children around them

What can parents do?

According to experts, the best thing for parents to do is to understand what triggers their child’s aggression. Is it a result of irritation, rage, or excitement? Consider whether there are patterns. Does your toddler exhibit aggressive behaviour when he shares toys? Or does he become angry when he is overstimulated or tired? Observing the circumstances closely will likely reveal trends.

Finally, how does his aggression manifest itself? Is it through screaming and shouting or violent actions? Does he become verbally confrontational before becoming physically aggressive, or does he strike out and hit first?

Eight ways to deal with an aggressive toddler

Once you have narrowed down the causes of your toddler’s aggressive behaviour, it is time to intervene.

  1. At the first hint that your child is ready to get hostile, remove him from the situation immediately. Calmly explain to your child that hitting, biting, kicking, and other aggressive acts are unacceptable.
  2. Focus on comforting the victim while ignoring the attacker.
  3. It’s easy to respond with yelling or rage, but remember that your child is looking to you for examples of impulse control and good behaviour. Although it can be extremely humiliating to have a child who continues to act out in front of other children, remember that their negative behaviour is likely because they are still navigating their social circles. This can be quite challenging for some children, so avoid overreacting or making it personal.
  4. Repeat the words, “We don’t bite”, and remind your child that you will leave if the behaviour persists. If this does not work and your child cannot calm down, ignore the tantrum and leave him where he is (at an age-appropriate distance). Most toddlers will stop acting out if they no longer have an audience.
  5. Before entering a potentially challenging social environment, discuss with your child the repercussions if he cannot manage his anger. Say to your toddler, “I believe you can control your anger, but if you can’t, we’ll have to leave the park and won’t be able to return until next week. Do you understand?” Ensure that you follow through with whatever penalties you threaten your child with.
  6. Prepare a strategy for repercussions if aggressive behaviour occurs. At home, this may include a time-out chair where your child can sit away from the rest of the family until he calms down. If you are away from home, place your child in a safe location where they will be distanced from the excitement. This emphasises that you will not tolerate any type of aggression.
  7. When your child is acting out, assist them in finding their voice. By teaching and then practising the use of their words, you are assisting children in substituting more socially acceptable behaviour for hostile behaviour. Provide your child with a list of phrases to use when upset or frustrated with their peers. Examples are “No, that’s mine” and “I don’t like that”. This helps your child find alternatives to striking out. Before entering a situation that may cause your child to behave aggressively (such as a play date or daycare), remind your toddler to “use their words.”
  8. Do not attribute undesirable behaviour to your child’s character. Parents often become disappointed and furious by their child’s aggressive conduct because they believe it reflects their own parenting abilities. If you have an aggressive child, you should shift your focus to assisting them in expressing themselves more appropriately, and you should take action when an incident occurs.

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