Sunday, January 29, 2012

My aggressive toddler

My cousin moved away last week and her 3-year-old toddler Zoey has been living with us for about 7 days now. My own daughter Rhea is 23 months old and until recently enjoyed a good though not very close relationship with Zoey.

However since her cousin moved in Rhea has gotten increasingly aggressive towards her, continuously attacking her for no apparent reason. She pushes bites and pinches Zoey all over her body. Zoey retaliates by pushing her and pinching her as well but though she is bigger and stronger and can potentially do more harm, Rhea's dogged determination often gets the better of her resulting in much crying and complaining on Zoey part.

The irony is that they still enjoy each others company and play consistently, though Zoey sometimes refuses to return her hugs more from fear of being bitten than spite. My husband and I have tried everything to deter Rhea's behaviour from time outs in the corner to slapping her and reprimanding her in a stern voice. All our efforts have been futile; with Rhea often attacking Zoey right after punishment have been levied.

Please give your advise on other actions that can be taken.


Dear Georgia;

I am not sure what message slapping a child or otherwise responding in a negative manner to the behavior of a 23 month old and a 3 year old is suppose to teach either of them. All violence needs to stop immediately and that includes the adults. Children who are raised with violence tend to be MORE violent so this behavior is not surprising.

Now, let's deal with this on a 2 and 3 year old level. Most likely they are competing for attention and trying to gain some dominance over each other as they are close to the same age and I take it they were also only children? They are both use to NOT sharing the spot light of adult attention.

There are several things you can do to make this a better situation. Alone time with each child everyday. You will have to make sure the other child is receiving attention from another adult or they are distracted playing with other children so they don't feel deprived during this time period.

The other thing you can do is to separate them immediately at any indication of an impending outburst of aggression towards each other. This takes time and patience to watch them for these signs however, it will be well worth the effort when this behavior stops. Do not however reward them when you separate them. Simply put them in separate rooms with their own toys. They will get the message that playing together means the cannot act out aggressively. What you have on your side is they do seem to like to play together. Children at this age are still mostly about parallel playing which means they play side by side and are only learning to interact with each other during play. They will make mistakes.

Anytime your respond negatively or punitive towards aggressive behavior, believe it or not, you are reinforcing the behavior. They get negative attention, eye contact, interaction etc...and this increases the behavior not decreases it. What makes inappropriate behavior go away is to withdraw the interaction, no eye contact, no comments, no engagement with they child while they are acting out. IGNORING bad behavior is the best method however when children are actively aggressive towards each other it is best to just separate them.

There are some great books out there to read to them as well. One child's book in particular tells little ones that hands are not for hitting, they are for catching balls, teeth are not for biting each other, they are for biting apples, etc....

It is a great thing you are doing taking on another pre-schooler.
Make sure you take care of yourself emotionally so you don't wear out or start to resent her. Also, implement baby/child massage into their bedtime routine. This will relax them more and you as well.


M Kay Keller

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