Dealing with a terrorizing toddler

By Amy Bielby on January 31, 2013
Carly, a Hamilton, Ont. mom of two, watched as the little girl with adorable blond pigtails skipped through the park. She was smiling, without a care in the world. Suddenly, another toddler came up behind her, and without warning or reason, pushed the girl to the ground. Carly ran over, embarrassed. The tough toddler was her little girl, Samantha.

According to experts, young kids inflict pain because:
  • They are experimenting with their new physical abilities and pinch, bite or pull hair simply because they can. 
  • They want attention. 
  • They are frustrated and can’t express their needs verbally. 
  • They think it’s funny. 

Break the habit

Tasha Monaghan is a registered early childhood educator and has seen her share of biters and pinchers. To prevent these bad habits, she suggests that parents look for patterns. “Maybe it’s the time of day. Maybe it’s another child. Or perhaps it’s the situation they’re in. See if there are any patterns and then try to change the habit. Do not ignore the behaviour.”

Dr. Maggie Mamen, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children, agrees. “It is critical for parents to acknowledge these zero-tolerance behaviours,” she says.

Learning how to stop your kids from acting up isn’t always easy. Dr. Mamen suggests the following steps:
  • Try to prevent the behaviour. Learn your child’s warning signs. Then remove your child from the situation before it happens. 
  • If the behaviour is mood-related and your child is tired or hungry, offer something to self-soothe, like a snack or their favourite blanket or toy. 
  • If you catch them in the process, remove them from the situation with a firm, “No.” “Many parents try to ask their children nicely to stop, or they discuss and debate, but that does not work,” she says. “If your child has hit, kicked or punched someone, your response should be different than if they spilled their juice or snatched a toy. These are physically abusive behaviours.” Then, explain that what they did was wrong. 

Tasha takes her approach a step further. She suggests taking your child and the victim aside to show your child that the other person is hurt or upset. They need to know that their actions have caused a child pain or to cry.

Other methods

You might want to try a time out, in which you isolate your child for a brief period of time so that they can refl ect on their behaviour. Some experts recommend a minute for each year of their age.

You could also try a time-in, in which you hug your child and cuddle with them until they calm down. Then explain why the behaviour was unacceptable.

Kids behaving badly

Your kids will probably display other frustrating behaviours besides hitting and kicking.

The act: Throwing food
The fix: Lunch time is over. Don’t starve your child, obviously, but if the little one won’t stop, put an end to the meal. They will learn that if they misbehave, they won’t get to fi nish their meal or get dessert. Another option is to ask the child to leave the table until they decide they can eat properly.

The act: Temper tantrums
The fix: Remove your child from the situation to an area where he or she can calm down. This may mean abandoning your grocery cart during a shopping trip or leaving a party. Stick to your guns and be patient. Don’t yell; just offer a place to quietly relax.

The act: Pulling tails
The fix: Hurting pets is not appropriate. Ever. He or she must be taught how to interact with the pet properly. It will take a routine of teaching on your part. Supervise their playtimes.

Originally published in ParentsCanada: Me & Mom, October 2012.

By Amy Bielby| January 31, 2013

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