Parenting How To; An aggressive toddler and his little sister

Last week the heavens saw fit to bless me with a little parenting challenge in the form of our toddler acting like an aggressive little devil. Picture him yanking his sisters hair while imitating her screams and then giggling like a mad man once he was detached from her locks. Then picture me filling with rage, staring wide eyed at my gorgeous son, wondering how he could be so mean and nasty…the evil giggle really makes you wonder, where am I going wrong as a parent????!!!

siblingsAll I want to do is scream at him “NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Oh my gosh what is wrong with you can’t you see you are hurting her, YOUR SISTER WHO YOU ADORE! why are you laughing? You are a crazy evil human!”

Instead I try two approaches;

yell NO so loud I scare myself then, growl like some canine mother, and in some weird attempt to stop him laughing and make sure he realises this is not funny but serious and wrong, I put him in his room and close the door. He continues to giggle before banging on the door and beginning to cry, when I open it he smiles from ear to ear and runs out.


while trying to comfort Ruby, look into his eyes and explain that his behaviour hurts his sister and that he needs to be gentle. He meanwhile tries to dodge past my blocking arm to grab back at her hair. Giggling or screaming the whole time.

Neither approach was helping and the problem seemed to be escalating. My super amazing mum came around and shared some golden advice…”just ignore it”….well, thats the short version.

In that moment, when he was being aggressive, all he wanted was attention. There would have been a need he had that was not being met, whether he was tired or hungry or feeling wound-up or just in need of connection…so when other attempts to get my attention hadn’t worked (or weren’t working fast enough) he took action. The bigger RE-ACTION I gave him the more aggressive he became, and by far the worst response was when I myself became aggressive in language and in shutting him away. I do not believe this sort of behaviour from a toddler is a conscious effort to manipulate, he isn’t plotting to be evil and steal my attention, no…it is just an event that occurs and then an intuitive response to react.

So what, am I just meant to ignore this negative behaviour? Isn’t that just the same as condoning it? As a parent don’t I need to control my child, teach them wrong from right?

Here is what I learnt.

That moment will not be when I teach him wrong from right.

In that moment I need to stop the behaviour, but not give it energy, not fuel the fire.

Now when he acts aggressively I stop the behaviour, say firmly but calmly “No, pulling hair hurts and I won’t let you hurt your sister.” Then I walk away with Ruby far enough so he can not reach her but not out of sight. I console her without making a fuss and go about doing exactly what I was doing before the incident. All the while I keep an eye on how he is reacting. Sometimes he will follow and start grabbing, so I repeat “No” firmly and calmly, then move away with little reaction. There is no shaming or guilt, no evil eyes. I believe it is so important that we let our children feel every emotion, anger and frustration are not bad, but sometimes children deal with those emotions in unacceptable ways (ahem.. like hurting their sisters).

I am learning to accept that my toddlers behaviour, aggressive or otherwise, is just part of him finding his way in the world. Sometimes our initial reactions in a situation may seem like a guiding force, but they are not always the most appropriate or helpful. Teaching wrong from right doesn’t happen in one moment, it happens over a whole childhood. We do not learn how to deal with our anger in one moment, it takes a life time of guidance and self development. And we do not learn kindness and gentleness through a lecture our parents gave, but through the behaviour they mirror for us day after day after day after day.

It is also really important to remember that aggressive behaviour is usually caused by an unmet need. Sometimes this is inevitable, as parents we can not always cater to exactly what our children need in each moment. I wrote a post a while back about aware parenting, it has a few tools for helping meet the needs of our children…and hopefully reducing their frustration and anger. Time to Aware Parent your kiddies?