Toddler Aggression

Parent Q&A

  • We have an extremely strong-willed, big emotions, boundary-testing 2 1/2 year old. She has been this way from the get-go ~ every. single.thing. is and has been a struggle with her, despite our attempts to "choose our battles." There are times when it seems that she looks around for some source of provocation, that there is something deep-seated that is causing her discontent, and that no matter our approach or our embrace, she has been born to this life of struggle. But that is the dire and pessimistic side of me talking; she can also exhibit great joy and positive energy, is exceptionally bright and capable, but it is all so overshadowed by the "negative intensity" as one child psychologist termed it.

    At this point, we have tried many approaches and modalities to assist her (acupuncture, dietary interventions/food sensitivities and allergies, homeopathy, herbs). None have really made a dent, and our family dynamic has been overwhelmingly overshadowed and dampened, really, by her presence. We love her and want to help guide her through the tantrums, the anguish, and the overall dissatisfaction that has characterized her existence thus far, but we are at a crossroads.

    The following have been suggested to us: "early intervention" by the likes of Children's Hospital or another entity; play therapy; occupational therapy (though this seems more suited to those with sensory integration issues, and this does not really appear to be the case with our daughter); parent child interaction therapy; a small home-based daycare with a supportive and warm caregiver; family therapy. We feel overwhelmed by the process of selecting one of these approaches and finding an appropriate and effective practitioner, and daunted by the time and expense that might take. I am looking both for general counsel from those who have "been there" and specific recommendations and/or names of professionals who might be able to assist us.

    Thank you!


    I would make an appointment with the best child psychologist that my insurance could afford and start to dig in.  From personal experience with a cousin, I really sympathize with you and I am wishing your family recovery. It can be so overwhelming. 

    Your daughter may or may not qualify for Early Intervention services; she will need to be assessed and determined to have developmental delays, or some other qualifying criteria. It’s not just a “choice” on your parts. I’d get her assessed to see if she qualifies for EI; even if she does, it’s not a full-time program (or, was not when our daughter received those services). So if she needs daycare, you’ll be choosingthat separately. Back in the day, Bananas had a program for “spirited children”; our daughter is a college student now so I’m not even sure if that’s the terminiology used anymore. As it turns out, our little one has ADHD; it’s likely too early to have that assessed, but I’d keep it in mind once she begins school. If you suspect she might, an earlier diagnosis is helpful. If the school won’t test her (even though they should...), have her doctor or a specialist do the test for that. Best of luck. Oh, and Early Intervention services are free. 

    I'd suggest you run, not walk, to your local Regional Center- tel. 510-618-6100 - and get a (free) assessment and get EI if they are still able to offer it at her age. It's a free and comprehensive program that will wrap around whatever other service or setting she is receiving. 

    Best Wishes,

  • I'd like to hear from other parents of spirited kids and what they did for childcare/preschool in and around Oakland.  Details below...

    Hi BPN, we're realizing that the nanny share that our 22month old son has been in for the last year is not going to continue to work for him (1 nanny, 2 toddlers and an infant).  Our nanny feels like she can't keep him safe because he doesn't listen and runs off. He also pulls hair and bites frequently. He's been with her and the other kids since 8 months and LOVES them. He's also a very spirited kid--while I'm not concerned about the running off/not listening, we are concerned about the hair pulling/biting, which seems to be sensory-seeking, compulsive-like thing--not necessarily the typical toddler gets angry and bites thing (although he does that too). 

    We are trying to figure out what to do next. The options are to hire someone to help our nanny, get a different one on one nanny, or try to find a daycare or preschool environment where he'll be more contained and maybe with a teacher who understands him better. Does anyone else have a kid like this and can share their advice on the type of environment where their kid thrived?

    He LOVES other kids, adults, very social, very verbal and loves activity and running around, easy to transition, not a tantrummer, basically just always happy with whatever we do and enthusiastic about life. However, we've noticed he's much calmer and more focused in very slow-moving, quiet environments, like at the beach or when we visit my in-laws (who are old hippies). With more activity/excitement, he has trouble regulating and gets very hyper. I would like him to be in daycare/school because I think he would love it, but worried about the chaos and wondering if it would make these behaviors worse.

    Hello, my grandson is the same...  seems like he's so sensitive and now that he's in kindergarten, he's gone bonkers and gets kicked out almost every day..  Aquatic Pre-school is an excellent school...  probably full, but you could try.  they are wonderful.   I'm also starting to give my grandson, Jin Shin Jyutsu treatments twice per week.  I started last night.  I think I want to start a blog or you tube thing to share the journey and see if this can help my grandson settle in an environment with lots of stimulus.   Good Luck to you.  Oh, and also, your son may have allergies....  so try getting him off of dairy, wheat, soy, etc for a few weeks and see if that helps...


    My son was the same way. We kept him in a small nanny share (just 2 kids) until he was 2 yrs 9 months, where he had lots of park time every morning, then put him in a tiny preschool in a home setting with a good backyard. That way he got love and attention, wasn't surrounded by too many kids on any given day (I think it was 2 teachers to 10-12 kids, something like that), and also had good space to run around. It was Montessori. He thrived there but then after a few years it felt too small and our situation had changed anyway, so we put him in a much larger Montessori school (25 kids in his classroom). He is doing really well. I think all of those places/situations were the right way to go. I looked at so many preschools but I couldn't imagine putting him in a large setting for 8+ hours a day until it was clear he had outgrown his tiny school.

    It took me a long time to realize what you seem to know already - that your child's energy feeds off of what's going on around him. We cannot take my son to exciting stuff late in the day without major meltdowns (like weddings or parties), because he has SO MUCH FUN and can't calm himself down very well, so we avoid it. There are also a couple people who like to play "rough" (very physically) with him that tend to get him amped up, so we have tried to calm those situations down too. Look at a lot of schools and talk to the teachers about your child. There will definitely be those that "get it", but even with great teachers, the vibe and environment are so important. And the other kids too -- my son gravitates towards the other rambunctious kids so even in a quiet setting, they can get pretty crazy.

    Also, you can do him a great service by starting to talk to him about the way his body feels when he's excited, hyper, calm, etc and teaching him tools for self-regulation (deep breaths, sitting down, taking a moment to rest, etc.). Good luck with your active kiddo!

Archived Q&A and Reviews

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 \x93circle time at school.\x94 He can\x92t 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\x92t stop crying because I don\x92t 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 - 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

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, ....
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