Is my baby a bully?

Toddlers are very interested in establishing their independence which can sometimes be displayed as aggression.

If you are a parent of a toddler (15 months-36 months) you may have experienced a similar situation as the following, leaving you wondering and worrying, “Is my baby a bully?” Below is a question a mother asked a Michigan State University Extension expert.

“I’ve been told from daycare that my sixteen month old daughter can really ‘hold her own’ now that she has transitioned into the toddler room. I was there the other day and a kid was wobbling in her way and she pushed him down. I was horrified! Is pushing a learned behavior or something in our nature? I don’t want my kid to be a bully. At the same time, should I be glad she is asserting herself? I also don’t want to teach her to be a quiet and good girl who doesn’t stand up for herself.”

 Being the parent or caregiver of toddlers can be an exciting, yet challenging time. A toddler’s main developmental task is to begin to establish their independence. This means that they are practicing how to assert themselves, letting everyone know what they like and don’t like and trying to do things on their own.

A typical toddler battle cry could be something like, “Me do!” They are only beginning to explore important social skills like sharing, taking turns and waiting. At the same time, these little ones still have very little self-control and combined with a limited vocabulary, they can become easily frustrated, and act out aggressively. A shove, for example can mean, “you are in my space, and I am worried you are going to crash into me.”

Teach toddlers appropriate ways to express all emotions, positive and negative. Children are not born knowing how to express emotions. Simply naming a child’s emotions can significantly reduce their stress levels, for example saying, “I see that you are upset because your friend has the car. I know it is hard to wait. Let’s see what else we can play with while you wait.”

Read books about friendship, sharing and emotions. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning website has some great information for parents and childcare providers on helping children acquire critical social skills. From this website, you can access a list of books that help promote social emotional development.

Children are good imitators. Show them how you want them to behave. Say what you are doing, while you are doing it, which is often called ‘parallel talk,’ such as, “our friend Sophia is crying because she wants to use the bike. I think I will give her a hug, and tell her I understand.” Say out loud, when you are around them, “I am being very gentle with your teddy bear. Can you show me gentle?” Then praise them for being gentle by saying something for example, “you are so gentle!”

 If you are noticing a high level of aggressiveness in your toddler, think about what might be causing it. Have they had a change in childcare providers or daycare rooms, are they teething, have you had any changes in your family routine?

Above all, be patient. Learning appropriate expression of emotions takes time. Remember, one shove does not make a toddler a bully. They are more than likely trying to tell you, in a not so appropriate way, that something is not right and they need you to figure it out for them. Some extra hugs and kisses from you and all those people around them who are crazy about them can be a good first step.

In addition be sure to check out the Michigan State University Extension website, where you can find reliable up to date information and articles on children and families.

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