NONE of us is immune to anger; in fact, even toddlers sometimes find themselves in situations that trigger intense levels of aggression. And while this can be quite frightening, especially for first-time parents, clinical psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell said that this is a normal part of their development, and the key to surviving this is setting boundaries and being firm.
“Toddlers are at a stage when they are just learning to navigate the world around them. They are acquiring speech and locomotion and language is still evolving. Their primary way of communicating is non-verbally. Many times when they are misunderstood they experience frustration, and frustration can lead to aggressive behaviours and temper tantrums,” Dr Bell explained.
With this established, Dr Bell said that it is therefore important for parents to take the time out to get to know their children with special attention being paid to special situations that trigger them. This will help parents to teach children how to approach and react to situations that cause frustration or misunderstanding, as well as set boundaries.
Another important element to effectively managing aggression in toddlers is the reaction of parents or caregivers to various life situations.
“Parents should be aware of the developmental stage of the child and the child's temperament. You should also note how their temperament may also be contributing to the aggressive behaviour and do your best not to exacerbate the situation by responding aggressively,” Dr Bell said.
She underscored that parents can influence or further trigger their children's aggressive behaviour by being too quick to introduce more conflict in response to a situation or even by backing down and not addressing situations directly.
Aiming to speak to your child in the simplest way and using a language they can understand is also another crucial anger management strategy. Dr Bell pointed out that talking to your child about their feelings and teaching them how to calm down will inform how they manage future uncomfortable situations or conflicts.
She said that sometimes aggression may also be expressed in tantrums. She said that in the event that this happens, parents should remain calm, as difficult as this may be, because sometimes responding aggressively will only exacerbate the situation because it's likely that the child's tantrum increases.
“It may seem like the child is being selfish, but to pacify the problem you want to understand the child's need at the moment and if appropriate fill it. Next, you want to explain to the child what they should do the next time the situation arises as well as what is appropriate against what is inappropriate. This should be done in a calm, authoritative, manner,” Dr Bell advised.
For best results, however, she said a crucial part of the process is to avoid too much talking, and instead show the child alternative behaviour to get the needs satisfied.
“The parent can also use distraction to help the child stay calm — say let's go out and play or show the child something exciting. Give the child a break to self-regulate so they learn how to calm down,” she instructed.
Another method that is crucial to managing aggression is consistency.
“Parents should be consistent with rules and appropriate behaviour. So you cannot tell your child that hitting his sister is not OK today and ignore the behaviour tomorrow or create a set of rules, but disregard the consequences of said rules on any given day. This way you don't confuse your child about appropriate and inappropriate behaviours.
Some parents love to step in at the exact moment their child has a conflict. It is understandable that you want to address any problems early, but you also want to teach your children problem solving skills from very early. This way they will be better able to cope with and figure out frustrating situations.
Time out is increasingly becoming one of the popular methods of teaching children how to cope with conflict. This method involves instructing your children to spend quiet time in a designated area. This encourages children to think about their behaviour or actions as is usually used as a consequence for established rules that are broken.
Removing your child from the situation is another effective method. This involves taking your child out of the place that is triggering their aggression. For example, if the child is at the playground and they are constantly getting in fights because they are being selfish, then warn them that if they do not exercise patience and give others a fair chance, you will have to take them home so they won't be able to play. Importantly, be sure that your threats are not empty; always through on what was said.
While many parents have found these methods to be quite useful and effective, Dr Bell said that unfortunately some children still struggle, but parents should remain calm because all hope is not lost.
“If the tantrum continues unabated and the child's behaviour is affecting how they interact with others, professional help is advised. Parents should seek the help of a psychologist, paediatrician or child psychiatrist to better understand the child's behaviour,” Dr Bell instructed.