Aggressive toddlers and preschoolers benefit most from positive parental interventions when acting in unhelpful ways.
When a young child acts aggressively it is typically a sign that she is feeling upset, scared or overwhelmed. Aggression can also be a sign your child has unmet needs. It’s normal and very typical for toddlers and preschoolers to struggle with aggression. With help from parents, young children can learn how to express anger in more helpful ways.
To help children learn to better respond to overwhelm and anger, aggression is best seen not as bad behavior but instead as a request for parental guidance and validation.
So, what kind of discipline (guidance) do children need when they act aggressively?
As parents, keeping our cool and helping children navigate intense feelings is key to reducing aggression and very important for healthy development. Additionally, research shows that a parenting style that is firm and affectionate (kind and loving) is more likely to reduce aggression than a coercive, power and punishment based approach.
Here are 8 ideas that may help you keep calm and respond in a positive way to aggressive behavior:
1. Aim to understand and accept :We don’t have to excuse aggression from toddlers and preschoolers or pretend it didn’t happen. That would be permissive. Instead, aim to approach it from a place of care and understanding so you can parent by supporting your child through intense feelings instead of punishing them away.
Bonnie Harris, author of When Your Kids Push Your Buttons: And What You Can Do About It explains:
“Unconditional acceptance does not mean accepting the behavior; it does mean accepting the child who is behaving this way and knowing that she can’t do anything else right now; that she is feeling the way she is. Acceptance tells the child, “You’re okay.” Acceptance means my child is free to have his own needs and to hold his own perceptions, beliefs, and opinions.
So “What does my child need right now?” is probably the most helpful question you can ask when faced with aggressive behavior. Don’t focus on what you need to teach or correct just yet. (That will come later, when your child is calm).