Two year-olds can be cute – but not when they’re being aggressive. Little guys who don’t get their way may become downright unpleasant – biting, hitting and throwing things and generally wreaking havoc. Some are rough with their baby siblings. Some are rough with their older siblings! Many are rough with their parents, babysitters and nannies.
What makes a two year old that tough? Some grown men and women feel helpless in the presence of their raging toddler. The energy and sheer endurance of a furious small person can frighten and overwhelm anyone of any age. They may be short, but they can definitely be loud, dramatic and even violent. In fact, this is their one self-defence tool: their ability to be out-of-control!
Of course, not all toddlers get extremely aggressive. Some by nature are very meek and mild and just not capable of great tantrums. Most can carry out a good tantrum once in awhile. And some are born experts. Somewhere in their genes they inherit a strong opinion, a strong will and a strong temper. The combination shows up when they feel frustrated or thwarted.
What to Do
Stay calm! A raging toddler doesn’t need a raging adult in his presence. He needs someone sane and in control – especially to model these traits! He also needs a calm adult to help him return to a calm state. So take a deep breath and sit down. This helps turn off your own adrenalin response. Speak v-e-r-y slowly to a raging toddler. Speak in a quiet, low tone of voice. “I’m waiting for you to stop crying screaming/throwing/hitting.” By putting yourself in a controlled state, you will be sending out calming vibrations to the child. You can further help, if you like, by dropping 4 drops of the Bach Remedy called Rescue Remedy into a small glass of water and taking sips every few minutes to help you stay calm, and trying to give your upset youngster sips to help calm her down as well. If a child is lashing out you can just put a few drops of the Rescue Remedy water right on her arms or any other part of her body. Rescue Remedy comes in a spray form too so you might find that handy. Although it isn’t “magic” you may find that it quickly helps an angry child to get back to herself. (You can find more information on Rescue Remedy and the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site).
When the toddler’s “fit” has ended, apply the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for more information). Tell him that tantrums/aggression/yelling and so on, are unacceptable ways of expressing upset. Tell him that he can use his words to describe upset (like “I’m not happy now” or “I don’t like that” or “I don’t want that”). If the child hasn’t got enough language yet to express emotions, then show the child how to fold his arms and look unhappy or give him a sign-language word for “mad.” Then tell him that if he gets aggressive again, he will have to spend some time in a thinking chair. On the next occasion that the child lashes out, wait until you and he are both calm. THEN, send him to a thinking chair for 2 minutes. (To learn how to keep him there, see the book on “tickets” and “jail”).
Be sure not to accidently reinforce aggressive behavior with lots of attention (good or bad). Instead, give tons of attention to the child when he expresses anger appropriately. Use praise and even rewards to show that calm, respectful communication of negative emotion is your goal (“Good for you! You told me that you’re upset and didn’t throw anything. I think this deserves an extra story at storytime tonight!”).
For the most part, aggressive toddlers grow out of this kind of behavior. Some kids, however, have a strong case of aggressive genes. If at 4, 5 or 6 years of age the child is still using aggression to communicate feelings, it’s a good idea to send him for some art therapy or other kind of child-friendly therapy. The sooner he recovers from this tendency the easier it will be to have a complete turnaround. Try not to wait till he’s 10 or 12 because the problem will be much more entrenched in his neural pathways.