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Gentle discipline for very aggressive 20 month old?

677 Views 2 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  WuWei
I have met another woman at the playground on several occasions who has a 20 m.o. son who is very aggressive. He pushes other kids aside to get their toys, grabs everything he can get his hands on, and seems very very aggressive in general. No only that, but he's a really big husky little kid!

His mother is very frustrated, and always talks gently to him trying to encourage him to ask permission before taking a toy, be gentle with the other kids etc. He's not talking yet so he isn't able to verbally express his feelings or wants, he just gets what he wants by brute force.

My DS is so gentle I really don't have any suggestions for her but I think she would love to get some other input on how to deal with her son's aggressive behavior.

Any suggestions?? Thanks!!

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The mom might have to adopt a more firm tone. And, as a mother who had a very aggressive child, she'll need to shadow him until he's done with this stage.

I've been writing a chapter on physical kids, it's very rough, but I'll cut and paste.

At the same time, the child is becoming more aware of his/her body, it's abilities and power. Add to that mix limited impulse control and limited verbal ability and the fact that a child expresses themselves physically is not a surprise. It's important to understand and acknowledge that it's age expected. If we do not expect the behavior, we are more likely to react with anger towards our child.

It's important to also remember that we do not want to stop physicalness in our children; we want to direct it and help them manage it. Their little bodies are exploding with emotionally fueled energy. We can't stop that. Instead, we need to find ways to make available appropriate physical expression.

However, as with other age expected behaviors, the fact that it's common does not make it acceptable. Children in this stage need coaching, clear boundaries and proactive approaches.

As young children with very big emotions, they are just learning how to manage the energy behind their emotions.

Children hit when they are threatened, thwarted, excited, angry, frustrated, tired, and because it's exciting.

Proactive discipline tools for a hitting child include: coaching, role playing, naming feelings, sensory/texture play, routine and baby signs. Making sure your child gets plenty of outdoor and large motor play helps, as well.

As far as responsive discipline tools, you need to stop the child and remove them if needed. Tell them "No hitting. Hitting hurts". Avoid saying "We don't hit". It's an inaccurate and confusing phrase to your child. Obviously, they do hit. They just did. Instead, stop their arm and tell them "I won't let you hurt me (or that child). I will help you follow the rules."
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Again, I would look to the underlying need, especially if there is a pattern of this. Is the playdate too close to nap time to realistically believe self-control in an atmosphere of excitement will be possible for this child? Has the child been provided with high protein foods and fluids which help to moderate the excited uncontrollable behaviors? Are these grabbing experiences something that he is experiencing elsewhere? Could the mother bring additional toys for others to share too? Oftentimes at the park there are the ubiquitous left over toys, but too few for the many little hands. Could the child be redirected to other more independent play areas? Is this happening at the beginning of the playdate or after some extended sharing has been expected of the child? Is there some pounding type activity that could be encouraged to meet the large motor movement desire which is common at this age? A hammer and ball type item or a stick and fence? Is the mother suggesting taking turns with different items? Does he have any food intolerances? Dairy causes this type of unawareness of other's physical boundaries in our son. But he is much older and this is too young for this awareness yet, imo. It is quite unrealistic for a 20 month old to share gently for extended periods when tired or hungry or with limited toys.

I agree that helping the child to be aware of the experience of other children is useful. Gently, suggesting that 'look at her face, she seems sad, she was playing with the shovel' "oh, she is crying, she didn't want you to take that from her' provides more awareness of the real non-verbal and verbal cues that the child, himself can learn to focus on to read other's emotional responses to his behavior. I believe other children's real reactions are more potent and relevant information than 'hitting hurts' or 'don't grab' repeated over and over by a parent. I believe, the skill of awareness of other's emotional experience due to our actions is more portable and empowering than a parent's edict or judgement about their actions. Perhaps, stating the problem 'you want to play with the shovel, she was playing with the shovel, maybe we could take turns, or do one of you want the cup to scoop' gives them the cognitive concepts for their future verbalization of their needs. This also models awareness and concern for other's needs. It also demonstrates negotiation and problem solving.

Another thing that I have observed make a huge difference is introducing children to each other by name. Just like we do to new friends. This seems to make the others more personal and real and less 'other'. And I believe there is a time when they just can't be placed in social environments that tax their self-control beyond their ability not to hurt others. That is when it is time to find another fun but non-socially demanding activity with support of the parent.

HTH, Pat
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