Most parents experience the anguish that comes with watching their child harm another little one. This is especially challenging as it can be an emotionally charged issue for any adults in attendance, let alone the child in harm’s way.

Yet for the child who is demonstrating the aggression, it is most likely not charged with the emotion one would expect. As a matter of fact, “aggression” is defined as “hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront”, therefore likely not an appropriate word. For lack of a better one, it will be used. Most of the time, a child demonstrates aggressive behaviour either to test boundaries to communicate their own negative feelings. 

Still, the behaviour is undesirable and action is required. Boundaries are essential for toddlers. Not only do they need them, they crave them. Our job as parents is to guide our children’s behaviour. We cannot control them, therefore our reaction following their actions is imperative. We cannot stop our children from hitting or pushing, however we must create a consequence to set the boundary and reinforce a message. 

How to know when and how to intervene:

ANY Physical contact is made

Even affection is crossing into another child’s personal space. In this case, you simply acknowledge “Hugging is nice. ______ may not want a hug. You can ask ______ if she wants a hug.” 

Harmful Physical contact is made
Calmly and quietly separate the children.
Acknowledge the harmed child first “_____ pushed you. Are you okay?”
Correct the behaviour “Pushing is not ok. We don’t push.” Maintain neutrality as when toddlers are testing, they often seek an extreme reaction.

Think about why this behaviour is happening

If the child is testing, you will see some of the following observations:

Their expression is neutral or pleasant.
They are looking to adults during or after the behaviour, reading the reaction.
They seem indifferent to the ‘victim’.

If this child is communicating, you will see some of the following observations:

The action follows an unpleasant moment for the child
Their expression is unpleasant
They are clearly in an negative state of emotion

When harmful contact is made, intervention is required no matter what the reason.

Try to remain calm, no matter how upset you are. This is imperative.

If you can bring a curiosity to the behaviour and think of it as an inquiry, you can curb your reaction. 

Gently remove the child from reach of the child.
Take them away from the environment.

Pick them up and carry them away from the action, calmly repeating the correction “We don’t hit. Hitting is not ok. Let me take you over here for a moment.”

Before returning them, repeat the rule. “Let’s go back now. Hitting is not ok. If you hit, we’ll come back over here again.”

If your child is in an aggressive phase, you must be watchful at all times for two reasons: first to teach the child, second to reassure others that you are considering the well-being of the environment (which is also an important lesson for your child to learn). Therefore, take the time to ask yourself this important question “do I have the energy and stamina for this today?” For if you are taking your child out into an environment in which there is potential undesirable behaviour, you must be ready to play the role of guide. Let’s be honest, this can be taxing and a lot of work. It takes energy and discipline to remain calm even more than the physical act of intervening. Choose success to be your goal, thereby only exposing yourselves to the challenge of teaching your child when you are feeling up for it. 

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