4 Strategies for Fixing Aggression in Kids
I get parent asking questions about this a lot and how to handle it, so I thought it would be a good topic to cover. When it comes to aggressive behavior, aggression in toddlerhood is very normal, 1 year (even younger) up through 4 and even 5, grabbing toys, hitting, biting, kicking and/or pinching. This doesn’t mean it’s acceptable, it just means that it is a normal way of behaving. After I give a little more background on aggressive behavior in kids, then I’ll share what you can do when you see it, to teach better ways of interacting.
What can you do with your child when you see an aggressive incident, he grabs a toy from another child at the park ? or hits a friend when she’s over on a play date? When your child hurts another child by hitting, pinching, kicking, etc.
When There is an Aggressive Incident
1. The first thing you want to do is give attention to the victim without going overboard. Here are a couple of examples, if the child his hit, kicked, etc, “Are you OK?” If someone grabbed a toy, “I know you were happy playing with the toy. Would you like it back?” The reason we don’t want to overdo it with the victim is that we don’t want to instill a victim mentality by showing kids they get tons of attention when they’ve been hurt or wronged. “OH you poor thing that must have hurt SO much, here let me give you big hugs and kisses! Come snuggle with me on my lap!” That’s going a bit overboard, but you get the idea. If either the child who got hurt or the child who did the hurting or even a child just watching sees how much attention it gets, he or she could start to embellish how much they are hurt in the future to get attention AND also to try to get the other child in bigger trouble!
2. Once you give a little attention/acknowledgement to the child who was hurt or wronged, then you give a consequence to perpetrator, “We don’t grab toys! You need to give the toy back right now and come sit out for a few minutes” or “we don’t hit, kick, pinch” or whatever. “You need to come sit out with me until you calm down and find a better way to let your friends know you are upset.”
3. Then you want to coach. The reason for pulling the child aside is not as a “time out” or a punishment. It’s really meant for 2 things, one is it’s a logical consequence. If someone can’t behave properly in that moment, they need time to calm down and it’s only fair that the kids who are playing nicely are able to do so without someone hurting them and/or disrupting the play with an outburst. Second, it’s meant to offer an opportunity for coaching, which is the most important piece of helping kids make better choices going forward.
Coaching a child through an incident has several steps. To hear these steps along with other helpful information on dealing wit aggression, listen to this episode on our podcast.