Helping Aggressive Toddlers – Applying Love and Logic® Skills - Dr. Charles Fay
Thanks for reading! This is the second 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!
To read the final entry in this blog post, please visit Helping Aggressive Toddlers – Aggressive Toddler Cycle & When to Seek Professional Help
Consistently apply empathy and logical consequences for aggressive behavior.
If there’s scientific proof that spanking and other forms of corporal punishment back fire in the long term, what can we do instead? With very young children there are two Love and Logic strategies that clearly apply here:
(1) The “Uh Oh Song”; and (2) The “Energy Drain.”
When a young child is behaving aggressively, one option is to sing “Uh oh” and place the child gently in his or her room, a playpen, or someplace else where we know the child will be safe and will not be able to trick us into giving them more attention while they are misbehaving. Without yelling or threatening, we remove the child from the scene of the crime.
The key to success with the “Uh Oh Song” is to give the child little or no attention… positive or negative… while they are being removed or while they are serving time.
The fewer words we use while the child is misbehaving, the more effective we will be.
Another key to success is to make certain that the child is calm before they are allowed to return.
Before experimenting with the “Uh Oh Song,” be sure to review the step-by-step instructions on pages 88–90 of our book, Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood 2nd Edition.
Parents who consistently apply the “Uh Oh Song” rave about how it has changed their lives for the better. Teachers who slightly modify it for use in their early childhood classrooms do the same.
By four years of age, most kids are ready for the “Energy Drain” approach, which is described on pages 123– 126 of the book mentioned above. A foster mother wrote us and described how she used this with a young boy, Roger, who had turned fighting with his siblings into an art form. Every time Roger hit, she’d inform him, with sincere sadness in her voice, that he had drained her energy. Sadly for Roger, the only way energy could be replaced was to do extra chores for his unhappy, drained mother.
Not long after Mom discovered Love and Logic, Roger was asked by his therapist, “How’s the fighting going?”
Displaying his disgust by rolling his eyeballs back in their sockets, Roger replied, “Don’t do it no more. It drains Mom’s energy. I’m sick and tired of putting energy back into her!”
From that day on, Roger waged far fewer battles, and his foster mom had far more energy!
Neutralize arguments and power struggles.
Research on adult-child interaction patterns shows that children who are able to suck their parents and teachers into power struggles and arguments are significantly more likely to develop severely noncompliant… and aggressive… behavior in adolescence and adulthood (Patterson & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1984).
Fortunately, Love and Logic offers a powerful skill for putting an end to damaging arguments and power struggles!
What’s the first step? Go brain dead. That’s right. Do not think about what an arguing child is saying. If we think too hard, might it be too difficult for us to refrain from falling into the unfortunate trap of lecturing, threatening, arguing, or getting so worn out that we back down? The less we think about what the child is saying, the calmer we will stay.
The second and final step involves repeating just one simple phrase, over and over again, in a calm, empathetic way. My very favorite “argument-ender” is the following:
I love you too much to argue.
Parents and teachers who master the skill of becoming a loving “broken record” when kids argue are parents and teachers whose children are a lot more fun to be around!
Teach social skills and problem solving on a daily basis.
Over years of observing and interviewing hundreds of very successful teachers and parents of special needs children, I’ve noticed that they all seem to say the same thing:
I can’t assume that this child knows how to behave until I have repeatedly taught them and shown them how to behave. I also can’t assume that they will learn it and remember it after I’ve taught it just once, twice, three times, or more. They will eventually learn how to behave only if I teach them just a small amount at a time and review it over and over again each and every day.
Successful parents and teachers identify specific behaviors they want kids to perform, and they repeatedly model and teach these behaviors, such as:
Young children learn through play. Great parents and teachers of young children teach through play. In the following example, Dad teaches three-year-old Ethan a fun lesson in problem solving:
Dad: (Holding Fred, the stuffed skunk) Uh oh, Fred has a big problem!
Dad: His friends are calling him names. They say he smells like a skunk.
Ethan: He IS a skunk!
Dad: Yeah. But it hurts his feelings. What do you think he should do?
Ethan: Maybe bite their noses!
Dad: Oh no. What would happen if he did that?
Ethan: He’d get in big trouble… have to go to his room.
Dad: Yeah. How sad. And then he wouldn’t be able to play anymore. What else could he do?
Ethan: Don’t know.
Dad: What if he was just silly and said, “I know. I’m very, very smelly. Woooo Weeee!” and played with the other kids anyway?
Ethan: Good! Silly!
And so on…
Join us for part three of this series that will discuss the aggressive toddler cycle, breaking the cycle, effective interventions and when to seek professional help. Please see below for the references to research made in this post.
Find more solutions for aggressive toddlers and preschoolers in the audio, Avoiding Power Struggles with Kids.
Patterson, G. & Stouthamer-Loeber, J. (1984). The correlation of family management practices and delinquency. Child Development, 55, 1299–1307.