Toddler: Helping your aggressive toddler

I have a 21-month-old son who is extremely aggressive. We have already voluntarily left one play group and I'm afraid we may have to leave a second. As you can imagine this is terribly humiliating and frustrating as a first time parent. Everyone thinks he'll grow out of it, but it's been this way since he was a little under one year. He is not speaking yet and is very physically capable. I've tried everything -- time outs, removing him from situations, taking toys away. We even tried spanking and it just made matters worse! Can you help?

Question:

This is a difficult problem! First, I'm very happy that you see the ill effects of spanking your son. It will not help at all to tell a child not to hit when you are hitting him yourself. That gives just the opposite message: that it's okay to hit as long as you're bigger.

Really, we are dealing here with the temperament of your child. He is obviously very intense, and, naturally, at his age, he doesn't have much impulse control. This does not make him a "bad kid" -- it just makes him a very difficult person to deal with!

As your son grows up, he will learn to acquire impulse control, especially if you start helping him work toward that now. I assume that he wants to play with other children, as you have him in social situations very often. So, he needs to be removed from them as soon as he does anything aggressive. As you remove him, you should tell him why. "No -- we have to leave now -- you can't stay in the playground when you hit. We do not hit."

This is of course, very hard on you. But it is really the best way of teaching your child that he has to control himself to get what he wants.

He will certainly gain more impulse control over time, especially when he has language. Until then, although it is difficult and embarrassing, you have to keep showing him what is right, praising him when he plays well -- even if it's just for a few minutes -- and removing him when he's wrong while stating the rule.

Also, I would suggest that you not put him in social situations with his peers too often, so there is not as much pressure on him to "behave," until you see he is having some success with controlling himself.

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