It is the moment that every parent dreads: you get a call from your toddler's daycare saying that she is pushing other kids and being aggressive. You might wonder what you are doing wrong as a parent. The answer is that you are probably not doing anything wrong at all. According to Dr. Sears, pediatrician and childcare expert, toddlers are often aggressive for a variety of reasons, and while pushing and aggressive behaviors are undesirable, they are normal.
Children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old are learning that they are individuals. They are exploring the boundaries between themselves and their parents and family. This leads many toddlers to be quick to express their likes and dislikes and to assert their opinions to show that they are independent people. This same impulse also leads to toddlers frequently saying "No" and other behaviors that may appear to be defiant.
Toddlers also push other toddlers, as well as act aggressively in other ways, to communicate their feelings. Because toddlers have limited vocabularies, they have a difficult time expressing themselves through words, especially when they are upset. Harvey Karp, MD, author of "The Happiest Toddler on the Block," compares toddlers to cavemen, in that they can only express their feelings in primitive ways. As a result, they turn to pushing, or even hitting or biting, to communicate displeasure, such as when another toddler gets too close to them, or simply to show that they feel angry and overwhelmed.
Poor Impulse Control
Toddlers have poor impulse control, which makes the urge to push difficult to resist. Older toddlers may even realize that pushing is wrong and that they may be punished for it, but they are not yet emotionally ready or they do not have the words to express themselves in other ways. As a result, when they feel the urge to act our physically, they may be less able to ignore those urges and act in more appropriate ways.
Controlling Aggressive Behavior
Fortunately, toddlers can be taught that pushing other toddlers and acting aggressively is wrong. When you see your toddler pushing, tell him right away that pushing is wrong and place him on a timeout. The timeout will give him time to cool down, as well as to connect the negative behavior with punishment. Then, when you see positive behavior, such as your toddler walking away from another toddler when he is upset rather than pushing, reward it by telling him he did a good job managing his feelings.