Babies are lovely. They cuddle, they snuggle, they gaze at you adoringly. They squeal with delight at little things like rolling a ball, seeing themselves in a mirror, or parental homecoming.
Then something happens. They grow impatient with just rolling the ball, they want to see it fly. They develop their own opinions and want to share them. The problem is, they don’t have the skills necessary to communicate or imagine consequences, so even when we understand what they are trying to say, we aren’t always able to meet their demands.
Even toddlers from homes as peaceful as Shambhala can erupt in aggressive behavior. Parents start to wonder if their darling has been exposed to violence that they missed somehow, maybe a babysitter left HBO on or heck, even PBS, and their toddler is mimicking that. Others jump to the scariest conclusion– that their child is experiencing violence unknown to the parent.
Most of the time it’s a mismatch of skills and desires. It’s your job to help the skills catch up to the desires. If you match your toddler’s aggression with aggression of your own, whether verbal or physical, you are only compounding the problem. Here are a few tips to help you on your way.
- Perspective: If you walk into an interaction with your toddler assuming he is deliberately being bad, it becomes harder to keep your own defenses in check, easier to respond with aggressive, power-over threats. If you enter the discussion assuming your toddler has the same human needs for connection and love that everyone else does, but is simply not using the right skills to get those needs met, you are more likely to respond helpfully, in a manner that will nurture long-term skills rather than a short-term fix. Long-term skills include:
- Delaying gratification
- Physical Movement: It’s difficult to overstate the importance of physical movement for children. “Heavy work” can help reset the nervous system and give the kids a fresh start. Some kids get good feedback from swinging, others need to jump.
- Connected Physical Play: It’s not just the physical play, but the interaction that builds the social skills necessary to overrule that instinct to shove poor little Johnny. Roughhousing is a great way to help kids develop skills needed to self-regulate intense emotions, cooperate and connect with others. Start with easy games, like pretending your child is a burrito and wrapping her up in a blanket, being sure to add lots of sour cream by pressing down. You can add in some basic wrestling games like “who can take off Mommy’s sock,” or “try to knock me over” (while you are on all fours). When you need more advanced ideas, turn to The Art of Roughhousing for step by step instructions as well as more research on why roughhousing is so essential.
Those are just a few steps to get you started. Some other factors might include sleep, nutrition and other parts of the daily routine that can be adjusted to help things run more smoothly. Sometimes it takes a little more investigation to get to the root of the aggressive behavior, and some kids take longer to work through this difficult stage. For more specific help, please feel free to contact us.