I have a two year old son who is full of energy. He is very mischievous, but his behaviors haven't been anything more than making messes or getting a laugh. In the last week he has started to become violent. He threw an object in his sister’s face and his cousin’s face in the last few days. When he does this, I put him in time out for a while and then make him apologize. I talk to him about no hitting and no throwing. He speaks, but communication is still limited. He repeats a lot of what I say. I believe he knows full well not to hit, but is very compulsive at this age. What is the best approach for nipping this in the bud?
From: Poohbear, NH
You're right to finger this as a communication issue; most likely, he's frustrated at not being able to say what he wants. But Time Out is not the way to go, he's not cognitively able to get the concept.
A better strategy for nipping this in the bud is to anticipate his frustration, verbalize it for him before he's able to become aggressive, and model acceptable behavior: "You really want the toy your friend is playing with, don't you? Let's ask if you can have a turn when he finishes."
When you can't stop the temper tantrum from happening, keep in mind that this is as scary to him as it is to you. It doesn't feel good to him, but he's like a top that's wound up and has nothing else to do but spin itself out. Once he's in a tantrum:
- Don't talk to him. He can't hear you.
- Don't pick him up unless he comes to you for comfort or is physically unsafe. Then just pick him up and put him some place safer. Just yesterday, I was in Costco and saw a 2-ish year old having an over-the-top tantrum. She had been walking, holding her mom's hand when she started to scream, let go of mom's hand and flung herself on the floor, flailing. The mom looked a little like a deer in the headlights before she grabbed some towels that were in her cart, put them on the floor, and then picked up her child and placed her back down on the towels so she wasn't on the dirty floor. Then mom just waited (with two more kids in the cart, by the way). Eventually, the tantrum ended, mom bent down, picked her up, soothed her, and made her way to the check out. Pretty impressive.
- Don't leave the room -- that's scary to a child -- but let it run its course. It'll feel like hours, but it's usually no more than three to five minutes. Tantrums feed on attention.
- When the tantrum is over, it's over. Hug him and say, "I'm glad you feel better," and move on.
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