Helping Aggressive Toddlers – Applying Love and Logic® Skills

Helping Aggressive Toddlers – Applying Love and Logic® Skills

In last week’s blog post, we looked at the critical role of early intervention for preventing aggressive behavior in toddlers from becoming a more serious problem in their later lives.  This week we will look at how applying the techniques of Love and Logic can also be helpful for addressing aggressive behavior in toddlers.

Consistently apply empathy and logical consequences for aggressive behavior.

If there’s scientific proof that spanking and other forms of corporal punishment can backfire 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”

(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 can return. Parents who consistently and properly 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 Love and Logic “Energy Drain” technique. 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 his mother 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 mother had far more energy!

Neutralize arguments and power struggles.

Research on adult-child interaction patterns shows that children who can pull their parents and teachers into power struggles and arguments are significantly more likely to develop severely noncompliant and aggressive behavior in adolescence and adulthood. 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 repeatedly, 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 repeat it every day.”

Successful parents and teachers identify specific behaviors they want kids to perform, and they consistently model and teach these behaviors, such as:

  • How to share
  • How to stand in line without touching others
  • How to say “please” and “thank you”
  • What it looks like to be helpful
  • How to comfort someone who is upset
  • How to listen
  • How to tell others how you feel instead of acting out your feelings by hitting, pushing, etc.
  • How to compromise
  • How to comfort yourself when you don’t get your way

More information on these and other techniques can be found in our book, Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood. For example, step-by-step instructions for the “Uh Oh” song are described on pages 88-90 and the Energy Drain technique is described on pages 123-126. 


Thanks for reading!

Dr. Charles Fay

Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood

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