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Disciplining Your Toddler: Put the Brakes on Aggression

Learn how to respond when dealing with acts of aggression by your toddler (or by other toddlers who might be visiting for a playdate).

Disciplining Your Toddler: Put the Brakes on Aggression

Your toddler's violence always demands an immediate response. Don't ever ignore acts of aggression by your toddler (or by other toddlers who might be visiting for a playdate). Violence cannot be condoned. If you ignore it, your child will think it's okay. So respond quickly and clearly to hitting, kicking, scratching, hair pulling, poking, pushing, biting, and throwing things.

Whenever your toddler hurts another child, go to the other child and offer comfort first, even before you discipline your own child. Correcting violence is not simply a matter of disciplining your child and teaching her right from wrong. It also is an opportunity to model empathetic, caring, and compassionate behavior toward others. So make sure that your toddler sees you offering comfort to the victim. In time, she will begin to emulate your behavior.

While offering comfort to the injured child, clearly state to your own toddler that hurting another person is not allowed. Show your child the teeth marks or scratches or bruises on the child she victimized. Point out the injured child's tears and tell your toddler what they mean: that your child hurt the other. Finally, proscribe the specific violent behavior of your child: "No biting—ever!" or "Hitting is never allowed!"

While focusing your initial attention on the victimized child, don't let too much time lapse before disciplining your child. A time-out should be automatic in instances of violent behavior. But if you delay too long before beginning the time-out, your toddler will have a hard time making a connection between the unacceptable behavior and the punishment.

During the second half of the third year, or earlier if your child appears ready for it, you may be able to enlist your toddler's assistance in caring for her victim. Before or after her time-out, your child needs to tell the other toddler, "I'm sorry." Encourage your child to offer some comfort, too: perhaps by kissing the injured spot or by getting a Band-Aid.

Even though your child may not understand every word you say, she will know from your tone and your facial expression that she shouldn't have done what she did. Speak sharply and sternly, but try to avoid yelling, which will only frighten your child (and also may scare the injured child you're trying to comfort). After you start yelling at your child, her emotional response to your anger will most likely block out any further message you want to communicate.

If a child bites, hits, or kicks you while you are disciplining her, put her in the time-out chair immediately, gently, and firmly. (No matter how tempted you become, don't throw her down into the chair.) Say, "No kicking!" and start the time-out at once. If you need to get your own anger under control before you can deal fairly with your child's misbehavior, then walk away for a minute or two.

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