Toddlers are usually lovable and charming creatures, but when they get out of sorts, they can become downright nasty. One reason for this is that they’re still in the process of developing their verbal communication skills. As a result, when they don’t get what they want or you don’t understand what they mean, some tots become aggressively physical in an effort to make their point. The truth is, even young children can show violent behavior, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Take the Behavior Seriously
It’s only natural for your feelings to get hurt if your toddler is angry or upset and smacks you in the face when you try to comfort her. Even if your child knows that it’s wrong to behave that way, a 2 or 3 year old still hasn’t developed impulse control. Add a child’s individual temperament into the mix, and the fears of extremely sensitive children can come out as uncontrollable anger. Sometimes striking out at others is actually a coping mechanism a child uses when she feels overwhelmed by what’s happening around her. Whether your child’s violent behavior takes the form of intense temper tantrums or acts of physical aggression, the AACAP warns that you need to take the behavior seriously.
Watch for Signs
Heidi Murkoff, author of "What to Expect When You're Expecting," points out that some toddlers show aggressive behavior when they’re tired, stressed or overstimulated. Once you learn to recognize the signs that your child may be on the verge of acting out physically, you may be able to cut him off at the pass by avoiding situations that tend to bring out the worst in him. Encourage your little one to release his pent-up frustration and excess energy in more appropriate ways. Like adults, little ones need to vent sometimes, too. However, he needs to learn to do it without striking out at someone.
One of the best ways to teach your toddler how to control her anger and frustration is to show her how to react to stressful situations calmly. She’s watching every move you make, so you need to be an effective role model. You especially don’t want to make too much of it by overreacting to her aggressive behavior. If you allow yourself to lose your own temper, it’s a safe bet she’ll repeat the behavior the next time she wants to get your attention. Remain calm but tell your toddler in a firm tone that it’s not okay to behave that way. Explain that hitting and kicking hurt.
Tune Out Violence
While you can’t protect your child from every violent influence around him, you can try to minimize his exposure. Limit how much television your child watches. Turn off violence on the news and TV programs that show violent behavior. Even a child’s favorite cartoon characters often portray violence masked as humor. Toys that encourage a child to act aggressively can be a bad influence as well. If you notice signs of aggression when your child is playing with his toys or when he plays with other children, you need to step in right then and explain why it’s not nice to play that way. Let him know immediately that the behavior isn't acceptable. Otherwise, he won't learn.