Aggressive behavior in toddlers is a concern for parents today. In this first blog post of a two-part series, we will address basic strategies that are effective with aggressive toddlers. Next week we will look at how Love and Logic skills can be helpful with these kids.
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:
- Potentially long-term aggressive behavior can very accurately be identified in children as young as age three or four.
- This antisocial behavior will very likely continue well into adulthood if intervention has not stopped it by the end of the third grade.
- Early intervention in homes, schools, and communities is the critical key to preventing aggressive toddlers and preschoolers from becoming violent teens and adults.
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 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. 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? Don’t 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?
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 for young children to be actively learning about their world 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 that are essential for success in school by sitting like zombies in front of the television? No way!
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. Although the parents think spanking is responsible for their success, what has really created such nice kids is all the loving limits, guidance, and effective parenting techniques they are using. When I ask how often they spank their children, these parents usually have a very difficult time remembering the last time. The 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.” Researchers have observed that, in general, young children who are spanked display far more aggressive behavior than those who aren’t.
Less sophisticated and less wise parents ignore 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 next week for part two of this series that discusses empathy, logical consequences, power struggles, and more! You can also find more solutions for aggressive toddlers and preschoolers in Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood.
Thanks for reading!