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What Are Causes of Violent Behavior in Toddlers?

by Shellie Braeuner, studioD

One second your toddler is sunny and smiling, the next she is hitting someone over the head and screaming. This behavior is upsetting to parents and caregivers. Punishment may have no effect. The good news is that many toddlers are violent and aggressive for a wide range of reasons. With care and love, parents can help the toddler through this phase.

Violence in Toddlers

The National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families suggests that toddlers become violent in many ways. Some children may hit themselves or bang their heads against the floor or walls. Other children may lash out at parents or other toddlers. Hitting, kicking and biting are common forms of aggressive behavior. Toddlers may also lash out at pets, pulling fur or squeezing the animal. Toys and books may become victims if the child tears pages, throws, bites or breaks these items in anger or frustration.

Common Causes of Violence

Toddlers are just coming out of babyhood. Dr. Jennifer Pendley notes on the KidsHealth website that these little people are just starting to think for themselves. Toddlers want to be independent. Unfortunately, they are just learning the skills they need to act on their own. Toddlers don’t always have the words they need to share their ideas with adults. So your little one often gets frustrated when you don’t know what he wants. To make matters worse, he can’t even tell you that he’s frustrated. So he lets his actions speak for him. Anger, frustration and fear will cause him to lash out in aggressive and even violent ways.

When to Worry

There are less common causes of violent behavior in toddlers. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry points out that children, even very young children, may suffer from other disorders. Infants that suffer a head trauma may have long-term problems with aggression. In addition, toddlers that suffer abuse or live in a household where violence is the norm will act out aggressively. Parents should talk to the family pediatrician if they suspect any trauma or abuse. In addition, the AACAP encourages parents to seek help if the child’s violent outbursts hurt the child, other children or pets.

How to Handle Violence

The first thing any parent should do is remove the violent child from other children or pets. This protects both the child and others. Then, Dr. Pendley suggests that parents learn about the triggers to the toddler’s violence. Write down those times when the child throws a tantrum or becomes aggressive. Notice the behavior that precedes the behavior and look for patterns. If you notice that the child often throws a tantrum just before a nap, change her schedule so that she gets more sleep. If she hits others whenever she’s hungry, carry snacks. Encourage the child to use words whenever possible. Avoid triggering a tantrum by keeping treats and other off-limit items out of sight. Finally, distract the child early in the tantrum with new ideas or different toys.

About the Author

Based in Nashville, Shellie Braeuner has been writing articles since 1986 on topics including child rearing, entertainment, politics and home improvement. Her work has appeared in "The Tennessean" and "Borderlines" as well as a book from Simon & Schuster. Braeuner holds a Master of Education in developmental counseling from Vanderbilt University.

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