Handling Aggression In Toddlers

Kevin cries hysterically, meanwhile Tommy holds a red fire truck above his head. Nobody saw what happened, but there are clear bite marks on Kevin’s right arm. If this scene has ever unfolded in your living room, you’re not alone. Parents often express worry about their toddler’s use of aggression when interacting with peers. It can feel extremely concerning to receive news that your toddler hit or bit another child at today’s play date. Biting, kicking, pushing, and hitting are common issues in developing toddlers. Here are a few strategies to consider when navigating aggression in toddlers.

What can parents do?

The first step is figuring out why your child is demonstrating aggression. Keep a log of occurrences, and gather information:

1. Who does your child show aggression towards? Is it primarily younger children? A particular peer? Adults? The babysitter?

2. Where does aggression occur most frequently? Look for a toddler with boxing glovescommon environment (e.g. at preschool, at the park, in the playroom, etc.).

3. What triggers lead to aggression? Is it when you’ve told them “no”? Or when your child can’t verbally communicate their thoughts? During transitions during the day?

4. What is your child’s emotional state during aggressive moments? Do they seem tired? Frustrated? Sad?

Understanding why your child demonstrates aggression will help determine your course of action. For example, kids with delayed speech and language may use aggression to compensate for difficulty with verbal communication. It’s much easier to grab the truck than to say “I want the truck”. Similarly, children who have difficulty processing sensory information might feel more overwhelmed in over-stimulating environments, which may result in aggressive behaviors or poor impulse control. By keeping a log of occurrences, you can uncover patterns that may explain why your child is acting out.

Strategies to help your toddler during aggression:

The next step is to set clear guidelines, and give your child alternative ways to respond. Here are 7 strategies to consider when your child displays aggression.

1. Set clear boundaries ahead of time. Talk to your child about unacceptable behaviors in advance. Use clear and simple language (e.g. “It’s not okay to bite. Biting hurts people.”). You might even introduce these concepts through an engaging activity, such as a children’s story book (e.g. “Hands Are Not For Hitting” or “Feet Are Not For Kicking” by Elizabeth Verdick).

2. During moments of aggression, let your child know their behavior was not okay. Use a firm voice, and be specific (e.g. “No. We do not hit.”). Avoid yelling or using aggression yourself, as that might send a mixed message to your child.

3. If needed, take a time-out. If you notice your child is escalating or is having a difficult time regrouping, then provide a time-out to reorganize. Implement calming strategies, such as a calm voice or quiet space. When your child is ready, reintroduce them into the situation while guiding them through it.

4. Offer constructive ways to express emotions. If we simply tell our child not to hit, then we are not helping them solve the problem at hand. Chances are, your child was trying to send a clear message when they hit their friend (e.g. maybe they wanted a toy, or maybe they were frustrated). So instead of simply telling them what not to do, also offer them some better ideas. For example, you might model an appropriate phrase for your child to use “I want the car please.”

5. Give your child language to use. Especially if your child has speech and language difficulties, they may need help in knowing what to say or how to say it. Model simple, age-appropriate phrases to use in the moment (e.g. “stop that please” or “I want a turn”).

6. Provide safe opportunities to practice. For example, if your child frequently uses aggression with peers, then practice peer-interactions in a structure one-on-one setting with a parent present to guide and facilitate. If your child begins to display aggression, then intervene and model an appropriate way to handle the situation.

7. Praise positive behaviors. Let your child know what is going well. Give them positive praise with specific examples (e.g. “Wow, I like the way used your words! You said ‘my turn’. Good job using your words.”)

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How To Keep Your Toddler Well Behaved At A Family Function

Family FunctionAren’t toddlers so fun and adorable? You’re probably saying to yourself, “Well, most of the time!”

Keeping your toddler well-behaved at a family function can be extremely difficult, especially because you don’t want to unleash the “monster parent” in front of other family members.

Keep cool! Remember that your toddler is doing the best he or she can with the limited skills they’ve got. Tantrums, throwing items, hitting and talking back are all “normal” – these behaviors show that your child is curious and “independent (or at least that is what you tell your family).

This is true to an extent. Toddlers are at an extremely curious age. They always want to know how things work and will often try things out that aren’t exactly ok (e.g. seeing if their sister’s new fish can swim in the toilet).  It’s important to remember that communication at this age is tough. In the mind of a toddler, it’s much easier to throw their plate rather than try to say, “Mommy, I am done with my food.” It’s just not going to happen!  And finally, remember that they all want to be independent at this age. They are seeing what they can do by themselves, which often leads to frustration, anger and then the dreaded tantrum. Read more

5 Ways to Get Your Picky Toddler to Eat 

toddler not eating dinner

Struggling to get your toddler to eat a variety of foods? Tired of watching them eat the same foods from the same food group over and over again? Have no fear! NSPT’s very own dietitian is here! 🙂

First and foremost, is your child a picky eater? Do they refuse to eat any of the healthy foods that you offer? Have you tried unsuccessfully to get them to eat different healthy foods? Is the number of foods they are willing to eat so limited it concerns you? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, your child may be a selective eater. However, in many cases, picky eating has nothing to do with food and has more to do with control.

5 Tips for a Picky Eater

1. Set a schedule. Children tend to respond well to routine, so try to schedule a set time for breakfast, lunch, dinner and at least two small snacks. The more consistent the timing, the more your child will get accustomed to eating every two to three hours.

2. Take advantage of food jags. Does your toddler only eat plain macaroni orr pieces of cheese? Have no fear – the good news is that they’re eating! It’s safe to assume that eventually they will get over these “food jags”, and now is the time to experiment with healthier alternatives without taking away their favorite food. For example, try pasta with added fiber or cheese made with two percent milk for healthier alternatives.

3. Don’t give up. When it comes to getting your picky eater to try new foods, be patient. Studies show that it can take up to 15 to 20 consistent tries in a period of one to two months for a child to even consider trying a new food. If your child doesn’t want to eat chicken on Monday, try again on Friday or the following week.

4. Participation is key. Try to get your child involved with grocery shopping and meal preparation. Let them pick out fruits and vegetables at the local farmers’ market and get them involved in the kitchen. The more you get them involved with what they can eat, the more likely they’ll be to try it.

5. Remember the rule of thumb: your child will decide what he or she will eat, but you as a parent decide what foods and how often. Especially during the ages of two to five, children try to gain their independence with their eating behavior. The less you try to force them to eat, the more likely your child will be able to control their own food intake.

What is your secret to get your picky eater to eat? What has worked for you? Do share!