Worried About Aggressive Behavior

My daughter is 19 months old and is becoming very aggressive. She’s hitting, pinching and pushing other kids at day care. I’m six months pregnant and worried about her behavior with the new baby as well. What can I do to help her temperament?

Many children become more physical between ages 1 and 2. Because their physical abilities exceed their verbal skills, they become more demonstrative by hitting and pinching, as you’ve described. Sometimes these behaviors are exaggerated because other children in day care or play groups model this aggression. But rest assured, most children at this age almost never intend to be hurtful – they simply have no other way of expressing their emotions. Unfortunately, they quickly learn that they are more likely to get their way, or at least get some attention, from these forms of aggression.

Children are more likely to be aggressive when they are tired, hungry or ill. They also know when mommy and daddy are more likely to react to their antics – including when you are in a hurry in the morning and just before dinnertime. Your daughter may also be reacting to the changes in you with the pregnancy and anticipation of the new baby.

When she starts the behavior, you can respond to her by trying to interrupt. Suggest a positive alternative, such as gentle touches, when she starts to hit. Guide her hand in a gentle manner. You can also direct her in a hug when she begins to push.

Ask her day-care providers to help guide her behavior. Catch her being gentle and praise her for it. When children get attention for good behaviors, they are more likely to repeat them.

As a long-term solution, encourage your daughter to use words as her language develops. If she can say what she wants, she will be less likely to push and hit to get what she wants or needs.

As you anticipate the arrival of the baby, include her in the preparations so she won’t feel she needs to be aggressive in order to get attention. Be comforted that toddlers do not usually direct their aggressive behaviors toward the new baby – mommy and daddy are usually the targets. Help her learn to touch the baby gently. And remember, even though she will be the big sister, she is still just a baby herself.

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