What to do about your toddler’s aggressive behavior

Toddlers and tantrums go hand in hand. As children grow, however, some tantrums teeter into aggressive behavior.

“Parents often wonder how they can address a toddler’s biting or hitting, or help calm severe emotional outbursts,” said Dr. Peter Lindgren, a pediatrician with Intermountain Healthcare. “A good starting point is to address the specific behavior, help children calm themselves, and when they’re behaving, praise them.”

Jade Elliott spoke with Dr. Lindgren about tantrums and aggressive behavior and how to address them on this episode of the Baby Your Baby Podcast.

Here are four tips to address aggressive behaviors:

Teach children to say how they feel. Parents can say things, like, “Mommy is feeling really frustrated right now.” They also can observe their child may be feeling, such as, “It looks like you’re feeling sad.”

Model positive ways to calm down. The American Association of Pediatrics suggests a parent frustrated about being stuck in traffic could say something like this: “Daddy is really frustrated right now. Please help me calm down by taking 10 deep breaths with me.”

Pay attention to what you pay attention to. If you direct your attention only to misbehavior, you’ll get more misbehavior, Dr. Lindgren said. Pay attention to the behaving child, and point out specific positive behaviors, such as “Good job on using your inside voice.”

Take a time-out in a safe place without toys. “It’s important that time out doesn’t become a punishment, or something you do when angry. Take a few deep breaths, remain calm, and tell the child, ‘time out – hitting,’” Dr. Lindgren said. “Once the child is calm, even for a moment, praise him and invite him to come out.”

Here are some additional ways to help children improve behavior, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics:

  •  Build structure and routines in your children’s day, and make sure they’re getting enough sleep
  • Use discipline strategies to guide and teach instead of punish.
  • Be calm and consistent when disciplining your children.
  • Understand a child’s negative behaviors have benefited them in some way in the past.
  • Reinforce good behavior with praise and repetition.
  • Anticipate and plan for situations and your children’s behavior.

If things aren’t getting better, make sure you and your child are getting enough sleep. Recognize family changes, a new house, a violent event in the community may create stress in the child’s body that makes him unable to focus or control his emotions. In such cases, respond in a nurturing way instead of with discipline, and return to a routine to help him find a sense of safety and control.

“Talk to your pediatrician if behaviors continue to escalate or you have additional concerns,” Dr. Lindgren said. “We will work with children and help connect families to additional resources they may need.”

For more information visit intermountainhealthcare.org.

The Baby Your Baby program provides many resources for all pregnant women and new moms in Utah. There is also expert advice from the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare that air each week on KUTV 2News.