New this month: Coping with aggression
Hitting, scratching, and biting are common toddler behaviors, but that may not be much comfort when your toddler starts terrorizing his playmates – or you. A combination of emerging language skills, a fierce desire to become independent, and undeveloped impulse control is usually the source of the trouble. As your toddler matures, he’ll eventually learn to express his frustration with words.
What you can do
Although many toddlers go through an aggressive phase, it’s your job to teach your toddler that it’s not okay to hurt other people. The best way to discipline a toddler is to teach her acceptable ways to behave.
Keep a close eye on your toddler when she plays with other children. The moment she starts to hit, bite, or push, remove her from the situation and gently but firmly remind her that hitting is not okay. Expect to reinforce this message many, many times before the behavior stops.
If another child pushes or hits her, and you sense that she might hit back, distract both children by redirecting them to a new activity. Monitor them closely as they play, and be ready to step in again if necessary. Praise them when you see them doing something cooperative, such as sharing a toy or playing together calmly.
You should never, under any circumstances, hit your child to teach her a lesson. Some parents do this to show the child “how it feels,” thinking that if their child feels hurt, she’ll be reluctant to hurt others. Unfortunately, the tactic usually has the opposite effect: If you hit your child (or let others hit your child), it sends the message that hitting is okay.
Other developments: Temperament, common tantrum triggers
Resist the temptation to compare the way your 20-month-old behaves – or misbehaves – to how one of your older children acted when he was 20 months old, or to how your toddler acts in comparison to another child of the same age. Every child has a different temperament and reacts to situations differently.
Hungry, tired toddlers are prime candidates for meltdowns, regardless of their temperament. It may not always be convenient, but your outings – especially meals in restaurants – are more likely to go smoothly when you can plan them around your toddler’s nap and eating schedule.
Late dinners that bump up against bedtime are often the biggest offenders. If you’re dying to eat out, consider taking your family for a late lunch or early-bird dinner. If you don’t have a choice, pack a nutritious snack and bring along a stroller so your child can take a nap if needed.