Toddler getting aggressive with other kids

(10 Posts)
HelpMeHelpHim Thu 28-Aug-14 00:42:26

Please be gentle with me, I'm quite all over the place with this one. NC for this too.

The Tl;dr version is this: ds 2y5mo has always had a bit of a temper and is getting quite stubborn, although on the whole he is a lovely and friendly kid. Recently nursery have reported him pushing and pulling other kids - today he hurt another child and I could use some advice.

I would appreciate advice on this. Apologies for the long post but I'm also including background info I think is relevant.

My ds is 2 and 5 months. He is a very happy little chap, great sense of humour - a bit of a clown. He loves making people laugh. He's also exceptionally bright - this isn't just my bias taking over, he really is very very bright. As such he has always been a little boy prone to a lot of frustration. He has excellent language and works stuff out with no problem. He's an only child, and doesn't see many other children. I am disabled and work part time - he goes to nursery one day a week (for over a year) and sees his young cousins every fortnight. He gets a lot of attention and is also very shy and clingy. We don't really socialise with other children other than the above (which I think is part of the problem).

Since he was about 1 and a half he's had a terrible temper. He will just scream and scream like you've never heard at the slightest provocation, to the extent that it's become his stock response to pretty much everything. Despite the fact that he gets a lot of attention, we don't give in to this response - every time he screams he is (calmly) told off and put in time out. He knows that this is the result of his screaming, and he tells us that screaming is naughty, but does it anyway. He is literally making no progress with this. I can't even take him into shops any more as the second we go in he screams until we leave. Literally everyone stops to turn and look and every single shop I go into someone will make a comment. No exaggeration. Now at home being put into time out seems, in his mind, to give him permission to scream - sort of 'if I'm getting told off for this I might as well triple it.'

He's got a reputation for this. My mum says he doesn't do it with her, but he does do it at nursery. He still has meltdowns when we drop him off, which is embarrassing. The second we're out of sight we can hear him stop. He seems insecure, and we don't know why - by all accounts he's happy at nursery.

I've stopped going out with him alone when it's my days off because it's just so hideous. We used to go to a playgroup but he and I were just constantly being shunned and sneered at - if I stepped away for him for a second and he couldn't see me (or I was more than a few metres away) he's just stand rigid and scream. My dh finds it's the same when he's on his own with him. He's generally fine when the two of us are together. We've stopped taking him around my mil's because her neighbours complained. Most of the time (genuinely) he's really really happy and lovely, but anything can set him off and it's hell. We are strict with him - we don't give in. I am not sure how to tackle it.

Anyway, the last two weeks at nursery we've been told he's been pushing and pulling the other children. We've told him off, we've explained to him that people won't want to be his friend if he hurts them. I suspect I know what's behind it though - I think it's his way of trying to force them to play with him. What happened today supports this.

I took him to the library because I figured lack of socialisation is probably the problem. He loves the library and often tries to chat to the older kids, who typically ignore him. So I took him and he was great at first. There was a lady sitting next to us with a baby - about 6 mo. My ds walk over to them and, in the blink of an eye, tried to hold the baby's hand. This is what he does when he wants to make friends - his cousins hold his hand when they play with him so when he wants to play with someone he tries to hold their hand so he can take them to the toys with him. It usually goes down like a lead balloon and I am very keen to reinforce on him that he can't force someone to play with him and that he mustn't grab other children as they might not like it. Well, this was a baby (the mother was holding it) so I immediately tried to take his hand away (they were right next to me), but my ds grabbed the baby's arm and tried to pull him with him. I am so sure he just wanted the baby to play, and I think this is what he's doing at nursery. I was telling him, sharply, "no" and that he was hurting the baby. The baby started crying, my ds screamed and tried to hit out but I moved him back so he didn't hit anyone. I apologised profusely to the mum, took my ds aside and told him off quite a bit, then immediately took him home. I explained why we were going home, and we have talked about it since, but I don't think he gets it. I am, of course, absolutely horrified. I would never have let him near the baby but it had happened so quickly he was doing it before it had even registered.

I am so upset. I know he is a good boy, but this temper! My dh and I are also both very chilled, thoughtful people - we never argue or get angry. On the one hand part of me is saying this is normal, horrible toddler behaviour - something we will still be proactive in working on, and we wouldn't dismiss it, but nothing out of the ordinary and that, with patience and good parenting we'll help him get through it. The other part of us is terrified that he won't get through it and that he's going to be prone to a bad temper and aggressive behaviour. I really could do with some advice. I'm so worried he'll end up being a kid with no friends and a horrible reputation, and I don't know if I'm over thinking it or underthinking it.

Sorry that was such a long bleurgh, but I'm worried.

grandmainmypocket Thu 28-Aug-14 01:03:39

Have the nursery given you any tips on coping mechanisms or any ideas of what could be triggering it? Or when it started happening?

Have you tried speaking to a health visitor? The reason I ask is because there are different things which could be aggravating him. Professionals (worth their salt)should be able to give you a few tips especially if they know him. Is he bored, not stimulated enough.
What does your mum do differently? Don't take it to heart too much. He's so little, he's not going to be a terror. Especially if you care enough to think about what could be causing it.

I am struggling at the moment with my 22 month olds temper, I dont really have any words of advice as it has only started the last couple of weeks.

Going into shops is horrendous at the moment it doesn't matter if she is in her pram or walking instant tantrum as soon as we go through the door - also, like you it seems easier to take her out if there are two of us there..

I think a lot of it stems from frustration but it has certainly been a trying time lately.

hilbobaggins Thu 28-Aug-14 06:17:10

I think he's behaving like a normal toddler. I can understand it's frustrating - toddlers are.

I'm not normally one to make these kinds of recommendations, but I'd really suggest you have a look at the book Toddlercalm. It totally changed my approach to dealing with my toddler because it was the first thing I'd read that explained how his brain works. I have really relaxed about the biting, screaming, pushing other kids, not sharing etc etc, and I've massively downgraded my expectations of him. I just feel much lighter and happier about the whole thing and I think that's having a really good effect on him.

For example here's some stuff I learned that was so helpful:

- 2 year olds are mentally incapable of putting themselves in others' shoes, so when you tell him that others won't like him if he does such and such, it's beyond his understanding to make that link.

- ditto time outs, telling off and punishments for bad behaviour. His brain is not developed enough to understand why what he's done is 'naughty' - or what being naughty is all about. ( this doesn't mean that you do nothing, it simply helps you understand what these measures don't work.)

- being pushy with other kids once again is pretty normal. Mine does it quite a bit, often over sharing toys. But once again children of this age simply do not understand 'sharing' - it is a sophisticated concept if you think about it and he's just not ready for it yet.

- meltdowns at nursery aren't embarrassing at all - happens to everyone! My DS has recently started doing this after being there for a year! I'm. surprised the nursery hasn't told you not to worry about it. If anything this indicates you have a good bond with him and that he simply dislikes the moment of separation. But he is ok afterwards which is great.

- our own behaviour in dealing with our toddlers can be driven by a) expecting too much of them and treating them like mini adults which they are not (eg expecting them to understand why biting, pushing etc isn't ok) and b) feeling isolated like we're the only ones dealing with this and/or being concerned about how we ourselves are being viewed by other parents/adults.

I think the baby at the library thing simply sounds like he was trying in a very cute way to make a connection with the baby and being friendly which is lovely behaviour! He can't at the moment understand that if he's a bit rough with the baby he'll hurt him, but rather than telling him sharply 'no', which he won't really understand why and might upset him, you could praise and empathise with him for that - oh isn't the baby gorgeous, you want to play with hi don't you, you want to hold his hand and be friendly - while also explaining he's a little baby and we have to be very gentle with him. And making sure or restraining him so that he physically cannot hurt the baby. But it doesn't sound like anything to be horrified by, honestly!

The Toddlercalm book has plenty of suggestions of how to help your DS but it's a bit more complicated and thoughtful than a one size fits all Supernanny type approach. You sound like a very thoughtful parent and I think you'll find it very reassuring - I did - and when my DS is screaming, angry, not sharing etc I feel so much calmer knowing that he's meant to have a temper, he's meant to not share, he's meant to be unable to control his big emotions etc etc!

teacher54321 Thu 28-Aug-14 07:30:12

I also have a 2 1/2 year old boy who is delightful but can be an absolute tinker. He also does terrible high pitched screaming and fights like crazy not to go into the trolley at the supermarket.

What're your sons communication skills like? I think they just get so frustrated with not being able to communicate effectively. And I agree with the PP who says you need to lower your expectations, and that it sounds like he was being lovely with the baby smile
If I tell ds off for something his first response is often to fling or hit, and I think that's pretty normal for the age. They have no empathy really and no control over their emotions. You are definitely not alone! However not taking him out of the house won't help in the long term as he will get bored and frustrated. What about the park? Or soft play? Good for using up energy smile

hilbobaggins Thu 28-Aug-14 09:16:05

The supermarket is a major trigger for my DS too, so I don't take him there any longer. I do as much shopping as possible online. From a little person's perspective it's probably too bright, too noisy, too crowded, too overwhelming, possibly even a bit scary. He doesn't want to be there - ok, as much as possible I won't take him there. My DS can shop and I'll take him to the park. I'm trying to see the meltdowns as him trying to tell me something, which helps me to be more empathic.

Someone else posted the acronym HALT the other day which I've also found useful to use with my DS - it's originally came from Alcoholics Anonymous and is used to help people check in with themselves if they're feeling vulnerable but can definitely be applied to toddlers too! Stands for Hungry (when did he last eat? could he need something to eat or drink?), Angry (is he frustrated and angry about something? Does he just need time to vent those feelings?), Lonely (which could be taken here to mean he feels sad or overwhelmed or scared and needs to reconnect and be close to you) and Tired (needs a break? Some quiet time? Nap time?). It's obvious stuff in a way but again helps me to think about the world from his perspective.

It's not a perfect solution but it definitely helps me be a calmer, less frustrated parent.

hilbobaggins Thu 28-Aug-14 10:07:14

Sorry, meant DP can shop while I take DS to the park!

primarynoodle Thu 28-Aug-14 14:00:39

I looked after a 2.5 yo that sounds similar to your ds! everyday I collected him from nursery to be told he had hit/pinched etc

the parents visited a child psychologist and they advised giving the childs emotional states personalities e.g. "oh dear is mr angry coming out because he makes you sad and mummy sad, do you think we could bring mr calm out - lets take some deep breaths together" etc which stops the child feelig like they are 'naughty' or 'to blame' for their outburts and cooperate more with calming down etc. His nursery, his parents and myself all adopted this technique and it was actually more effective than naughty steps etc which supriesed me! once he calmed down then you have a chat about his actions that make people sad etc.

might be worth looking into?

HelpMeHelpHim Sun 31-Aug-14 00:16:45

Thank you so much for your replies, they have really helped me feel so much better about the whole thing and I'm starting to feel like Dh and I are right to trust our instincts with him. We're both fairly relaxed people but we like to give ds a good routine so that he feels secure, but not so rigid a routine that he'll be distraught if it has to be adjusted from time to time. He is our world but we don't want him growing up thinking the world revolves around him, iyswim.

grandma - Nursery haven't given us any indicators as to what's causing his pushing/pulling - I've asked them but received very vague answers. I'm torn between thinking that maybe this is because they're not too concerned (yet) and the fear that maybe they're not paying attention. I feel the former is the case but it's difficult. I will schedule a time to meet with his key worker if it happens again, which it surely will.

As for the differences at my mum's - well, he did pull my niece's hair this week, so I'm guessing sometimes he acts up there too. They have a much bigger house, a big garden, so more opportunity for him to let off some steam. Plus it's different etc, so there's that factor. I think I do need to get him out more, running around.

badger - sorry you're having a hard time too, I really sympathise, although it's good to know I'm not the only one struggling with this. Seems like it sometimes though!

hilbo - thanks so much for that book recommendation, I've bought a copy and have found it really interesting so far. I've often thought to myself that I have to be more mindful of the fact that he doesn't understand some concepts but after a while you start to question yourself, don't you. Already I've started changing my tone and understanding and the results have been pretty apparent already. We've had a lovely few days with lots of laughter and minimal stress. And I've started thinking about the HALT strategy and found that this works too. Why his doesn't ask for water if he's thirsty I just don't know!

teacher His communication skills are excellent - that's part of the problem I think, for me and dh that is. He has amazingly good language skills and has from a young age. I think that's why it's so hard to deal with his random screaming sometimes, as it would be easy for him to explain what his problem is. But that doesn't mean his thought processes are any more logical!

Primary - that sounds like a good strategy, I think that's one we'll bear in mind!

HelpMeHelpHim Wed 10-Sep-14 21:53:00

I just wanted to give an update on this. I know it's only been a week and I really hope I'm not tempting fate, but...

I really really want to recommend ToddlerCalm to everyone. I've nearly finished reading it now and oh my God! I am reassured that a lot of it was very similar to what we were doing anyway but perhaps ramped up a level, so I feel that we weren't doing too badly, but it's a way of thinking and approaching situations that fits with the type of people we are. The changes have been scarily immediate. In the last 10 days we've had one tantrum that lasted about 15 seconds. He has been so happy, so confident and less clingy. He almost seems more grown up - I think because I've been using the 'commentary' style method of interacting with him, proving that I'm interested in his things, he's conversing with me very seriously and happily. Having well thought-out reminders of how toddler's brains work has been an enormous help as well - i feel less pressured and am therefore more relaxed, and I'm sure he's picking up on that.

As a strategy there are a few things I don't agree with (I can't reconcile myself with not giving praise) and there's a small part of me that feels anxious but I think this is because it disagrees with so much of the conventional parenting tactics everyone else seems to use - I've had a few raised eyebrows from my family who seem to think it means not setting boundaries or punishing bad behaviour, rather than understanding that a lot of what is now thought of as bad behaviour is normal and understandable toddler behaviour and that it's about helping them learn how to control their impulses as their brain matures rather than squashing it when the child can't understand what they've done wrong. But the last 10 days have been wonderful. The things that have always been triggers for him have not been a problem at all - I took him to the shops today and he was wonderfully behaved. I'm so pleased.

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