As an adult, you’ve learned to walk away from uncomfortable situations, or talk through a disagreement as opposed to handling it with physical contact. However, preschool children do not know what to do with their emotions and may resort to hitting, pushing, biting or pulling hair. “It’s not that they are bad kids,” says Author Elizabeth Pantley, “they have all this emotion inside them and they really don’t know what to do with it.”
One way that parents can help curve their child’s aggressive behavior is by observing. “If you see your child getting frustrated, step in, come down to his level, identify what he is feeling and give him some ideas on what to do with it,” suggests Pantley. For example, if your child is frustrated that he or she can’t get their toy back from a friend, explain to your child that they can say, “Please can I have my toy now?”
Experts agree that when children get into conflicts and handle it physically, it does not mean that they are aggressive, violent or bullies. “All of those things imply intent. And children this age are not able to form that intent,” says Tom Hobson, Co-Op Preschool Teacher. Another way parents can help their children is by drawing attention to their behavior and talking to them. For example, if your child bites someone, say, “You bit her, now she's crying. It hurt her.” According to Hobson, part of the learning process is how the adults in the room react as well. “When children see that adults are taking their actions seriously, and step in when they hurt somebody, it demonstrates consequences of their behavior,” says Hobson.
When your child fusses, whines or has a temper tantrum, mostly likely there is a legitimate reason for their behavior. Parents need to look for the real motive that is causing them to act out – it could be that they are hungry, tired, frustrated, or perhaps scared. “If we find the true underlining cause of their behavior and solve that, you can have your happy child back,” says Pantley. Parents can prevent tantrums by giving their children fair warning if an activity is going to change or end. For example, give a five, three, and one-minute warning that you are leaving the park to go home. “That way they have an opportunity to process what is going to happen in advance,” says Pantley.
Additionally, it’s important to not worry about what other people are thinking if your child has a tantrum in public. As opposed to being sucked into your child’s dynamic, Childhood Development Specialist Marcy Axness suggests taking a deep breath and grounding yourself, first. “You want to be in a calm centered place, and your child will catch your calm,” she says.
To get a preschooler to oblige, parents may want to consider techniques that encourage the child to be willing cooperate. One tool for cooperation is offering the child a choice. Instead of telling a child to go get ready for bed, for example, ask them what they want to do first: brush their teeth or put on pajamas. “By giving your child a choice, you’re giving him some of that independence he craves, but also it doesn’t really matter to you which one of those two he decides,” says Pantley.