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Helping Aggressive Toddlers - Aggressive Toddler Cycle & When to Seek Professional Help - Dr. Charles Fay


Thanks for reading! This is the final post in the Helping Aggressive Toddlers blog series. If you wish to start this series from the beginning, please visit Helping Aggressive Toddlers – There’s Good News!

If you wish to go back to part two of the series, please visit Helping Aggressive Toddlers – Applying Love and Logic® Skills

Systematically attend to positive behavior.

How often does the following vicious cycle develop in the lives of aggressive toddlers?

  1. The child hits, kicks, bites, or does something else hurtful.
  2. A well-meaning adult quickly gives the aggressive child far too much attention in the form of warnings, lectures, or “punishments.”
  3. Subconsciously, the child learns that they receive the lion’s share of the attention every child craves (albeit negative attention) when they are behaving poorly.
  4. The child acts out more frequently to get this attention.
  5. Well-meaning adults quickly give the child even more attention when he/she acts aggressively.
  6. The cycle repeats itself over and over again, intensifying with each repetition.

The key to breaking this dangerous cycle involves paying close attention to the child and systematically “noticing” when they are performing the behaviors we want. More specifically, this aggression “antidote” involves the follow sequence of actions:

  1. When the child is behaving, move over to the child, kneel down, and smile.
  2. Look into their bright little eyes.
  3. Give them a gentle pat on the back, a “high five,” or a hug.
  4. Describe the positive behavior you just witnessed, using the format, “I noticed…”

Far too frequently, we heap far too much nonspecific praise upon children. The more specific and precise our description of the behavior, the more successful we will be. For example, “I noticed that you shared the red truck with Jamie” will surely yield more favorable results than, “I noticed you are being so nice and sweet.” In my presentations, I often give this tip:

Notice and specifically describe… rather than praise.

Consult with qualified medical and mental health professionals.

Listed are just a few possible causes of aggressive behavior in young children:

  1. Poor parenting
  2. Trauma in the form of abuse or neglect
  3. Brain damage due to closed-head injury, lack of oxygen during the birth process, prenatal exposure to drugs, alcohol, or other toxins, etc.
  4. Genetic abnormalities
  5. Other health problems
  6. Marital problems resulting in family instability
  7. Observation of aggressive peers

The list goes on.

Wise parents don’t hesitate to consult with qualified medical and mental health professionals in order to rule out as many potential causes for the aggression as possible and treat the ones that seem to be playing a role in the problem

Apply multiple effective interventions simultaneously.

The research is clear. The more helpful things we do to address the problem… and do at the same time… the greater the chances of success (Henry, 1987; Webster- Stratton & Hammond, 1997).

For example, an ineffective plan for Amy, a very aggressive youngster, might involve simply delivering a logical consequence each time she acts out.

An effective plan would involve not only delivering a logical consequence each time Amy acted aggressively, but also many other components, including limiting her exposure to TV and videos, modeling and teaching social skills, systematically attending to her positive behavior, adding family therapy, making sure that the home and daycare are “on the same page,” etc.

There’s great hope for little tykes who’ve fallen into the habit of terrorizing their homes and classrooms. That is, as long as the caring adults around them take immediate and decisive action. Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a chronically disruptive, aggressive toddler will grow out of it. The world can’t afford another violent teenager!

Thank you for reading our blog series Helping Aggressive Toddlers! We hope this gives you some ideas you can implement with your toddler. Find more solutions to aggressive toddlers and preschoolers in Love and Logic Magic When Little Ones Leave You Speechless.

Part 1: Helping Aggressive Toddlers – There’s Good News!

Part 2: Helping Aggressive Toddlers – Applying Love and Logic® Skills


Henry, G. (1987). Symbolic modeling and parent behavioral training: Effects on noncompliance of hyperactive children. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 18, 105–113.

Webster-Stratton, C. & Hammond, M. (1997). Treating children with early-onset problems: A comparison of child and parent training interventions. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65 (1), 93–109.


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