Helping Aggressive Toddlers – There’s Good News! - Dr. Charles Fay
Aggressive behavior in toddlers is a growing concern among parents and teachers today. Upon hearing this I decided to write a blog series addressing aggressive behavior in toddlers. Over the course of the three blog posts I will look at relevant research, Love and Logic skills and the implementation of effective strategies with aggressive toddlers.
What’s the “bottom line” about chronically aggressive toddlers and preschoolers? Without powerfully effective intervention… before they enter kindergarten… the odds are very high that they will experience repeated failure in school and face a life filled with frustration and disappointments. The odds are also very high that they will inflict a great deal of emotional and physical pain upon others. These are strong words for a serious issue. Let’s not beat around the bush and pretend that little tykes who chronically punch, kick, bite, or display any other aggressive behavior will simply grow out of it. Time is of critical importance here! Listed below are three important facts agreed upon by experts on this issue (for example, see Campell & Ewing, 1990; Offord & Bennett, 1994; Walker, Colvin & Ramsey, 1995.):
Despite these frightening facts, there’s good news! Based on the wonderful research conducted over the past quarter century, we now have an excellent understanding of how to prevent early aggressive behavior from becoming a lifelong pattern. The remainder of this blog series is devoted to taking a closer look at the essential components of effective early intervention.
What can we do on a daily basis to help young children adopt peaceful… rather than painful… behavior?
Begin intervention as early in the child’s life as possible.
Time can be our biggest ally… or our biggest enemy. If we begin intervention very early, the odds are quite high that we’ll be successful. In contrast, research shows that if a child is still chronically aggressive at age nine or ten the odds of successful intervention are extremely low (Walker, Colvin & Ramsey, 1995).Don’t waste time thinking that any aggressive child will simply “grow out of it.”
Limit exposure to television and videos.
Do I really need to say much here? Do we already know from decades of research… and common sense… that little ones copy what they see? Can we really ignore the negative effects of children viewing unhealthy behavior on television or in videos? (For research on the topic, see NIMH, 1982; Liebert & Sprefkin, 1988; Huston et. al., 1992.)
Unfortunately, common sense just isn’t as common as it once seemed to be.
And don’t be fooled by movie ratings or the fact that a television show airs on Saturday morning! There’s no substitute for previewing any videos or TV shows your young children might see.
There’s another issue here: During the time when it is critical that young children are actively learning about their worlds through movement and play, does it make sense that they are spending time sitting passively in front of a screen? Is there any way that young children can learn the complex social, behavioral, and cognitive skills essential for success in school by sitting like zombies in front of the television? No way!
The more television a child watches, the more problems he or she will eventually have in school. It’s just that simple.
Practice alternatives to spanking.
I’ve met many naturally great parents, with very nice children, who believe that spanking really works. These parents swear by it, and their kids seem to be living proof that a whack on the bottom magically imparts responsible behavior.
A closer look at these good families tells the real tale. While the parents think spanking is responsible for their success, what has really created such nice kids is all of the loving limits, guidance, and effective techniques they are using. When I ask how often they actually have to spank their children, these parents usually have a very difficult time remembering the last time. The real truth of the matter is that their kids are good kids because they are good and loving parents… not because they consider spanking a good technique.
The wisest and most sophisticated parents understand that little tykes copy the behavior of the “big” people around them. If a child has already shown signs of aggression, does it make any sense, whatsoever, to teach them a new battlefield technique by administering a hand to their butt? One smart mother commented, “It doesn’t make a lick of sense to spank a kid when that kid has already made a habit of ‘spanking’ others.”
Smart parents also realize that their children will someday be in charge of selecting their nursing homes.
Researchers have observed that, in general, young children who are spanked display far more aggressive behavior than those who aren’t (see for example Sears, Maccoby, & Levin 1957; Strassberg, Dodge, Petit, & Bates, 1994; Straus, Sugarman & Giles-Sims, 1997). Can we truly ignore all of this research?
Less sophisticated and less wise parents ignore all of these facts and attempt to argue that spanking teaches kids a good lesson. These are often the parents whose children are hanging on by an emotional thread. How sad.
Join us for part two of this series that discusses empathy, logical consequences, power struggles and more! Please see below for the references to research made in this post.
Find more solutions for aggressive toddlers and preschoolers in Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood 2nd Edition.
Campell, S. & Ewing. (1990). Follow-up of hard to manage preschoolers: Adjustment at age 9 and predictors of continuing symptoms. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31 (6), 871–889.
Huston, A., Donnerstein, E., Fairchild, H., Feshbach, N., Katz, P., Murray, J., Rubinstein, E., Wilcox, B. & Zucker- man, D. (1992). Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Liebert, R. & Sprefkin. (1988). The Early Window: Effects of Television on Children and Youth. New York: Pergamon.
Sears, R., Maccoby, E. & Levin, H. (1957). Patterns of Child Rearing. New York: Harper and Row.
Strassberg, Z., Dodge, K., Petit, G. & Bates, J. (1994). Spanking in the home and children’s subsequent aggression toward kindergarten peers. Development Psychopathology, 6, 445–461.
Straus, M., Sugarman, D. & Giles-Sims, J. (1997). Spanking by parents and subsequent antisocial behavior of children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 151, 761–767.
NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) (1982). Television and Behavior: Ten Years of Scientific Progress and Implications for the Eighties, Volume 1 . Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Offord, D. & Bennett, K. (1994). Conduct disorder: Long-term outcomes and intervention effectiveness. Journal of American Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 33 (8), 1069–1078.
Walker, H., Colvin, G. & Ramsey, E. (1995). Antisocial Behavior in School: Strategies and Best Practices. Albany, NY: Brooks/Cole.