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Aggression in Toddlers

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Toddlers > Aggression in Toddlers


Questions More Toddler Aggression

Very active 2-year-old hurting himself and others

April 2006

Is it possible for a 2-year-old to have ADHD? My two-year-old has been very active since I can remember. He walked at 10 months he began to speak at 12 months. Once he started talking he never stopped. Although he was walking at 10 months he seems to be very accident prone and clumsy. He has had trouble feeding since he was born and seems to wear his shoes out faster than any child I know has. He has trouble sitting down during “circle time at school.” He can’t even sit for two minutes. He hits other children and has problems with sharing and taking turns. He is always climbing on things. He has begun to have tantrums at school and throw things. I have been working with him at home at the request of his teacher and nothing seems to be working. He is having even more trouble now that his cousin is in his class. He hits his cousin a lot and disturbs him as well as other children during class time. However he seems to be learning a lot. He can count to 10, say his alphabets, he is almost potty trained, he can identify animals and some flowers, he can identify foods, and specific names of toys. I am not sure what to do for him. Each day I pick him up from school there is a note in his box saying he hit someone or fell down and hurt himself. I can’t stop crying because I don’t know what to do with him. I need a support group parenting class or something to help me help him. I am thinking I may even need counseling myself because this is very overwhelming as a first time mother. Can any one offer any advice or referrals?


Your message broke my heart! My son would certainly have been described this way at that age, and now he's a thoughtful, quiet boy who has a much longer attention span than most his age (5). He was WAY off the scale on activity level -- other kids sat quietly and obediently in music class, my son climbed the walls.

Here are my thoughts, without knowing all the specifics: First, I get dismayed when I hear of schools and teachers getting upset with kids for behavior problems that occur at school -- at my son's school, school behavior is handled at school. So much of what you described -- can't sit still, runs and climbs all day, fast talker and walker -- are just signs of an intelligent, active, curious child. All of that is fine. The only concerning behavior is hitting, and honestly the school ought to be able to manage your son's hitting at school.

My son was more of a pusher and for a short while a biter -- it's a phase, they outgrow it, and if handled correctly at school they soon realize it's no way to make friends. I wouldn't worry. Instead, I might think about looking around for a school that is more open and confident in their own ability to help children develop appropriate school behavior. It might be helpful for you to take a parenting class or get some help NOT with your son's behavior but to make you feel more confident in your own abilities as a parent and not to respond so strongly to such feedback. I wish you luck. I am sure your son will calm down -- his behavior sounds very much in the normal range to me. anon, sorry


I had to respond to your email. Please consider- and consider strongly- the possibility that there may be nothing different about your 2 y.o. boy except that he is very bright and very energetic. As the parent of a child with learning disabilities, I am not opposed to proper diagnostic labeling. In fact, I applaud proper intervention and diagnosis. However, your boy is only two years old in a culture where boys are expected to do many organized activities that might be very difficult for them, as they gain these skills later and differently than girls. This may become more pronounced as he gets older and enters kindergarten and the early grades. I'd suggest you take your son to a developmental pediatrician if at all possible. Ann Parker (who may not be taking new patients) and Brad Berman (''Progressions, ''925-279-3480) are both excellent. They have the experience and training to help you better understand your spirited boy. Other developmental pediatricians are listed on this board at parents.berkeley.edu/recommend/medical/Pedi/devpedi.html - A Brad Berman fan
I'm sorry you're having such a tough time. My daughter, who is about to turn one, is also very active and I know how challenging it is. I really do understand, so please don't take it as criticism when I urge you to hold off on pathologizing your son's personality.

He sounds like an unusually bright, curious, energetic boy who wants to see and touch and do everything. Try to take pride in his active mind and body and his vibrant style. I think self-regulation is harder for kids like this. My daughter needs more help ''turning off'' than other babies; she always has. Kids develop differently, at different paces. Somehow, everyone accepts this when it comes to learning to walk, climb, etc. --things our kids did early-- but not learning to calm down, sit still, etc. -- things kids like ours learn a bit late.

Here's my one practical suggestion, which may or may not be something you can consider. If your finances allow it, taking him out of group childcare for another year or two might not be a bad thing. If you, your partner, or a nanny could stay home with him, he might not be so frustrated. He's only two, and given his personality, he may just be too young to handle a group care setting without becoming overwhelmed. Learning is obviously not an issue, since he's already so advanced, so I wouldn't worry about him losing any benefits of school. It might seem counterintuitive, but he might develop better social skills in the long run if he takes a break from school now. I would worry about him being labeled a ''problem'' or a ''bad boy'' and internalizing this, when he's just an especially bright, active toddler who is finding the demands of school overwhelming.

I know it's hard (believe me!) but try to have faith him, be proud of his strengths, and stay on his side. My guess is that if he doesn't learn to interpret his differences as bad and wrong, he will grow into a wonderful, interesting, intelligent young man. Anon


As a young child my son behaved similarly to the way you describe your son . I thought all of it was pretty normal boy behavior. He was/is physical, energetic and quick to get things, eager for more. The world moves much too slowly for him generally. In short, he is a boy's boy, the kind of man you will be happy to have alongside you in a crisis because he has boundless energy and is inventive and resourceful. All of these things are gifts, as far as I am concerned, and it is important for you and for him to find a pre-school situation that allows him as much physical activity as possible. Why should a two-year-old be forced to sit for ten minutes in circle time? This is the kind of thing that literally had him climbing the walls. When my son was your son's age I had him in a kind caring and very gentle pre-school with progressive values. It was a terrible match for him. The teacher was overwhelmed by his boisterousness and from time to time actually did my son physical harm in trying to get him to settle down. He was bored by this place which only aggravated his problems with self control, isolated him and shamed him for what were his natural urges to move and to explore. Things improved dramatically when I got him into a smaller situation where the teacher was better with this kind of boy understanding that he needed distraction, stimulation and movement rather than confinement, lectures and punishments.

I hope you can get some help for yourself and learn to appreciate the gifts your son has and the delight of him. It does get better over time. My son is fabulous now, not medicated and and doing very well as a Philosophy major at UC Berkeley. Socially he's always had a tough time but once he finds a friend, he is a friend for life. He's a very hard worker, an idealist and champion of the excluded because of his isolation for a lot of grade school when the lesson boys like him get is that they are problem children and out of control. In fact his ambition is to be a lawyer who champions the rights of children. Even now he needs to exercise every day for two hours at a minimum, but that restless mind of his is a huge advantage in a world that moves very fast. very proud mom


Your posting reminded me of our difficult and emotional year when our son, now 7, was at a montessori preschool stuggling. We had many conferences with the teacher about his behavior. Looking back, it was a mistake for us to keep our son at this preschool (he was there for about a year); the school was not willing to work with us as we actively tried to work with our son and doctors to diagnose if/what the problem was. They continually labled my son as a problem child, and focused on discipline for his lack of cooperation. This was ignorant, as we later found out from professionals, because we (both my husband and I, and the school) were asking my son to do something he wasn't capable of, regardless of incentives/punishments. The school was not a ''good fit'' for our child and our 3 year old was trying to tell us this. I was saddened as well as angered that the school was not willing to work with any child with ANY kind of disabilities. You may want to consider a different preschool. It made a world of difference to our son, who we finally moved to a low-key, loving accepting preschool where he was happy. Having him at a place where he is happy and comfortable will favorably affect his perceptions of himself, his peers, and his school experience. If your son has any disabilities,these are biological, and are thus not his fault; his behavior may be due to biological factors beyond his control, or just out of frustration because he cannot conform to a very limited view of what a 2 year old is capable of. It made a world of difference to get a professional opinion, which we did through a private behavioral pediatrician. Also, the local school district evaluated him (for no cost), and gave him ongoing speech therapy (which was really social skills training). Our son is now in first grade, doing well, and learning how to cope with his attention problems with positive support from teachers and parents. Anon
Your post sounds almost exactly the way my mother in law describes my husband at age 2 (and older). He's now a very energetic and successful guy who uses his words to resolve disputes (he's a lawyer). As a child, however, he was much more prone to using his fists (which was not nearly as socially unacceptable in the 50s as it is now). While it is important to socialize our children and re-direct their natural impulses to express frustration physically, it is also important to recognize this is NORMAL. What is a two year old supposed to do when he's mad - write a poem? He's just barely learned how to talk, for heaven's sake. I would ask your preschool what it is you are supposed to do with these daily reports on his "bad" behavior? (Personally, I'd save them in a scrapbook for you to look back and laugh about later). Are they just documenting problems so that they can kick him out, or what is the point? And, I also wonder whether the preschool is keeping a close enough eye on the kids. The school should have enough adults close at hand to stop most fights over toys before they degenerate to blows. They can't ALWAYS stop hitting before it happens, of course, but they can't rely on 2-4 year old kids to exhibit self-control - they won't. As for sitting still in circle time - most boys can't do this until kindergarten (and even then have trouble). And finally, keep in mind that although the ability to sit still will help a child grow up to be a great factory worker, someone who is energetic, intelligent and yes -- even (gasp!!) aggressive will probably be able to accomplish a bit more in life. Good luck. Fran
Here's another thought: Perhaps your son would be happier in a small, cozy, home-like family daycare setting until he turns three or four. There ARE some good ones out there run by folks (often stay-at-home moms) with experience and child development certificates or full teaching credentials.

BANANAS has lots of referrals and useful information on how to find a high-quality home daycare provider who is a good fit. I highly recommend Bobbie Connolly's Jungle of Fun in North Oakland and Hug-a-Bug in El Cerrito.

Your son sounds an awful lot like my daughter at the same age. I had her in a home daycare until she was almost 4 because my attempt to put her in a larger, more formal toddler/preschool program didn't work out. Now she's in preschool, loves it, and is doing great ... though she still does wander off during circle time and almost never sits still.

Perhaps your son gets angry and hits because he doesn't have the vocabulary and skills required to express his feelings constructively -- yet. This is totally normal and is why many folks refer to this stage as ''the terrible two's.''

He also also must feel terribly frustrated by having his lively curiosity and exuberant energy so persistently thwarted by his teachers' expectations. He may find the classroom environment itself -- with its vast amount of space, high noise levels, and so many other kids -- to be extremely overwhelming.

It can't hurt to talk with your pediatrician, check things out with a specialist, and educate yourself. ADD/ADHD is hereditary. Since my husband and I both have it, it's likely that our daughter could have it. So I'm trying to be proactive. But it's probably too early to tell. My daughter is 4 and I still don't know for sure.

Your son sounds like a wonderful little guy and deserves a teacher/childcare provider who understands and appreciates his strengths, and has the time, patience and flexibility to work with him in the areas where he needs some help. Hang in there! It DOES get easier. -- Been There, Still There


Aggressive toddler - worried about preschool

Sept 2004

We have a son who is approaching an age where we are starting to think about preschool. While he is a bright, happy, fun child, he also has a problem with being too rough or even aggressive with other children. And the strange thing is, this behavior is often unprovoked. He will sort of ''go after'' another child out of the blue. It seems like he is trying to play with them but it definitely gets too rough. We have been working and working with him on this, and frankly, often it seems like its something he can't control, like a synapse fires and he goes from a relatively calm, focused kid to jumping on another kids head. He has been like this for most of his life and the behavior has sort of waxed and waned, but we can't really pinpoint why it happens. He definitely knows the difference between gentle and rough, but he either can't control it or won't. We are trying to teach him how to engage in play with other children and are starting to think that preschool might help. But the question is, what type of preschool would be good for him? Are there any Berkeley preschools that you know of that would be really good at helping him with his behavior issue? What type of school in general should I be looking for? Play based? More structured? And what do I say to the preschool staff? I don't want him to get labeled as a bad kid, but he does have this issue and he does need to be watched pretty closely. Also, does anybody have any experience with this kind of behavior in general? Thanks for any advice you can give me. anon


You mention his behavior is unprovoked and often out of the blue, so one avenue you might research is Sensory Integration and work with a good O.T. to help him regulate himself at school. I think Herrick Hospital - 204-4599 - has great O.T.'s (Susan or Stacey), and also Cindy Ng is wonderful (private practice 415-203-8156). Good luck. anon
Hi, My foster brother had the same problem as you are describing in your child. It turned out to be an food intolerance. He got hyperactive and agressive from sugar and food colouring. As soon as he was taken of these foods he was the sweetest kid ever. He is 14 right now and outgrew it, but as a kid he knew he felt better by not eating foods that contained either. Hope this helps. merlijn
I could have written your message two years ago; in fact, I think I may have. My son is also very physical, and is unintentionally rougher with other children then they, and I, like. It's hard. I can't tell you how many playgroups I have left in tears after my son mauled the other children left and right. One thing you should know is that, while this behavior has gone on most of my son's life, it did ease a lot shortly after his second birthday. It's not gone, but as he matures and his communication improves, it's better.

But you asked about preschool. For us, preschool was a godsend. We started our son the fall he was two in a great, traditional, fairly structured, small, play-based school. Heck, I'll name the school. It's Gay Austin, on Hopkins in Berkeley. We could not be more pleased. I intentionally chose a small school, so that any undesireable behavior was likely to be noticed and stopped. And the structure is important for a rule tester. I really felt that, in a larger or less structured environment, my son would have been swinging from the chandeliers and burning down the building. But despite my carefull planning, I was terrified that they would kick my son out the first week. I worried about him being labeled ''the bad kid''. But you know what? The teacher told me that, in about 50 years of the school's existence, they have never kicked a kid out for behavior problems, and mine certainly isn't the worst they've seen. We're now in our second year at Gay Austin, and I am so grateful to them, for not only coping with my handful of a son, but loving him.

School has been a godsend for our son. He is so social that he gets bored at home with mommy, even though I try to keep things fun. I believe that some of this ''unintentional aggression'' is a desire to be social without the maturity to know how. The right school will help your son channel his impulses and learn to get along in a group. And kids are always better at school than for their parents -- they save their best tricks for the ones who love them most. Sad but true.

I could write a novel on the topic, but I hope I've helped. It's hard having the wild kid. I don't have any real advice other than to read ''Raising your Spirited Child'' and working on your patience. I think preschool is one of the best gifts you could give your son, so he knows how to act in a group before the work gets hard. And trust me, there's nothing an experienced teacher hasn't seen before. Mom of a wild man


Agressive 2-year-old daughter at daycare

August 2004

My 27-month-old daughter, who has always been physically expressive, has been acting aggressively at her day care for the last six months or so. Her caregivers believe that this is going beyond ''normal'' toddler aggression -- every so often, and sometimes daily for several days in a row, she'll push, hit, or scratch other kids (not all at once), apparently without any provocation. Occasionally, she bites. This behavior occurs only in certain venues; I've never seen her act aggressively at a park or during a play date. She sometimes tries to bite or hit her father or me or the family cats, but we've had a lot of success with telling her the behavior isn't okay and giving her brief ''chill'' period where we sit with her in a glider for several minutes -- sort of an accompanied time-out. This seems to keep things from escalating, and lately she's been a lot better at home. However, her behavior at day care has been steadily deteriorating. I'm not sure why she's acting this way, although I suspect she's looking for adult attention or -- as one of her care providers has speculated -- she's bored and trying to shake things up. According to my daughter, the caregivers have responded talking to her, by asking her to help them care for the injured child, and lately by separating her from the rest of the class. These measures upset her but haven't been effective in changing her behavior, and the caregivers are too busy to use the one-on-one approach that's been working at home. I am eager to help my child learn how to curtail her physical aggression, not least because I'm concerned for the other kids she's around, and I'm looking for advice from parents who have found themselves in a similar situation and from teachers who might help us figure out the best way to work with her caregivers. I'm also curious to know whether there are any other resources that might prove useful; I've looked at the BPN archives and read Raising Your Spirited Child and Positive Discipline (none of which addressed this particular situation), but I haven't yet consulted with any professionals and I'm starting to wonder whether I should. Thanks for your advice. anon


My third child became agressive when we enrolled him in preschool for the first time. He was 2&1/4 when he started and after 3 months I knew regular preschool wasn't working for him. We took him out of preschool and found a school that focused on language development and had a very low student to teacher ratio. It turned out that my son had apraxia, a speech delay, that made communication very difficult for him. He acted agressively because he didn't know how to communicate with other children. At home we catered to his delay more, so we didn't experience the problem until it was time to be with his peers. If for any reason you suspect your daughter is behind in her language development, I suggest you have her evaluated by the Regional Center of the East Bay. ! I may be way off, since you didn't mention her ability to express herself with words, but I thought I'd write just in case this helps you. Feel free to email me if you have follow up questions. jenny
It seems to me that she may be gettign a reward of sitting with mom or dad for a time out. Perhaps you could try a more neutral time out. I think this may escalate the situation when you are not around. another mom
You might want to consider consulting a homeopathic practitioner for a constitutional remedy. I could recommend the Hahnemann medical clinic, with locations in El Cerrito, Point Richmond and Mill Valley. I have had quite a bit of improvement for my formerly biting 2.5-year-old using homeopathy. You could also try Jin Shin Jyutsu--kind of Japanese acupressure. This has help others in my family. You could e-mail me for a recommendation for a practitioner if you're interested. Good luck. meg
We had a similar ''problem'' which turned out to be the day-care's problem. as soon as we moved our daughter to a place with more adult attention, teachers trained in helping kids navigate social normal social situations, and more interesting activities the behavior completely stopped. Since you don't have any problems with your daughter other than daycare, I'd seriously consider the possibility that it is not a good place for her. Karen s.
It seems you are right that your daughter wants more attention from adults. Intuitively it seems to me that she wants more atention from one primary care giver, that is her mom, you. She seems to be trying to let you know that she needs you there. Is there some way you can become a stay-at-home mom for a while, or even a part time worker. It's so important at this age for children to have the parent as the matrix to touch base with the parent and then reach out and explore the rest of the world. My pediatrician says this whole generation is an experiment, raising kids in day care centers. I really recommend Joseph Childton's book, The Magical Child. Your child is a great gift from God to you. I hope you can enjoy each oth! er. Sometimes it's worth cutting back in other areas just to be together during these formative years. I have three kids, and I can't tell you how much I am getting back from them now, that makes me realize how worth it it was to be at home during those younger years.The best of luck. God bless you. Pauline
Hi - I decided to respond, although a little late, after reading the last post, which implied your child's aggression might be the result of your decision to work, and have her in day care, rather than stay home with her. That analysis of the cause of your child's aggression is judgemental of your personal decision to work. A wise pediatrician said to me: ''happy children have happy parents''. If you're happy with your decsion to work, in the right child care enviornment, your child will be happy too.

My daughter went through an aggressive stage at about 2 in day care. She would bite other toddlers, push ect... What I came to realize was that it was that the day care was a bad match for her. There were too many kids - not enough interesting toys and activities - and the director ignored some children who were aggressive. On top of that, I felt she had been labeled ''the biter''. I decided to switch providers, and looked for a smaller, more intimate center. She never bit again after leaving that center. She's now 10, and very well adjusted, happy and doing well in school. Best of luck, whatever you decide! Anon


Daycare misbehavior in 19 month old

Feb 2004

I've looked through the archives for info on toddler sharing, agression, misbehavior and nothing there is quite on point for my problem. Hoping some parents of toddlers and former toddlers have some ideas for this.

My 19-month old daughter attends a local daycare full time. In the last month or so, we have been hearing that she has a hard time sharing toys with other kids. I hadn't worried about it too much, figuring that most toddlers don't know how to share and she'd grow out of it. My husband has been more concerned about it, so we've been talking about how to handle it. This morning he saw her in action and now we're getting more concerned. When he dropped her off, she starting playing with a toy. He gave a second, nearly identical toy to another girl whom our daughter often plays with. Our daughter walked over and yanked it away, pushing and crying. She wanted both toys and was quite willing to push the other girl out of the way to get it. I don't know if the problem was that my husband gave the child the toy, though I somehow doubt it since the staff said it's happened before when we're not there.

She's very big for her age (36'' tall and 26 lbs), strong, active and physical. She's always been a very sweet child. She is also known as the kid who hugs and kisses everyone, particularly other kids. So we were mostly worried about her hurting herself in her exuberant play or just hugging too hard, not that she was being aggressive. Recently, she's definitely entering the terrible twos (lots of ''no,'' a few tantrums, running from us, some hitting and biting mommy). Now I'm afraid the onset of the terrible twos is producing a little bully!

I've gotten advice, mostly from family, about ''letting her know who's in control,'' spanking, etc., but I'm definitely not leaning towards physical discipline. I have no desire to repeat the failings of my parents or my husband's parents by squashing her spirit or teaching her that hitting is okay.

Any ideas for how to handle this situation? anon


I think many times when children this young fail to share, push, hit, bite, or whatever, it is because they already feel out of control. Showing her who is in control will not help (i.e. spanking), I don't think, because if she felt secure, she would not do this. Also, I would not consider it ''misbehaving,'' but rather, that she is trying to figure out how the world works, and how she can navigate that world. I do think that children this age need to be stopped, if they cannot stop themselves, from hurting other children. You can even use those words (something like, ''I am not going to let you hit Emma.''). Many toddlers find this comforting, because it is scary to have such power, and by an adult stopping them, it helps them feel in control. But sharing ! is something that MANY if not MOST toddlers cannot do, because they still do not have a firm grasp on ownership. How can you know how to share if you do not understand what it means to have something in the first place? Things we have tried that work: 'You are using this now; when you are finished, Emma can use it'. Or the opposite: 'Emma is using this now, when she is finished, you can use it'. Redirection also helps. But remember, 19 months is still so very young! Kate
First of all, I very much agree with your decision not to resort to hitting your child. That certainly won't teach her to share but will teach her a whole host of other lessons I'm sure you don't want her to learn (to fear you, it's ok to hit people smaller/weaker, violence is ok, she's a bad girl, etc.) That said, your daughte! r's behavior sounds so classic and normal for someone her age that I wouldn't even classify it as misbehavior. Behavior you'll need to work with her on, for sure, but not ''bad'' behavior. Kids are simply unable to fully grasp sharing at this age. It's a tough one, even for older kids! Most of the kids at my son's daycare do exactly what you described (including my son) sometimes. The teachers distract the child, gently tell the child ''no grabbing'' or ''no hitting'' whatever the message needs to be, and then redirect him or her. Toddler impulse control is poor, as is their ability to really empathize with other children. The good news is that she'll grow out of it. And if you continue to reinforce desirable behavior while respectfully placing boundaries around undesirable behavior, she'll grow into a sharing child for sure. Good luck! another toddler mom
I think I might have written a very similar post myself a couple of years ago. My son had some of the same issues. He is bigger than his friends and I think that is part of the problem. While another child might push or hit, it doesn't have the same impact as a child who is much bigger. I constantly have to explain to him that he has to be extra careful since he is such a big guy. He recently started watching the Hercules cartoon and we have used him as an expample often lately (''See, Hercules doesn't realize how strong he is. He has to learn to be extra careful so he doesn't break that...''). I say that only to say that, while the behavior is normal in a 19 mo old, it is amplified by your daughters size. As far as discipline goes, the thing that worked best for us (and we tried everything), was to take something away. We! called it the ''zero tolerance hitting policy''. If he hit, punched, pushed...(we had to list every offense each morning) that day, he got no TV and no treats for that night. Of course, you would take away whatever your daughter would want the most. It really seemed to get him to stop and think before he did anything and made a huge difference. Best of luck to you! Nancy
As a mom, I empathize with what you are dealing with. As a daycare provider/pre-school director, please know that this is a classic ''two'' syndrome and completely within the range of normal behavior for the age. I suggest that you talk to your provider and discuss how best to handle the situation together. I would first ask if they could pay close attention to the negative behavior (if they haven't already), to determine the triggers (a particular toy, child, time of day, how close a caregiver was or wasn't). From there, figure out the best solution for all of you to get through this phase.

Personally, I don't believe in time-outs or other forms of punishment, especially at this age. The young child imitates what we do, so punishment that is given will show up being acted out, instead of correcting the behavior like we adults think it will. What is important is that it is consistent. (I am currently writing the text to a parent talk about the twos -- if you are interested, please send me your email and I'll send you a copy when its done. I also have done quite a bit of research on the subject and can recommended books that may help as well). Good luck, be patient, and it will pass. Carol


Hello! I am an experienced Montessori Toddler teacher, and I raised two beautiful sons who are loving and kind. I respond to your concerns about your 19 month daughter. Your initial instincts about Toddlers not being ready to share are exactly right. Children of this age are in great need of having their own space.They are trying to establish the security they need to branch out into the bigger environment. That circle of space that includes their own body and the objects with which they are interacting is their own precious domain. When children are allowed this kind of protection during the Toddler years they naturally and beautifully develop a desire to include others in their space, quite on their own and in due time. ! ; Your day care personnel need to protect her space and that of her classmates by making it a rule that one child must request permission from another before touching another child's ''work.'' Children will readily learn this ground rule and verbalize their need for their own space. This gives them confidence and security.

Without this protection, your confident, bouncy, and otherwise sweet girl will develop coping skills which look very anti- social to the untrained person. I could be mistaken, but in my mind, the grabbing instance is indicative of frustration caused by other children being allowed to interfere in your daughter's space. (And just think, she is there all day long.) If there is a premium put on sharing in this class, then there is probably a lot of frustration going on with the children, as their natural developmental needs are not being met. I would discuss the policies and philosophy of y! our day care personnel in this matter. You need to know if they can embrace this important aspect of Toddlerhood in their work. If you find yourself deciding to look elsewhere, I would suggest, as one way of assuring developmental understanding of chidren, that you look for a Montessori setting, if you can find one with a Toddler program near you. If your day care is otherwise great, maybe, with your help, they will work with you on this from a new perspective. Sometimes day care personnel are people who mean well, but have just not learned that much about the special needs of the Toddler aged child. Also you might want to read up on sharing and the Toddler issues in Dr. Barry Brazelton's books. His book ''Touch Points'' helps parents know what kind of boundaries are needed and helpful to children at different stages of development. I am also confident that your child's aggressive and rebellious behavior at hom! e will mellow out as you get this aspect of her needs met. Children will show us what they need through their behavior. Punishment is not what your daughter needs, but loving understanding of her crucial developing needs for autonomy and security. She will become a kind and sharing, even generous little person as she evolves in this kind of atmosphere. Mimi


It doesn't sound to me like your daughter is misbehaving at all - - It sounds like she's being a typical 19 month old. What is your daycare's philosophy on handling this behavior? What are they doing when she acts out? It sounds like they have at least two of each kind of toy, which should help the situation. They also should be letting her know (gently but firmly) that certain ! behavior is not okay -- like hitting and pushing, as well as teaching her 'power' words (mine, more, move, etc.) to help her express herself. Redirecting her to another activity might also be helpful. At this age, kids get very frustrated because they don't have the words to express themselves, and they're learning very basic social skills about how to interact with others. They really think the world revolves around them and cannot understand how their behavior affects others. They do not need to be shown 'who's boss', but shown kindness and patience.
I would get her out of daycare and into a Montessori preschool. My daughter went through the same thing at about the same age. It seemed the daycare was boring her and causing her to act out. The Montessori structure, and then with more variety within the structure and also lots of outside t! ime, has been perfect for her. Maybe it will be for your daughter too. Good luck. LC
Sounds like normal 19 month old behavior to me. Sharing is hard, even for adults. I'm surprised your day care folks are concerned. Our kids were the same way, and while we worked on sharing with them (more taking turns than anything else) I think it was mostly just a phase. seen it before

11-month-old loves screaming & yelling

August 2001

Our happy 11 month old son seems to take great pleasure in yelling at the top of his lungs. At first we thought this was cute, but now he does it for hours on end and it is getting old, especially since he delights in being very loud in public places like the grocery store, doctors office, restaurants, etc. He has also become very demanding at mealtimes, yelling at us if we are not fast enough with the spoon or the bottle. We try whispering to him, and talking quietly, but he thinks this is a game and often yells even louder. Can anyone recommend ways to encourage him to use a quieter voice?


To the parent whose toddler enjoys yelling, I can only offer encouragement from having been there with my child, a screamer from about age 6 mo. to 14 mo. The yelling stopped once my child learned how to talk more and could communicate with us better. I always felt her yelling was her way of letting me know what she wanted and I would respond calmly (most of the time) with giving her what she needed (food, water, something out of her reach, etc.), and just hoped it would eventually get better. I was the mom who was the recipient of startled looks and comments, close-neighbor complaints, and sometimes embarrasement. But, the good news is that my toddler is a talker now...not a screamer. Good luck, and try not to pay too much attention to what strangers say. Your child is just enjoying the loud sound coming from him/her (as my pediatrician said).

16-month-old screaming, throwing things, pulling my hair

August 2001

Some of you may laugh, but as a first-time parent of a 16-month old boy, I'm wondering if my son's behavior is normal. Starting as of about a month ago, my son has been acting really "bratty" - if he doesn't get what he wants, he screams at the top of his lungs, throws things and intentionally hits me and pulls my hair. He also scratches and slaps me frequently in a playful manner. I've tried to hold his hands and explain to him in a firm voice that it is not nice to hit, scratch, etc. and that it hurts me when he does so. So far, this technique has had no effect on him, he simply continues the behavior as soon as I release his hands. Any ideas?? I don't think a timeout would work - he won't sit still and I'm sure he would just scream if I put him in his crib. On another note, he now won't sleep in his crib at all. In the past, he wouldn't fall asleep on his own, but after falling asleep with my husband or me in our bed, we could move him to his crib for the night. Now, he either wakes up and screams when we try to move him or he wakes up and screams in the middle of the night until we take him to our bed. Help!!


Your 16 mo. old sounds extremely, totally normal. For me, this was the absolute most difficult phase (so far). Timeouts do, in fact, work, even though he will try to convince you they don't because he doesn't like them. I tried to avoid using the crib as a timeout "prison" because I didn't want him to associate the crib with anything other than peaceful sleep, but sometimes it was the only way. Another option is telling him "Mommy doesn't want to play with you when you hit" and YOU take a timeout (I shut myself in the bathroom). That will really piss him off, but it works. You do, unfortunately, have to do something he doesn't like in order to make any impact. (I didn't like holding his hands because I didn't like using any kind of force at all.) Not being able to "transfer" him from sleeping in your arms or bed or car to the crib the way you used to was also something new at this age. Personally, I'm an advocate of letting him yell until he falls asleep but mine never really pushed me to the limit on this one. (I could stand outside his door and say "Lie down, go to sleep" repeatedly until he would fall asleep -- I know other toddlers are MUCH more persistent than mine in this area.) Try to keep in mind two things: at 16 months, he understands a LOT more than you think (he's not verbalizing yet but he is comprehending a LOT), and that in about four months it will get a LOT easier. Fran R
The bad news is the terrible twos actually starts around 18 months. What I found helped during that rough/hitting phase, was to take my child's hand and say, "Pet Mommy Gently" or the doggy, or whatever. I would either touch her leg gently, or use her hand to touch my arm gently. It takes a lot of practice. When she was gentle, I used lots of praise. At that age, they are just learning the effects their behavior has on others; I don't think the "brattiness" is intentional the way it is with a four-year-old. The sleeping is another matter, I gave in and did the family bed because we got more sleep that way. At four we moved her back to her room, and now at 5, she'll go to sleep on her own after two stories, and sometimes a song, or after a while to look at books in her bed. There have been some setbacks, but it's worked out.
I would like to give my sympathies as I know how horrible it can be.... As to what to do, I think the only way is to be VERY clear about what is acceptable and unacceptable to you. My husband and I tend to be on the "strict" side of discipline but very warm at all other times and it seems to work pretty well. We will not tolerate ANY hitting or other acting up behavior. The child is simply sent away from the communal space (even it that means picking him up physically and placing him in his room). It is the only "punishment" we ever use and we never refer to it as such, but rather as a "cooling off" place. We very quickly return to give the child "ladders" to rejoin the family. Good luck! Noa
I suspect, from my limited experience of one little girl, that your son is quite normal. Perhaps at this point children are wanting to exert control over any accessible part of the world. In any case, it seems to me that my daughter, now 21 months, so far lacks a fully developed sense that other people have feelings too (particularly me!), although she is fully aware that if you push buttons, things happen. Usually telling her *not* to hit/scratch/pinch/pull my hair generated an effect quite opposite the desired one, accompanied by considerable glee on her part. My preferred approach is to remind her that patting and kissing are nice, and those various behaviours are not nice. Usually she immediately switches to a pat or a kiss (the trouble with hugging as a preferred behaviour would be the unsupervised access to the hair on the back of my head, if the lesson goes awry). Good luck. Lyndsay
I am the first time mother of a 14 month old. He too has exhibited many of the behaviors you wrote about. I've asked several people about this & everyone seems to be saying the same thing. Essentially, I've been told that he's a spirited child w/ very strong sense of what he wants & that his lack of language to express himself coupled w/ his limited motor skills (i.e. he is just not developmentally able to, for example, scoop food up w/ a spoon & get it into his mouth) makes him very frustrated. This frustration usually manifests itself as screaming ("bloody murder"!) or hitting/pinching me. The advice that I was given by several people that I have spoken to about this have suggested prompting him with the language for what I think he is trying to express (we also show him the sign as well). This seems to be helping to cut down on some of the temper tantrums. I have also been trying to find ways to "modify" activities that he really wants to do, but just can't realistically or safely engage in. This too seems to be helping. When he gets upset about things, I've been trying to teach him the language for his emotions (i.e. "I know it makes you mad when Mommy has to say 'No'"or "I know it makes you sad that we have to leave") Finally, as suggested, I am not allowing the hitting or pinching. When he does, I say, "No hitting (or pinching)!" & remind him that we keep our hands to our selves when we are mad as I am putting him down. I have put him in "time out" (in his crib or in the baby-proof family room w/ the gate up) for a few minutes & he does cry. The time out really seems to be more for me that for him. When I come back, I pick him up & explain that we say sorry when we hurt someone (& help him sign "sorry"), then I hug him & tell him that I love him.

Now, you may ask, is all of this working... sort of. The tantrums are fewer, he is using more language (verbal & sign) to communicate & he is hitting/pinching less. I also realize that some of this is way over his head, but it won't be for long. It is conditioning my husband & I to be consistant, patient & understanding w/ him when he is at his worst. Lastly, I can really empathize w/ how stressful this behavior can be & it can be even more difficult if it seems like your kid is the only one acting like a tyrant. Good luck. Romy


First and foremost, yes, your son is completely normal. I used to post a lot to the advice line about my son (now 3) who, around 15 months (there must be something about that age!) started pulling hair, and graduated from that to biting, regularly, and without warning or provocation. He seemed so wild and out of control, and NOTHING I read in a book or got advice about from teachers and friends and doctors worked--not time outs or holding him down or stern talk, etc. While it's clear to me now that these are phases they outgrow, I will say that the advice I got that made the most sense to me came a bit late--he was already phasing out of his most violent stage when someone suggested that in my son's case, the attempt to get him to stop the behaviour was pointless--what I needed to do was redirect it. So toward the end, I got him a biting toy, and said, If you need to bite, you can bite this--it's not okay to bite people. This really seemed to work, and I wish I had used it during the hair pulling phase--I think with kids like this you have to work with the behaviour rather than try to prevent it. Now, at three, my son still occasionally has the urge to bite when he's very upset or having a tantrum (he remains intense, and very physical in his responses, though with so much more self-control and awareness of acceptable vs unacceptable behaviour). Most of the time he stops himself before actually biting, sometimes will lightly bite himself to prevent himself from biting others, or is capable of saying, "I want to bite something," and then I get him something he can chow on. He's not exactly easy-going, but I never thought he would develop this much self-awareness! So I advise considering a punching toy, a biting toy, a hair pulling toy, and distingushing for your son what it's okay to hit, bite and pull and what it's not okay to, rather than trying to get him to stop altogether. Good luck!
I won't laugh because I have been dealing with the same situation and I know it's not funny! My son is bigger than his friends and has been walking and very active since 10-1/2 months. Soon after he started walking, he started hitting/slapping/pushing. Since he's bigger than his friends, he can hurt them. He usually doesn't hurt them, but scares them and sometimes he hurts me. He is so strong. I have tried every single thing and nothings seems to be making a dent (quietly explaining that hitting hurts; using a deep strong voice to frighten him; taking him out of the room; walking away from him/ignoring him; making him stand in the corner for a time out (I was surprised that he actually did it - I thought he would just walk away too); and finally, slapping his hand (something I said I would never do). I'm sorry to say that none of it has worked. I've talked to our pediatrician about it (as well as reading about it and asking around) and it seems that there is really nothing that will make it stop at this point. According to my pediatrician, children this age just have no self-control. Even if they know they are not supposed to do something, they simply can't stop themselves (my son will sometimes yell, "no, no!" when he's doing something wrong, but he'll continue the behavior. I'm sorry this isn't much help. The only thing this information did to help me was to understand that it is normal and that it's something I have no control over so I stop feeling badly about it when it happens (I felt that I wasn't being a good parent because I couldn't teach him not to do this). It is still so frustrating, but not quite as demoralizing. I still stop him from doing it and try the above mentioned disciplinary tactics, of course, but I don't feel as concerned with changing his behavior.
Time for my annual ;-) plug for Rudolph Dreikurs's "Children: the Challenge". Although Dreikurs doesn't approve of corporal punishment, he does have an example you might wish trying: when your child slaps you, you say (cheerfully) "Oh, you want to play a slapping game", and slap back (he says, hard). Continue trading slaps until your child stops. He says if the child forgets this experience and tries it again, they'll stop much sooner the next time. The principle he is acting upon is that parents shouldn't act as though children have all the rights, which they are doing if they let the child get away with the activity. He says the important thing is the manner in which the game is carried out. I know this is just one issue you addressed, but Dreikurs has solutions for all of them. The one I mentioned above is just the first one that popped into my mind. Fran
Whatever the benefits of Dreikurs's book may be, this is not one. How in the world can you expect a child to understand that it's not okay for her to hit you when YOU hit HER? It's illogical and ineffective in the long run. Moreover, it is just plain scary for a child to be hit by her bigger, stronger, more powerful parent -- the person who is supposed to be safe and protective. You may stop the hitting in the moment, but the emotional repercussions are just not worth it. Instead, try to understand the causes for her behavior, then model the way you want her to act and help her learn self-control.

Children hit their parents for two primary reasons: testing and attention-getting. Testing is in the nature of figuring out what is and is not acceptable. Children know very well that if they behave in ways that their parents like they get approval in return. But they're dying of curiosity about just what will happen if they behave in ways their parents don't like: will they really stop loving me? They don't want their parents to stop loving them, of course, and they need to be reassured that, even when they are beastly, that won't really happen. And they need this reassurance again and again. Telling them a few times doesn't work; even if you think they "should know by now," chances are they still crave proof. This is not so strange when you think about it: after all, as any therapist will tell you, most adults still want the same kind of proof of their parents' love and approval...

Children also want nothing more than to have their parents' undivided attention all the time. Hitting and doing other unacceptable things can be one way to get it -- that's why you always hear the advice to ignore misbehaviors if you possibly can, since they will be likely to go away if they are not reinforced.

If you really want to teach your child not to hit, there are a number of positive ways to do so, all of which have been suggested on this site. But you have to understand that your child's behavior is developmentally appropriate -- even if you don't like it much -- and that it will take time for you both to learn how to manage it. Change isn't going to happen quickly, and physical punishment is not going to help your cause.

Good luck. I'm dealing with the same issues with my own 2 1/2 year old, and it isn't always fun -- but at least I know it's not going to be forever! Lauren


We have friends who did the Rudolph Dreikurs' slap your child back method. The child is now 4 years old and the slapping and hitting has escalated. We used time outs and both of our children learned other ways to deal with frustration, etc. This may have more to do with the temperament of the individual children but I'd be wary of trying to teach your child to stop hitting by hitting him. Julie

The bully at daycare

Help! I have just learned that our 18-month-old son is frequently unpleasantly aggressive with the other children at his home-based daycare. He has had a problem with biting in the past, but this apparently goes beyond that, and includes taking toys, pushing, trying to push other kids off of chairs, and ignoring his daycare provider when she remonstrates with him. She's had a lot of experience and is quite competent, but it's clear she finds his behavior difficult. The other three children are all girls, and range from 21 months to about 2 1/2. Despite the fact that they are all older and some are quite a lot bigger, he is very strong and is apparently more than able to hold his own physically. Some of the kids are starting to avoid him. I should point out that we have not really seen too much of this behavior ourselves, as it does not really manifest itself much at home. He is an only child and obviously we are at work while he's at daycare. He is fairly verbal for his age, and he seems to understand that the behavior is not acceptable, but it persists. My guess is that he learned some of this, at least, at his prior daycare, where the caregiver was simply not well-equipped to deal with active toddlers, and I am feeling concerned that so much of the burden of undoing the mistakes is falling on our current caregiver, since she is with him during the day when he is interacting with her other charges.

I would like to hear from parents who have had to cope with similar situations, especially regarding things they were able to do at home, or to ask the daycare provider to do, to help guide the child's behavior toward other kids at daycare. I am also very interested in any helpful books on this subject. I don't want him to be disliked, I want him to acquire an understanding of what appropriate treatment of others is, and, on a highly practical note, I don't want his behavior to cause his daycare provider to want him to leave. Any suggestions? Thank you.


My son is 2 yrs old and there is one other toddler at his daycare who is 4 months younger but he often hits my son. My day care provider say she scolds the other boy but he hits hard and sometimes makes my son cry. My son doesn't hit and I'm teaching my son to yell "NO!" when the boy hits him. My son will do this when we practice at home but when the boy hits him at daycare, I guess he forgets. My daycare provider has been reporting these incidences to me pretty often the last couple of weeks and I'm starting to get upset. I don't know if she's spoken to the other parent about it but she did say she's planning to terminate their contract in June for other reasons. I don't want the hitting to continue until then. Any suggestions on how to handle this? I don't want to teach my son to hit back because I feel he's too young to understand self defense vs. just plain hitting. Has anyone else experienced this?
We had a similar situation when my daughter was three, the other child was two. After the second time he scratched her (on the face) and the pre-school seemed unable to stop him from doing it, we gave her VERY specific instructions which included (but went beyond) shouting "NO!" I gave her permission -- in this situation, with this child, if she were threatened -- to stomp him hard on his foot and THEN go get the teacher.

NOW. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART! I went in to the teacher who had been unable to stop the scratching, and TOLD her exactly what my daughter would do, and when, and that we had told her to do it. The boy NEVER bothered her again. Our telling our daughter to be aggressive this once did not result in her being aggressive towards him or anyone else. It did make it clear to the teacher exactly how intent we were on not having her hurt again. We figured that even if we couldn't stop him hurting, we could stop him hurting her.

I should mention that this was not in an American preschool, and that the situation was complicated by the two children having no common language... but, "NO!" is pretty easy to understand with the right tone of voice. Good luck! I know this is not a very PC/Berkeley solution... but its better than putting up with this situation for 3 more months. Heather


How to Deal With Friend's Aggressive 2-year-old

A close friend of mine has a child the same age as my child. They are both two year-old boys. I am having trouble dealing with her boy's aggressive behaviour. He hits, bites and pulls other children's hair. He does it without warning and for no apparent reason, though I suspect it is his way of getting attention. She does a so-so job of supervising him with other kids, which means that one of my kids (I have an infant as well) gets hurt despite my best efforts. This boy will attack my children even if they are sitting on my lap. He has been aggressive since his first birthday -- with other kids as well, not just mine. It is extremely nerve-wracking for me to be around this boy. My son gets very agitated when he is around, and lately has started hitting and then saying the other boy's name. I tried talking to my friend about it once and only succeeded in offending her. I would like to preserve my friendship, but cannot go on seeing them. Has anyone had this sort of thing happen to them? Does anyone have any good advice for dealing with an extremely aggressive child that I can pass on to her?
I had a similar situation, a good friend, and also after 1 year old, her child became very aggressive and she was not very good at managing it. I don't have a good answer for you, but it was a very difficult problem at the time. I wanted to spend time with her and in retrospect, my child probably suffered more that he should have. It was not a subject my friend and I could talk about. I would try to discipline her child when he encrouched on my child's space. It was not very successful. Our other approach was avoidance: there were times when her child was behaving worse than usual, so we would always be busy when she wanted to get together. She actually was troubled by some of his behavior, learned more about discipline thru a consultant, and now several years later, the 2 children play together pretty well.
Gosh, this is a tricky one. Our son went through a biting phase, and it was harder on us than on anyone, but he, like most biters, grew out of it. It sounds like this kid's aggression is something different than that. I tend to be a bit pro-active with kids about discipline, which means that I am perfectly willing to lay down the law to other kids as well as my own. If I know that a child has a problem with grabbing or hitting, I tell all the kids that we don't allow the bad behavior, and that if it turns out to be a problem, we or the other child will have to have a time-out or go home or whatever seems appropriate. And then I'll allow for one not-too serious mistake, and another chance. If that fails to secure a reasonably serene atmosphere, we follow through with the punishment.

I should mention, in the spirit of full disclosure, that one of my friends, with a rather bossy and grabby little girl, got rather upset with me when I told her daughter that I was taking the disputed toy away, and then did it. So you should know that not everyone is going to be happy with this method. But it works pretty well for me.


You are not helping your child by exposing him to this child's behavior. And you are not being a good friend by pretending the situation is better than it is. From your note, you already know what you need to do -- make it clear to your friend that the reason you can't be together is her son's behavior -- and offer to help find a way to help him, without hurting your child. Heather
I have had a similar problem with one of my child's friends. My child and the friend are older than yours though. My decision was the following: although in no way am I capable of judging another child's behavior or the child's parents' abilities in instilling what I might consider basic standards of decent behavior, I DO HAVE A CHOICE in deciding with whom to associate myself and especially my child. So, in spite of repeated "invitations" for my child to play with this kid, I have decided to withdraw from contact with these people as much as posssible, and aimed at preserving my child from any exposure to an influence I simply do not want for my child.

There are a lot of other parents out there whom I admire, and whose children behave according to norms I respect. As a parent capable of critical choices in this regard, I do what I can to have my child interact with the kind of people whose influence on my child I LIKE.

What I most like about my approach is that I have ridden it of any judgement of value (ie, I have no claim at being a better parent) and/or guilt (THERE IS NOTHING WRONG in not trying to please everyone or not wanting to associate with certain people).

As for your specific request on what to tell the mother of this boy, there sometimes is little or no space for discussing something as intimate as childrearing with the parent of another child who is aggressive to one's own, as it leads to conflict or a resolution that might compromise one's values too much. Therefore, do your self a big favor and avoid it being " extremely nerve-wracking ... around this boy" for you, and try to find alternatives that would get you closer to parents and children that won't stress you as much.

Finally, at two years old, some of this behavior is normal, but it is also an age where I believe it behooves parents to quell aggression and begin teaching basic social skills like not grabbing a toy form another kid for example, or, for that matter, not constantly attacking others. Good luck.


I had a similar situation with a parent-friend and his child who behaved aggressively toward my son and other children. I said something to the father about his lack of intervention. He was defensive and accused me of being "hyper-sensitive." I thought about it before our next scheduled playdate and I came to the following conclusion: I don't like being around parents who have markedly different values than I do about raising children. I don't like being around parents or in situations with aggressive kids where parents are not teaching their children about boundaries or the impact they have on others. It's stressful, uncomfortable and not good for me or my kid. I wasn't enjoying the playdates and neither was my son. So why do it? It wasn't worth it. I told the father so and essentially, our friendship ended. Frankly, that's just what needed to happen.

Your son is being negatively affected by your friend's son and your friend's lack of appropriate discipline. You say your son is agitated during the time he spends with your friend and her son, and he is acting out by hitting and saying the other boys name. Why put your child in a situation where he is being attacked by an aggressive peer just so you can keep a friendship or avoid an uncomfortable social situation? I think your son's sense of self, sense of efficacy, emotional health and his trust in you that you won't allow him to be hurt is much more important. I assume that you wouldn't want to be put in a situation where you were being hit or bitten by an aggressive peer while someone you loved and trusted to protect you looked on and continued to bring you into that situation. Why do that to your son?

You raised the issue with your friend and then said "I only succeeded in offending her" No, you didn't offend her. She chose to be offended. She could have responded in a number of different ways and she chose to take offense. She wasn't self reflective, she wasn't happy you said something, she didn't commisurate with you about how difficult her son can be, she apparently didn't try to see your point of veiw and then offer to strategize about how to improve the situation, she didn't say "thanks for telling me -- it's great that our friendship allows us to be honest with one another," she didn't appear to be sensitive to the fact that your son was agitated and unhappy because he was being hit and bitten. She got offended. Do you really want friends like that? William


I was in a playgroup/babysitting coop years ago where one of the kids was a biter. There were 5 families, all of us friends, and we all had more than one child, and nearly every kid including babies was bitten at least once by this little girl. This was easier than your predicament because the mother did acknowledge the problem (but only after catching her in the act a few times!) But there were a couple of moms who would not have this little girl over while she was in her biting phase because she had to be constantly monitored. At playgroups we all made sure that someone was watching her all the time. She did outgrow it after a while and things went back to normal.

I think a mother's strongest passion is a desire that her child not be hurt. So it is really difficult to be around other kids who are aggressive and who might hurt your kids. It is also nearly impossible to give another parent unwanted advice about their kid without offending them, as you found. So I would say something like "I think our two boys bring out the worst in each other. Maybe we should cool it for a while." This way you aren't putting the blame on her child but you are getting across the message that there is a problem and that you don't want the kids to be together. The aggressiveness may calm down after time and then you can be with your friend again. I think it is pretty typical of two-year-olds to behave in an anti-social way, grabbing, biting, hitting, etc. So try again in a few months.


This situation comes up a lot, and it's a difficult one. You tried to talk to the mother about it, and she became defensive. This isn't at all unusual. It's very hard for parents to hear anything at all critical about their child, especially when the child is very little, and especially when it is their first and only. How important is this friendship to you? If she is a very good friend, and a friendship you want to preserve, is it worth your trouble to arrange for a "Mom's Day (or Evening) Out" periodically, and leave the kids with someone else? Possibly her child will outgrow the aggressiveness (or the mom will teach better behavior), and your children will begin to be able to play together again. However, it's important to remember that your friends' children might not necessarily be your children's friends. Louise
I just wanted to add to all the helpful comments a story with a happy ending. My 3 1/2 year old started playing with a boy about a year older who moved in a few months ago, and at first I was very worried because the older boy was bullying my son. My son is quite big and fairly confident, but this boy was even bigger and quite aggressive. He would grab things from my son or hit or push him. My son would run to me crying and the bigger boy would run away and hide before I could do anything. This usually happened when the boys were playing (if you can call that playing) outside and I was the only witness. I was perplexed because I knew this boy to have nice parents and I liked for my son to have a new playmate, but obviously didn't want my son being hurt. For anonymity I'll call my son Tommy here. When I told my Mom about my dilemma she didn't recommend talking to the boy's parents but did say "Tommy and the other boy BOTH need to know that you will protect Tommy." That rang true to me, so for the next while whenever the boys were together I watched very attentively and if the other boy started to bully my son at all I would stop him and say, "don't hurt Tommy," "you can't take Tommy's toy," and so forth. I would also physically intervene if I had to -- take back the grabbed toy or stop him from hitting or pushing my son.

The happy ending is that this worked beautifully and my son and his friend now play together a LOT, consider each other dear friends, and only rarely have very minor, innocuous squabbles. I'm sure this wouldn't have worked if my neighbor's son's bullying had been pathological, but this was really just a nice kid who was testing the limits, and as soon as he learned he couldn't get away with a bad behavior he easily gave it up.


As the parent of an "aggressive" child who is now 9 years old, I beg you please to get up the nerve to tell your friend why you no longer want the kids to play together, at the very least. It's not a matter of honesty so much, but of respect for the other parent and honorability on your part. Ideally, you would tell your friend that you are upset with her child's behavior and wonder if you can work something out between the two of you to deal with the situation. I understand it might be too hard for you to try to work with her, but you should at least tell her how you are feeling about things.

My child has had a problem with aggressive behavior on and off for years, and it is not because I am not a good parent. It is part of who he is, and how his nervous system is put together. Try to give the other parent the benefit of the doubt in her struggle to understand and work with her child. I know it is hard to understand how a parent could "let" a child behave this way if you have a well-behaved child. But if your child is well-behaved it is *not* just because you are a great parent. It is also because of the temperament of your child, for which you cannot take credit, just as I cannot be blamed for the temperament of mine, though I do take responsibility for working with him on his behavior.

We have had numerous people distance themselves from us, ignore our invitations, avoid us, etc. I always wondered whether it was something about me, or whether it was my son's behavior, and it hurt terribly. Some of these people were close friends. The kindest thing you can do is tell your friend that you and your child are upset about your child being hurt by hers and don't feel comfortable getting together anymore. It is a much kinder and more compassionate thing to do than to just cut them off. I know it is hard, but this is the kind of behavior grownups should aspire to. Write her a note if you can't bear to tell her in person.


I, too, will admit that my son (now 6 yrs.) has acted aggressively towards other children, ever since he was about 2 yrs. I think it's important to make a distinction, though, that "he" is not aggressive - but he does, on occasion, have behaviors that are aggressive. A few thoughts come to mind when addressing this with your friend...

1. It is the behavior that is the problem - not the child. My son is sweet, funny, and cheerful - but he still hits. He is not an angry person or a bully - but he still hits. Can you observe the motive behind the behavior? Is the hitting a way of getting attention? Maybe this child needs more frequent adult interaction/approval/direction than his playmates and hitting is a way to get an adult involved in the interaction. Is it there a communication message that he doesn't have alternative behavior/language to express? Is he being playful, but doesn't understand that it's coming across in too rough of a manner? Sometimes my son hits when he's really trying to be affectionate. Is he tired? Hungry? Bored? Over-stimulated? I think any one of these might lead to an aggressive action in some children with a lower tolerance. He might also be sensory defensive or autistic - to name a couple of more serious causes.

2. Don't assume that the behavior is the result of her parenting techniques. Is it possible that rather than being offended, that she was actually embarrassed? Maybe she's secretly concerned about this behavior - and others - but is denying that there's anything wrong. I can't control my son's hitting any more than I can control when he walks verses runs or yells verses whispers. He knows he's not suppose to hit. We've tried everything under the sun that we and others can think of to help him remember not to hit. His younger brother has never hit anyone.

3. Rather than approaching her with the "straighten up your kid or else" approach, you could discuss with her your concerns for your child and hers - and propose that you work together to help him diminish the hurtful actions. Set aside a couple of play dates when you can do less visiting with each other and focus on the interactions between the kids. Actively try to determine if there's something that will cause the other child to act inappropriately. Then work on ways to prevent it - maybe present more or different toys, maybe provide more structure to the play time, maybe take a snack break, maybe spend a few quiet minutes on mommy's lap, maybe keep the visit brief, etc. Also, if she's open to it, you might want to see if she'll let you gently correct and redirect her son's behavior. I have observed that my son will obey directions from other adults much more readily than from either my husband or me. Again, it's not a reflection on our parenting skills, but, rather the parent/child thing of testing limits, feeling safe, etc. If it is for attention, then give the attention when the good behavior is occurring by interacting with the kids and reinforcing the appropriate behavior. As soon as a hit, push or hair-pull occurs - tell the child that they visit is over because he hurt someone and end the play date, but try again soon on another day. Over time, the amount of attention you need to invest will diminish.

4. Use the opportunity to teach your son how to respond when aggressed upon. Can he say "no hurts" and walk away? I doubt that this will be the only time he'll be faced with inappropriate behavior and he needs to know what to do if you're not there to solve the problem. What would he do if he was in a pre-school setting and the teacher was otherwise occupied?

Close friendships are to be treasured - and if she values your friendship as much as you do, then she should be willing to listen to your concerns. And, while it is a sensitive issue to discuss, that you were concerned enough to ask for advise, shows that you're willing to work on it. Show her the responses and tell her how much you care. She's likely to need a good friend over the next few years. It would be nice if you could be there for her. At least you'll know you did everything you could to maintain the relationship. Good luck to you both.


2.5 year old hitting and pushing

May 1998

My 2 year 10mo son is exceptionally intense, sociable, outgoing, and almost always sunny of disposition when out in public. He is so negative with me and at home however that I am feeling very distressed. He has a 9 mo old baby brother, whom he plays with and enjoys, is concerned about, and only moderately competitive/jealous towards. During periods of intense negativity he does push his (sitting) brother over to hurt him, but I don't think this is exraordinary, and he acknowledges his ambivilance about it by immediately running to hide when he does it. He goes to playschool two mornings weekly.

For about 10-11 months my son has been increasingly wild and agressive with me, (I'm home with him full time) and to a lesser extent with his dad. He hits me at times (I always respond immediately and vehemently) and seems to ricochet from one "bad" action to the next (breaking, screaming, kicking) in an unstoppable cycle that last for several days or more. He seems upset by my distress and by his own behavior. There is not glee in the negativity, although he certainly enjoys life greatly when not in a bad cycle. I try to be firm, consistent, reassuring etc, but feel my confidence and pride in my parenting decreasing steadily. Have others had a similar experience? How much is due to his age? Thanks.


It is, of course, always a good idea to have such behaviour checked by the pedatrician, to make sure there are no physical causes for the increased aggression. Once ruling that ou, there are a couple of clues in this story that this two-year-old may have an inborn temperment which is extremely demanding ... what child psychologists now call a "spirited child." The "clues" I saw in the posting were ...
My 2 year 10mo son is exceptionally intense, sociable, outgoing, ....
and
For about 10-11 months my son has been increasingly wild and agressive with me,

"Spirited" kids, by definition, tend to be very intense about their emotions, very high-energy, extremely assertive and ... in circumstances when a child of a different temperment might just go along and accept a rebuke ... for example, a mild spanking, which would cause many kids to just "stop" ... a "spirited" kid will often start hitting back. (So effectively disciplining such a child, without starting a huge spiraling effect, takes special strategies.) There are other ways in which spirited kid also typically fight back. My almost three-year-old daughter, for example, has been evaluated as "spirited." She is one of the smallest in her class, but if another child tries to take something away from her, she will hang onto the toy and as a result has been bitten, pushed down and hit many times by various two-year-old boys. Nothing phases her, she continues to be assertive and in fact is great friends with these boys. It's just that many children would back down in certain situations and she just won't, no matter what the outcome. She does the same thing with me at home. So ... one thing is ... if this boy is at home all the time, mom may be experiencing ALL the assertive, intense, moody behaviour that (for example) my daughter distributes freely between her teachers, peers, and me. (Alicia can also be generous, kind and utterly charming. But she is, her teachers say, "challenging" in her behaviours.)

There are specific, learnable strategies for setting limits with, and disciplining, a "spirited" child so that the limits are effective and not the beginning of an all out battle. I'd recommend calling Bananas and asking when their next class is (they co-sponsor ... with Kaiser ... a class for parents taught by a child psychologist.) The psychologist will call the parent and interview the parent over the phone, as a screening process ... to make sure this really is the appropriate class and the parent isn't wasting their time and money. I took the class and recommend it highly. Mary Carol


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