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How Should I Deal With My 3-Year-Old’s Aggressive Behavior?

Aggressive behaviors (kicking, hitting, throwing things, etc.) are fairly common in three year olds, but no less unacceptable and distressing for parents. Children who are aggressive could be frustrated or under stress. The stress could be as simple as not wanting to share, or something larger such as a change in the family or a new sibling. Aggression could also be a behavior that children learn from other family members or friends.

What should parents do?

  • Teach your child to express his feelings with words. “I know that you are angry with your sister. Instead of kicking her you can say to me, ‘I am angry with her because…'”
  • Encourage expressive play. Hammering, creating with play dough or clay, water play, sand play, painting, and coloring can relieve frustration and are acceptable ways to deal with stress.
  • Set limits. Let your child know it’s not OK to hurt others.
  • Monitor your child’s play with others.
  • Reward co-operative and non-aggressive behavior. Say, “I like the way that you played together so nicely today.” And remember, hugs are great rewards!
  • Spanking and yelling often make children fearful or angry and can encourage aggressive behavior.
  • Model appropriate behavior. Children learn behavior modeled by the adults around them.
  • If your child’s aggressive behaviors continue on a consistent basis or worsen, talk with your pediatrician for possible referral for further assessment.
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