Toddler Tantrums: Hitting, Kicking, Scratching, and Biting

Most toddlers get aggressive sometimes. Tantrums and aggressive behaviours—hitting, kicking, scratching, and biting—don’t mean you’re a bad parent, but they are a call to action.

Why Little Kids Get Nasty

An aggressive young child, at least up to the age of three, is not being “bad” or disobedient. They are trying to tell you something, and haven’t yet developed the language skills or emotional habits to communicate more effectively. Either that, or they don’t feel you’re listening to them, and violence is the only way to get your attention.

Toddler aggression usually happens when a little one is not getting what they want, whether that want is reasonable (food, attention, a cuddle), or not (candy, someone else’s toy, something dangerous). And context matters. Quite predictably, toddlers are more likely to be aggressive when they’re tired, worried, not feeling well, hungry, or otherwise stressed.

Looked at from a child’s eye view, lashing out at someone is a reasonable reaction to the powerlessness of being a toddler. What else can they do?

How to Respond to a Young Child Who Has Lost Control

To begin with, punishment doesn’t help. In fact, you getting angry or impatient just makes things worse, exacerbating the frustration that led to your child’s bad behaviour, as well as demonstrating that anger and impatience are okay.

When your child gets violent, you have a great opportunity to fine-tune your parenting, and to help your child understand and communicate what they’re thinking and feeling. If you can find a way to welcome your young child’s act of aggression as a great teachable moment, you’re more likely to retain your sense of humour and perspective, and to act wisely and well in that moment.

Here are four simple steps for stopping toddler aggression, and teaching some important new skills in the process:

Stop the Aggression

Do what you need to do—gently, but seriously—to stop your child from being physically aggressive. If they’re hitting you, for example, or trying to hit, hold their hands firmly enough—with kindness—to ensure they won’t be effective. If your child was brandishing a loaded gun, you wouldn’t hesitate to take that weapon away. Hitting, scratching, kicking, and biting are no different. Hands, nails, teeth, and feet are the weapons available to the toddler. It’s your job to ensure they learn they cannot use their weapons on others.

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Courtesy of Psychology Today