Nipping Aggressive Behavior In The Bud
When toddlers start to experiment with aggressive behavior, parents need to step in and teach them right from wrong, according to Tufts’ Dr. Robert Sege.
Boston [08.07.06] We’ve all heard of the “terrible twos.” But what exactly makes dealing with a two-year-old so terrible for parents? Among other things, it’s the age when children start to experiment with aggressive behavior, Tufts School of Medicine pediatrics professor Dr. Robert Sege recently told MSNBC.
“Toddlers are looking at the world and trying out many of their newfound abilities. One of these abilities happens to be aggression,” Sege, who is chief of pediatrics at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts-New England Medical Center, told MSBNC.
But parents shouldn’t be too alarmed when their young children act out by biting or kicking, according to Sege. Rather, they should take the opportunity to teach them the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
“When you see this behavior it just means it’s the perfect time for grown-ups to start teaching children important lessons about aggression,” Sege told MSNBC.
Parents, he added, need to lay down a set of rules for their toddlers and communicate them clearly.
“Tell your child here are things you can do and here are the things you can’t do. Give him the rules. Be concrete,” he told MSNBC.
According to Sege, praising children for obeying the rules is just as important as reprimanding them for bad behavior.
“Toddlers will go to extremes for attention, even if it’s the negative type,” Sege told MSNBC.“So make sure they’re getting plenty of positive attention,” he added, noting that it helps to reward children with “a nod, wink or kiss on the head” when they are behaving well.
Parents should also have a plan for how they will react when their children break the rules. There’s a fine line, however, between talking with children about their problem behavior and giving them too much attention for bad behavior, which may encourage them to repeat it, Sege pointed out.
“Just tell them ‘no biting’ and do a short time out — one minute per year of age,” Sege told MSNBC. “Afterwards, make it simple. Tell them, ‘I don’t want to see you biting again, now go back to playing.’”
As they get older, many children will have learned healthy social skills, but parents should continue to reinforce good behavior.
According to Sege, adults can provide children in elementary school with strategies for civil conflict resolution, such as coin flipping and taking turns.
“It used to be that kids traveled in packs and played with a wide age range of neighbor kids. The older kids taught them how to resolve difficulties,” Sege told MSNBC. “That doesn’t happen so much anymore so adults need to step in and teach these things.”
Stepping in becomes especially important when children start to bully other kids or exhibit signs of other aggressive behavior.
“If parents are concerned their child may be aggressive, or if they're told by the school their child is a bully, or hear about or see a child being cruel to an animal, they need to take that seriously,” Sege told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
He explained to the newspaper that “these are real warning signs” that should prompt parents to consult a pediatrician “to find out what they need to do to get their child some help.”