October 20, 2017 — By Wendy Sachs

If you’re a parent of a toddler, chances are you are all too familiar with temper tantrums. It is also common for young children to turn to biting, hitting, kicking, pulling hair and more when dealing with unpleasant emotions, but more than thankfully, there are ways to respond that will reduce aggressive behavior in the long run.

A learning process

No child is born with an understanding of emotions and healthy coping mechanisms, so dealing with aggressive behavior is a learning process for both the child and parent. Most aggressive behaviors occur because a child has not yet learned to process or express emotional reactions.

A child must learn that they will sometimes be denied something they want or could be required to do something they deem unpleasant, and then master ways to object and display emotion that do not involve such pesky behaviors. Working through an aggressive outburst with your child is the best way to teach these lessons.

Setting a good example

Look around, and ask yourself if your child is learning aggressive behavior from their friends or siblings. If you display healthy coping mechanisms and surround your child with good examples, they will learn directly from you.

Providing the proper tools

Encouraging your child to explain how they feel and why can make a world of difference! Then, give them the words to use in that situation. After saying “no hitting”, explain that next time they can ask, “can I play with that toy?” as an alternative. You should also add “hitting hurts” or “hitting makes me sad” and press them to apologize, giving them an extra understanding of the impact their actions have upon others.

Immediate and consistent reactions

It is important to be consistent with scolding. If your reactions seem arbitrary, a child will have a harder time discerning what is right and wrong. Reacting immediately and consistently to aggressive behavior will allow your child to associate the admonishment with the action.

Since overcoming these negative reactions is, at its core, a learning process, dealing with aggressive behavior goes beyond the immediate punishment or your reaction in the moment. Encouraging appropriate behavior by regularly praising or rewarding positive conflict resolution is key!

Remember, it’s natural!

Maturing emotionally and learning to handle difficult emotions is a part of growing up, and every toddler goes through some phase of acting out. It’s perfectly normal and even healthy for your child to blow off some steam. Each child matures at a different pace, and reacting properly to your child’s tantrums or other behaviors will set them on the right path.