How to manage aggressive toddler behaviour

Tips to prevent and manage aggressive toddler behaviour

In this episode, I respond to a letter from a mom, who is concerned by her toddler son’s aggressive behaviour.

His behaviour is particularly aggressive around mom. Sometimes he throws terrible tantrums: he kicks, hits and tries to headbutt her. His favourite parent is dad currently, he often asks for him or his grandfather.

Listen to the podcast or read the letter and my advice below.

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The letter:

My son is two years and three months. He has such an awful temper- everyone says its ‘just boys’ or ‘terrible 2s’ but I'm worried it's something more as it seems way beyond this.

He's currently going through a major Daddy phase, where dad is very much the preferred parent. He is very affectionate with his dad and asks for him constantly when he's not there. He's not like this with me often - he says “I don't like Mummy” soon as he sees me in the morning or I come home from work (I work three full days - the rest at home with my son), and he rarely is affectionate with me. If no one else is there, we laugh at times, but I feel he would rather be with his daddy or his grandfather. He hits me - sometimes just when he first sees me but mainly when I am trying to get him to do something he doesn't want to do. He hits me repeatedly hard in my face in a rage. If I hold his wrists, he tries to headbutt or kick me and smirks at me if I tell him off.

I feel I’ve tried everything. We live in a flat and we have a ‘calm down chair’ in his bedroom for him to sit on for 2 minutes for a time out. But he just leans over and throws anything within his reach onto the floor (we dont have alot of room to move them elsewhere). I have tried talking to him calmly and telling him not to hit, tried cuddling him instead to curb his anger- makes him worse, I have tried shouting at him to startle him out of the hitting- he just does it more. I have even tried spanking once or twice (which I know is counter productive but was a last resort) and this has no effect either. I make a big fuss of him whenever he does anything good or surprises me with good behaviour- give him lots of over the top praise and he even has a ‘good boy’ sticker chart. This works for a short time and he seems very proud, but then soon as he doesnt get his own way its back to the incredible hulk child again.

I have just been trying to brush his teeth and he started with the hitting again, and as I’m at my wits' end with it and feeling quite rejected from weeks and weeks of him saying he doesn't like me - I just saw red. I very clearly lost my sh*t in front of him and was visibly angry - I put him on the calm down chair several times, but soon as I took him back to brush his teeth it started again. I didn't want to give into him and not brush his teeth at all! In the end, I was in floods of tears sitting on the floor feeling so completely out of control whilst he stood there looking confused (and quite guilty tbh).

Eventually, I did manage to brush his teeth and he said: “Why you crying Mummy?”- I told him he had been naughty which made me lose my temper and now I’m sad - he said “Sorry Mummy, it's alright, I’m okay now” and cuddled me and gave me a kiss. It made me feel awful and I said sorry to him too. He's gone down for a nap now and I feel like the worst parent ever for getting into that state and allowing him to see it. I rang my husband and explained what had happened whilst crying and he said: “That's not going to help - that will make him worse!”- which I’m obviously aware of and has made me feel even more guilty.

Any words of wisdom on my son's behaviour or tips on how to keep your cool with this sort of thing? Sorry for the essay.


Different parenting styles

Hi, This is Eva and welcome to Wonder Toddlers Podcast, where I answer your letters and I give advice to other parents on various forums.

First of all, you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. Toddlers are very clever, cheeky little creatures, and as I read your letter several times, I have a feeling that you are the one who is doing the most: trying to figure out what’s happening with your son, looking for solutions and trying out different techniques. So, you should be proud of yourself, and you are not doing anything wrong.

As I said, toddlers are smart. What I mean is that they quickly learn how to manipulate people to get what they want. They observe parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, everyone, how they react to their actions. They will sense a pattern and take advantage of it.

So, if you and your partner react, praise, punish differently, and you have different rules in the house, your son will pick a side. If your partner is more forgiving and less strict than you, your son will enjoy his company more.

But, keep it in mind; it doesn’t mean that he loves dad more!

Sit down with your partner and agree on discipline strategies. You both need to follow the rules you set up and be consistent. Your son will soon realise that there is no difference between mom and dad; both of them act and react the same way.

What to do when you and your partner disagree on how to raise the kids

Whoever starts the discipline, she/he needs to finish it, too.

Try to not undermine your partner's decision in front of your children. If your partner told your child, let's say "You can eat a little bit of chocolate after finishing dinner." and it upsets your child because he wanted to eat chocolate before dinner and runs to you complaining, you could say something like this "I understand that it upsets you, but if you find daddy's decision unfair, you need to talk to him."

Share your opinion and suggestions later.

When you disagree with your partner, talk to him later after the time of conflict. Try to solve it where your child can't hear it. Agree to disagree or come up with a solution that both of you like. Arguing doesn't help too much, so share your ideas and opinions what you would do differently next time and give your partner a chance as well to prove that his methods could work.


Handling toddler tantrums

Handling toddler tantrums is not easy, so again, don’t be hard on yourself. I’m proud of you that you tried so many different things! Usually, parents keep repeating the same tactics, that doesn’t work. So, cheer up! When your son throws a tantrum, let him be. If he wants to be on the floor, okay, leave him there until he stops. Don’t move him, unless he kicks or throws things around him, and then you could take him to a corner and make him sit down on the floor, so it is harder for him to reach anything.

8 things you can try:

  1. Some children don't like being touched when they are having a tantrum. If you notice that your son reacts to it badly and gets even more frustrated, just let him calm down by himself.
  2. Talk to him after he stopped the tantrum.
  3. Ignore the tantrum.
  4. Distract him with something, for example, sing a silly song very loud or clap your hands and dance…
  5. No spanking, no shouting… these just simply don’t work…
  6. Don’t let him hit you! It is simply unacceptable! So, don’t even give him a chance, move away, or take him away and let him be. When he calms down, you can talk to him about hitting, but be very simple, use simple and short sentences and be firm.
  7. Motivate him, for example: "After washing your teeth, you can choose a toy to sleep with." or "After you washed your teeth, I will read your favourite book".
  8. Let him be independent: if he does not want you to wash his teeth, let him do it by himself. It is true for anything else. Toddlers love to be independent, so you can give him some freedom, and let him try out things. You will be there anyway if he needs help.


Praising your toddler

Praise with kind words

You don’t need to overpraise him. If he does something spectacular or things he has never done before, then yes. Praise him with kind words and maybe with an extra piece of fruit he likes very much. When something little happens, a simple ‘well done’ or ‘very good’ is enough.

Sticker charts

I have to tell you that I don’t like using stickers or charts with toddlers. They don’t get the concept of it, it does not work, and it is just a plus work for you. I worked six years with toddlers, and our classroom was the only one, who never used sticker charts (only once for potty training, but I think even that was unnecessary) and our children were just fine!

Be a confident parent

Don’t be afraid of your child, and this is my message to your partner as well. When it is time to be firm with your son, then it is time. When it is time to raise your voice or send him to his ‘calming area’, then it is time. Yes, maybe your son won’t like it, and perhaps he will shout even more, but! he will learn that you are the one in charge.


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Hi, it's Eva and I am an Early Years and Parenting Consultant. Here, I am sharing my knowledge about child development and experience in teaching. Have a look around and follow me on SNS to keep in touch!

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