My 18-month-old son hits or kicks us and his friends when he doesn’t get his own way. Is this normal, and how can we stop him doing it?
Xaviera Plas-Plooij, co-author of The Wonder Weeks (Countryman Press, £13.99) says: “Starting around 14 months, your child tries all types of behaviour. Being aggressive is one of those. Your toddler studies how others react if they hit, bite, push or kick, or if they deliberately break something.
“Show your child what you think of their behaviour. This is the only way they’ll learn that this way of getting what they want isn’t sweet, interesting or funny. This way they learn it’s hurtful and adults aren’t amused by aggressive or destructive behaviour.
“Shortly after the first birthday parents report the first physical aggression. This peaks just before the second birthday. Thereafter, this type of behaviour recedes. By the time children reach school age, under normal circumstances it will have mostly disappeared.
“Of course, some children are more prone to aggressive behaviour than others. If children live with adults and children who are aggressive, they’ll assume being aggressive is normal social behaviour. However, children also live in environments where aggression isn’t tolerated and where sweet and friendly behaviour is rewarded. The result is that the child won’t start hitting and kicking when they’re frustrated, want something or are corrected. They’ll use more acceptable ways of expressing themselves.
“Whining and whimpering to get one’s way, childish behaviour like constantly needing to be entertained, and intentionally hurting others – your toddler is no longer a baby. Time has come to lay down some ground rules. Your toddler is ready for you to start asking and expecting more from them. What’s more: they’re searching for these boundaries. The only way they’ll discover most of the rules is if you show them what’s acceptable and what’s not. There’s no harm in laying down the law. On the contrary, you owe it to them.
“Laying down the law means you clearly show your baby certain behaviour isn’t tolerated. One thing you should never do is make them physically feel it. Slapping will be counterproductive and will harm your baby in more ways than you can imagine.
“Other ways of showing which behaviour is positive and which is not are much more productive. Keep in mind: a baby is programmed to want to belong. If his behaviour makes him feel apart from the group, chances are he’ll correct his behaviour so he’s part of the group again.
“Never give mixed signals. Don’t say ’Don’t do … ‘ with a smile on your face. Don’t be ashamed. Public temper tantrums or misbehaviour is really normal and we’ve all been there.
“Show you mean what you say: pronounce words clearly, look your toddler straight in the eyes, and don’t beat around the bush. Be clear and focused.
“Lead by example: don’t shout, scream, hit, harm or show you get irritated. Instead: keep your calm and be clear.”