Q: My 2-year-old lashes out at everyone. How can I explain to her this behaviour is wrong?
A: Aggressive behaviour usually appears during temper tantrums, but can also happen when a toddler is asked to make a difficult choice, wants attention, or can’t express herself with words. A child also copies what she sees, so be mindful of how everyone in the family expresses frustration. Don’t make a fuss when she misbehaves because this can become rewarding and a way of getting you to take notice. Send her a clear message to stop by briefly withdrawing your attention. She won’t understand the real meaning of an apology, so don’t force her to say “sorry” or promise not to do it again. But if she’s behaving well, offer her lots of praise. Stick with one approach and ensure everyone around her complies. Once she realises that hitting doesn’t work, she should stop eventually.
Q: My son keeps hitting me and his peers at nursery school. How do I get him to stop?
A: Chances are your little boy doesn’t mean to be unpleasant, but is perhaps trying to say he’s bored, frustrated or unsure about something and wants help with these feelings. Supervise his play and step in to distract, or help him resolve any conflict with another child. Alternatively, he may have learnt that by hitting out, he is guaranteed adult attention. Stop this by doing something different in response. Praise him when he’s playing appropriately, and withdraw attention and say a firm “no” when he hits out. Pay attention to the other child who has been hurt first and encourage the nursery staff to do the same. Clear messages from the adults around him should help him manage his excitement and frustration without resorting to hitting.