More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Aggression and Anger in Young Children

At around a year or 18 months of age, many parents notice a change in children’s behavior, as they turn from a lovable cuddly infant to an aggressive little tyke.

Biting, hitting, kicking. Is toddler aggression normal? Many toddler’s go through a phase where hitting, biting, even kicking are commonplace behaviors. But rest assured. Although this aggressive stage isn’t pleasant it is quite normal, according to child psychiatrist, Dr. Sarah Landy. “Toddlers do need to go through an aggressive stage because that’s a part of becoming their own person,” explains Dr. Landy. “Part of that aggression is to enable them to become their own person and part of it is to help them to feel strong, which is a part of growing up.”

Fortunately, not only does this stage not last long, but also there are things we can teach our children about working out their anger and aggression. “From about three to five we would expect to see a dropping off of aggressive behavior,” says Dr. Landy. “We can help them with this by teaching them to talk about their anger rather than hitting, or (children can) play out their anger through toys. Encouraging those ways of dealing with anger is very important in preschool children.”

Dr. Landy adds that while many parents have trouble seeing their children display angry feelings, it’s actually unrealistic to expect young children to always be calm, cool and collect. In fact sometimes their anger is justified and as parents our goal shouldn’t be to squelch the emotion, but to teach children to express their anger in a healthy, non-violent manner. Dr. Landy says “to expect a child to be good, not to express anger, can be detrimental over the long term for the child and result in anxiety and fears and can result in explosive anger. They may contain their anger for a period of time and then in a period of time, they may explode.”

So the next time your child appears angry, try to “reflect the angry emotion,” suggests Dr. Landy. “Say something like, "my goodness but you look angry. Have you had a bad day?" It acknowledges that anger is okay and that it's okay to be upset if you've had a bad day." It also helps them to give a name to the emotion and how to use words, rather than hitting, to express it.

Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show.
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