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My toddler seems angry at times…

Toddlers have lots of energy, as we all know.  Sometimes that energy can result in aggressive behaviour, or just inappropriate behaviour.  How can I tell if my toddler’s behaviour is normal, or if I should get help?

As a play therapist, I have dealt with hundreds of toddlers exhibiting aggressive behaviour.  Parents mostly complained of the following:

  • Biting;
  • Hitting parents and other grown-ups;
  • Aggression towards other children and animals;
  • Shouting and tantrums.

Why is my toddler showing aggressive behaviour?

There are many reasons why a toddler may exhibit aggressive behaviour.  At that age, a toddler has not yet developed the ability to handle emotions like older children, or grown-ups.  A toddler might feel helpless because he can’t do something the way he wants to, for instance when building Lego or a puzzle or even drawing a picture or colouring.  Rather than deal with the emotion of feeling helpless, he would start throwing his toys or scratching with his crayon all over the picture.  That is when the conflict starts.  Mom will yell “Why are you doing that” and toddler will react with even more emotion.  This starts a vicious circle and will end up having a negative impact on the parent-child-relationship.

Most of the tantrums of toddlers occur because they are unable to identify, and deal with their feelings and emotions.  Fear, helplessness, tiredness, hunger, sadness, rejection etc, will all mostly have the symptom of anger/tantrums.  As a child gets older, he learns to identify and deal with his emotions in more appropriate ways. 

How do I deal with my toddler’s aggressive behaviour?

One of the best stress relievers is exercise.  Doctors recommend it for adults, but children also need to get rid of their frustrations through exercise.  Playing outside, running, climbing, playing on a swing set, jumping on a trampoline, cycling etc, is all good ways that a toddler can get rid of his frustrations and negative feelings. 

Vocabulary is another important tool in handling an aggressive toddler.  Meaning that from very early on, you must teach your toddler different emotional words and help them connect those words to what they are feeling inside.  There are many books and flashcards out there that can help with this.   A child will feel a whole lot better if he can express WHAT he is feeling with words, instead of with action. 

Lines of communication.  It is extremely important to build communication with your child from a very young age.  Have conversations with him.  Sit down and play and while you are building Lego or drawing, ask questions.  Ask how he is feeling.  Ask what makes him happy or sad.  Ask him how his day was.  What his favourite toy, colour, person, or food is.   This teaches your child the ability to express what he is feeling in words, instead of acting out in a negative way. 

Another way of handling aggression in your toddler is by playing physical games with him.  Throw water balloons against the wall, play dodgeball, have pillow fights or sword fights etc.  These games must be played in such a way that your toddler will learn boundaries and respect.  Before you start, explain the rules:  no hitting in the face, no throwing balloons at the dog etc.  This teaches your child to abide by certain rules in a fun way, while he is letting go of frustrations.   Just remember that you do not need to win, rather build your child’s confidence and self-esteem, than trying to teach him to be a good looser. 

If your child continues to exhibit extreme aggressive behaviour, it might be a good thing to visit a play therapist.   If you are in the Pretoria/Centurion area, we recommend Child Play Therapy Centurion http://www.everythingaboutkids.co.za/listing/child-play-therapy-centurion/

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