Your toddler has made huge gains in development since birth, but at this stage, he still has trouble using words to communicate his feelings. This might result in aggressive behavior when his emotions get the best of him. Some aggressive impulses in toddlers are normal, notes Michael Thompson, Ph.D., but consistent aggression might indicate a problem. If you're concerned, talk to your son's pediatrician for further evaluation.
In many cases, aggressive behavior appears when your toddler encounters a situation that makes him angry or frustrated and he doesn't have the words to tell you what he's feeling. This might happen when he's overwhelmed at a play date, if there are too many kids on the playground, he's angry at nap time, doesn't want to eat his lunch or wants a toy that his sibling is playing with. Some children naturally have trouble regulating strong emotions, making them lash out with aggression when another child might take it in stride. Sometimes, aggression is a natural by-product of playing cops and robbers, superheroes or war games.
Common Aggressive Behaviors
If your toddler is just playing games, you might see him swooping in to slay the bad guy with a toy sword or robbing the bank, according to the PBS Parents website. This kind of aggressive play is a normal part of your son's development. However, if he drops a toy and responds by kicking it across the room, you might have an issue to deal with. Other aggressive behaviors you might see in your toddler son include hitting, biting, pushing, slapping and grabbing, adds Zero to Three.
What to Do
You might be tempted to write off aggression in toddlers as just a phase. While this might be the case, teaching them to manage their emotions is vital for helping them cope as they get older. After all, a teenager who slaps you when he's angry isn't quite as easy to move past as when your toddler does it. The Healthy Children website suggests praise for desired behaviors and teaching him appropriate responses when he gets aggressive. Tell him to say, "I'm angry" rather than biting your hand. It's also important to model the non-aggressive behaviors you want to see. You can't expect your toddler to stay calm when you're late if you kick the car and throw your keys when you're running behind.
When to Get Help
While some aggression is normal for toddler boys, there are instances when it's necessary to let his pediatrician know what's going on. If nothing else, you can get some new tips for stopping and handling the behavior as well as finding out if there's something else that needs to be addressed, such as a behavior or emotional disorder. The University of Michigan Health System recommends calling the doctor if your son hurts someone or himself or loses control. Yes, these are also normal parts of toddlerhood, but left untreated, aggressive behavior can intensify and cause problems in school and in relationships.