Aggressive Behaviour in Toddlers: How to deal with an angry toddler

Do your toddler’s violent tantrums leave you helpless? Are you at a loss when it comes to dealing with your child’s anger issues? Here are some tips to calm down aggressive behaviour in toddlers.

By Anitha Bennett

Aggressive Behaviour in Toddlers: How to deal with an angry toddler

Aggressive behaviour or violent toddler tantrums is an issue that every parent is familiar with. A toddler getting worked up and creating a scene in a public place, acting unruly, trying to punch his parents, or sinking his teeth into someone are incidents that most of us would recall. And, in all these cases, the parents wished they knew how to calm their child without losing their own cool.

Let's look at the common causes of aggression in toddlers and a few tried and tested ways of calming down a toddler with aggressive behaviour problems.

Causes of aggression in children

‘Terrible twos’ is a term used to describe aggressive behaviour in toddlers. These behaviours gain prominence when a child is around one to two years of age. During this time, children tend to show inappropriate behaviour, refuse to obey, behave out of control — all of which makes life difficult for parents.

Other underlying causes of aggressive toddler behaviour are emotional stressors, frustration, mood disorders and medical conditions like autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Aggressive behaviour in toddlers — what parents should do

Use words: Ask your little one simple questions to find out how he is feeling. Keep your questions such that your child can answer with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example, ‘Are you angry because your toy was taken away?’, or ‘Looks like you are hungry. Can I get you your favourite snack?’ Doing so will help your child understand his own emotions, help him verbalise his feelings, and eventually handle himself better.

Stick to routines: Children thrive on routine. It gives them a sense of security, for they know what to expect next. Any deviation from the set schedule throws them off board. So, try to stick to your child’s pre-set routine as much as possible, especially for mealtimes and bedtimes. In most cases, irritability and moodiness in children can be tracked down to just disrupted schedules.

Distract your child: Every parent in a sticky situation tries this one. Getting the child’s mind off what she is obsessed with by pointing out to something or handing her something different and new. This time-tested solution works with most frustrated and angry toddlers and is sure to work on yours as well. Refer to the list at the end for more quick-fix ideas that work. If your child is prone to frequent spells of anger, come up with more such ideas!

Hold your child: Being around a busy parent who is not paying attention to him can sometimes make a toddler act grumpy. In such cases, parents can sense beforehand that their child is on his way to a meltdown. If you sense your toddler going this way, stop your work. Hold and cuddle your child for a few minutes to comfort and calm him. Ask your little one to take deep breaths – in and out along with you. Hold your breath together or match each other’s breaths. Reassure your child with a promise of some quality time again a little later.

Get off electronics: Nowadays, children spend a lot of time in front of digital screens every day. Parents agree that most of what they watch goes unmonitored. So, it isn’t surprising when children pick up their kicks and moves from their favourite shows and practise them when angry on the nearest person. Plan for your child to spend at least half an hour playing outdoors. Let her burn those wiggles inside with some good old-fashioned play. You will notice a big difference in her mood when she comes back in.

Handle yourself first: Many parents react to the tantrums and tense behaviour of their child by yelling louder, hitting hard or whispering threats. While this may work temporarily, it does not work in the long run. Calm yourself down before handling a cranky child. It does not help when you try to meet his aggression with your anger. When your child has an emotional outburst, look at him in the eye and speak firmly. Make it clear to him that aggressive behaviour is not acceptable. Then follow one of the methods listed below to tackle the issue.

Some tips for taming toddler aggression

  • Squeeze a soft stress ball
  • Chew on a straw
  • Have a sip of water
  • Play the game, 'Simon says – jump, clap, scream'
  • Blow bubbles
  • Breathe in and out deeply
  • Take a cold shower
  • Count backwards or recite the alphabet backwards
  • Knead dough with a drop of colour in it
  • Push the wall hard
  • Crush waste tissue paper balls and throw them into the dustbin
  • Pop or stamp out bubble wrap
  • Play music – fast and slow
  • Pull out your child’s favourite book or game

A calm child contributes to a calm household. Take time and patiently work on calming down your little one’s nerves during his anxious moments. Your effort will reap rich rewards as you watch your child bloom into an emotionally stable individual who can handle any storm.

Also read: Temper Tantrums From Your Child? Here’s How You Handle Them!

About the author:

Written by Anitha Bennett on 21 July 2017; updated on 6 September 2019

Anitha Bennett is a freelance author who has written books for children from preschool to preteen levels. She also conducts workshops for parents, teachers and children.

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