When push comes to shove

15th March, 2011 - Posted by admin - 2 Comments

How do you cope when your child is aggressive towards other children?

X has started pushing his very best friend. What are my options as a parent?

Taking him away from his friends? Time out? The idea is that he learns that the behaviour he just displayed led him to lose something (attention, play) – basically this is a punishment. Not as obvious as smacking or hitting a child, or taking away a favourite toy, but punishment nonetheless.

I don’t feel comfortable with time out or punishments. Imagine trying to get a toddler to stay in one place to begin with?! But also ask yourself what the might be learning – chances are it is something along the lines of “when you do something I don’t like – as someone bigger and stronger than you – I can force you to do something you don’t like”. Even if he was able to link which of his behaviours the punishment actually relates to, how do you then explain that he can’t do the same thing to a smaller child? So, he thinks, I can’t hit or push or take that child’s toy because if I do you will hit me or take my toys away in order to tell me it is the wrong thing to do…. Huh?

As a toddler it is unlikely that your child can link his behaviour to your reaction. He cannot put himself in yours, or anyone else’s shoes. This is what makes moulding appropriate behaviour so difficult.

When X pushes his friend, I try and figure out why he is doing it. Perhaps he wants to test the boundaries, maybe she has something he wants, maybe she is simply in his way, or perhaps he is just check to see if gravity is still working. Either way, he is not doing it to hurt or upset her – he doesn’t have the faculties to understand this. Yet he needs to learn that it is not OK.

So what does work? Well, as with anything it will vary from child to child and family to family. A lot of people have success with telling the child what to do, rather than what not to do – after all a toddler may only understand two or three words in a sentence. So if you say “No! Don’t hit your friend!” all he or she may focus on is “hit” and “friend”…and if they are focussed on getting that toy from their friend’s hand, they may simply become confused – I imagine a toddler’s reaction may be something like “Hang on, I want that toy, if I want it, it is mine. What am I expected to do?!” So telling a child what to do, rather than what not to do may be a good option. Something along the lines of “we are gentle with our friends” (complete with physical demonstration) then getting out another toy or using distraction. This is a great article on sharing among toddlers.

I am also a fan of giving lots of verbal reinforcement when X is playing nicely, or shares with a other child. But not everyone is into that.

Modelling is a great tool that we all have. If we run up to our child aggressively, shouting, being overbearing, we are teaching them that this is an OK way to behave. It is very difficult to take a deep breath, stay calm and react in the way that you are trying to encourage your child to act. Surely a child is more likely to speak kindly and act gently if people speak kindly and act gently towards him?

For older children I was impressed recently with the reaction of a mother at a playgroup where a little girl around 3 pushed X. She said “Look. He is crying, how do you think he feels?” “Sad” “Yes, what do we do when we make someone sad?” “Say sorry” etc etc. In this exchange she taught her daughter that she had hurt someone and what the appropriate response was, while also showing me that she was dealing with the situation. And she was calm, quiet and gentle – and in so being was modelling and teaching her child to be calm, quiet and gentle.

I do all this, but X still pushes. I am hoping it is a case of repetition being the key – instinctively I feel that what I am doing in response is right. And you really have to trust your instincts in this game.

Some more articles on this kind of “gentle parenting” approach can be found here


Sophie Messager

March 29th, 2011 at 3:51 pm    

Great post Boo :-) . I could not agree more. I also loved the blog article you refered to.


August 26th, 2011 at 8:59 am    

What a fantastic article. I really agree with you. Sometimes it is so hard to know how to deal with a situation, but I do find that when I stay calm and speak quietly J responds so much better than if I were to roar and shout. Great.

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