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Toddler Using Force? 2 Steps To Take Now!

Updated: Feb 5


It's a sinking feeling when you realize a toddler you care for is using force (i.e. hitting, pushing, kicking or even biting) in order to get what they want. I've felt that way myself many times over the last 40+ years.


That's how long I've been a peace loving early childhood teacher and/or parent. So that's how long I've been thinking about hitting and hurting in toddlers and preschoolers. They say it's common, but it doesn't feel that way when it's happening to you. I remember feeling more embarrassed than anything at the time. Worried too.


Why couldn't I stop this from happening? I saw other caregivers using calm words that seemed to work but the words I knew at the time just weren't working for me.


So what do I know now that I didn't back then?

Here it is in a nutshell.

It's important to stop the hurtful behavior when it's happening but even more important to teach the language they need to know in order to get stuff without hurting people. Not an easy task but well worth it.


Last week I shared a few things that you can try and included a slideshow that explains in detail what to do and say when an incident occurs. If you haven't seen last week's article, check it out, it's only about 4 minutes long. It could save you hours of wondering what to do.


This week I'm only sharing one technique. It's an important one. I'm kind of joking when I call it the BAD technique but it might help you remember in a pinch.


You'll want to read to the end of this article to get to the other side of the coin or what to teach in place of the hurtful behavior if you want to promote peace in your world and supply kids with what to do, instead of only focusing on what not to do. That's important in the home, the classroom and in life. Here's an example from my past experience.

Stuart was a young 3 year old, petite and adorable. He had a great smile and he loved playtime. He was very active.


It was when playtime was over and clean up was starting that Stuart became irate. When asked to help he actually started growling and spinning his body around with arms outstretched and flaying wildly. The toys would be dashed from the shelves and anyone in his path would be whacked! And I was in charge of Stuart.



Another teacher called him the Tasmanian Devil. I didn't think it was funny.


After speaking with his mom I found out that he was an only child and usually didn't act like this at home. We tried all the normal things like clean up games, 5-minute warnings, separate warnings, close proximity, positive encouragement, and so on. Nothing helped. Then someone suggested the BAD approach.


Here it is:

When an incident occurs, take notes. Write down what happens Before, After and During the problem. Take note of the time, where it happens, and who is present. Write down every detail you can think of and after about 3 or 4 times you should see a pattern.


With Stuart, it was a blood sugar crash. He needed to eat sooner. If lunch was served to him 15 minutes earlier, the tantrum didn't happen and he could be reasoned with about clean up.


You might see something entirely different but that's the beauty of it. It's completely individualized. Try it. Also remember the ideas I've shared in the previous post. The more you know, the better.


Now here's the other side of the coin to consider.

I mentioned that teaching the words they need is the longer term solution to the problem of aggression. I gave specific examples last time, but here's a tip you can use with toddlers on up.


Everyone wants to be noticed for who they are and what they choose to do. And we want to teach young children to talk, right? So here's an easy idea to get both done at once. When you see a young child playing nicely, notice them and give them the words for it. Make eye contact and smile.

  • I see you, Penny! You're holding a train.


  • I see you Leonard! Your climbing.


  • I see you Rajesh! Your making a meal.


This tip is especially good if you're busy. It gives the attention they crave and supplies the language you want to teach. It's lazy genius101!


You deserve more clear and simple ideas like these in your life.


Are you a caring parent or caregiver who has questions about sharing, cleaning up, tattling, or positive communication? Find answers in my free slideshow, How To Get Kids To Listen Without Yelling Or Time-Outs!


Thanks for stopping by!

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.


*click on the word PLAY!






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