Behaviour management

20th May 2016

The period between 18 months and 3 years is an exciting time.  Toddlers are becoming aware that they are separate individuals from their parents and the other important people in their world.  This means that they are eager to assert themselves, communicate their likes and dislikes, and act independently (as much as they can)!  At the same time, they still have limited self-control and are just beginning to learn important skills like waiting, sharing and turn-taking.

When he is angry, frustrated, tired or overwhelmed, he may use actions such as hitting, pushing, slapping, grabbing, kicking, or biting

Like most aspects of development, there is a wide variation among children when it comes to acting out aggressively.  Children who are intense and “big reactors” tend to have a more difficult time managing their emotions than children who are by nature more easy going.  Big reactors rely more heavily on using their actions to communicate their strong feelings.

The main reason your toddler may act out aggressively is simply because they can. They’re testing the boundaries and it often feels good for them and they love the attention it gives them. They may also behave aggressively because they’re frustrated and unable to verbalise how they feel or something is not happening the way they want it to. Your toddler may also just be tired, hungry or over stimulated.

As he grows, your toddler will be able to deal with these feelings more appropriately – but it’s also important to show and explain to your toddler that aggressive behaviour, be it biting , slapping, hitting or pushing, is not the way to deal with things. The best way to deal with aggressive toddler behaviour is quickly, before he forgets about what he has done. Let him know that what he is doing is unacceptable and that there is a consequence to behaving badly. Although if it becomes an issue some children respond better to getting no attention at all for any unwanted behaviour.

Strategies for Responding to Aggression

  • Stay calm. Staying in control makes it more likely that your child will calm down more quickly.  When you get agitated, upset, and frustrated at your child’s tantrum, it often increases their distress.
  • Use words and gestures to communicate your message. Words alone may not be enough to get your toddler to stop an unacceptable activity.   To help your child understand your message, use an authoritative, matter-of-fact (not angry or screaming) voice.  At the same time, use a “stop” or “no-no” gesture along with your words.  You might say, No hitting, hitting hurts, as you take her hand and hold it by her side, firmly but not angrily. always be consistent with your discipline to avoid confusion.
  • Offer alternatives. For example for a child who loves to hurl objects, make a game out of throwing soft balls into a basket or box.
  • Try a distraction. If your child is highly agitated, try a distraction.  This is an unpredictable response your child isn’t expecting, like asking a child who is shouting angrily to join you in a game.  Or just go to her and give her a big bear hug.
  • Suggest ways to manage strong emotions. When your child is really angry, suggest that he jump up and down, hit the sofa cushions, rip paper, cuddle up in a cosy area for alone time, paint an angry picture, or some other strategy that you feel is appropriate.  What’s important is to teach your child that there are many ways to express his feelings in healthy, non-hurtful ways, and to help him practice these strategies regularly.
  • Have your child take a break. Some children actually calm down much more quickly when given the chance to be by themselves in a safe, quiet place. This is not punishment.

Children who bite

While babies often begin to bite down while they’re teething, toddlers who bite are fairly common also. Young children who bite other children usually do so to deal with frustration, feelings of powerlessness or being in a stressful moment. Biting can make them feel powerful because of the reaction and attention they get as a result of their actions.

Biting from frustration:

  • Some children bite when they get frustrated in a social situation and they’re not yet able to articulate how they feel.
  • Children who are not yet old enough to share and take turns, often resort to biting other children to get what they want
  • Younger children sometimes bite when they’re playing with older children who have control of the shared activity.


Never, ever be tempted to bite back. This is terrifying for your child and actually reinforces the very behaviour you don’t want to encourage.

For experimental biting:

  • Don’t let your child see that you think biting is funny or a game
  • If she bites you, firmly say, ‘No! Biting hurts’ and remove her quickly from whatever part of your body she’s biting
  • If she’s teething, give her plenty of safe things to chew on

Biting from frustration:

  • If you know you have a biter, make sure that you are always supervising his interaction with other children.
  • If your child does bite firmly remove him and say ‘Biting hurts. We don’t bite’. Make a bit of a fuss over the victim – so the victim gets your attention, not your child – and restrict his play by keeping him next to you for a short while.
  • Don’t put your child into situations that you know will be difficult for him. When your child socialises with other children, keep it short and sweet.
  • Biting from frustration tends to lessen as your child matures and is able to articulate his feelings. However, some children persist in biting long after they’re able to talk about how they feel. If this is the case, you will need to help him learn other ways to manage his feelings.

Sometimes managing a toddlers behaviour is very challenging and can feel never-ending. It’s important to always remain calm, consistant and remember to be approachable for your child this means they will feel  happy and comfortable to express there emotion with you and perhaps save any unwanted aggression or frustration.


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