I recently went to my friend’s house so our toddler daughters could have a play date and I could get some snuggle time with her new baby boy. While baby snoozed and our girls played nicely in the living room, we decided to head to the kitchen to divvy up the sub I had brought for lunch. Suddenly, we heard the baby screaming and we both went running back to the living room. To my horror, my daughter was standing over the baby’s swing, scratching his sweet face. I immediately pulled her away and scolded her for hurting the baby and told her she had to be nice to others. He was fine, but I was freaking out! My daughter was the sweetest, most loving child that I know, when did she become a bully and why would she want to hurt a little baby? The good news here is that she didn’t want to hurt him, she was just being a curious toddler. Here are 5 things to keep in mind when your toddler is being more salty than sweet.
1. Don’t freak out.
It’s a pretty normal part of toddler behavior. All toddlers go through a bully stage (unfortunately) and they will soon outgrow this phase. Each day my toddler becomes more aware of her surroundings and that includes the people in her life. They won’t want to hurt or upset you or others once they figure out their actions can harm the people they love.
2. They’re looking for a reaction.
She is curious about the reaction she will get from the other child, and from you. Your toddler is just curious about the reaction she is going to receive in response to her behavior. She may hit, or pinch or scratch, but she’s not being nasty for the most part. I mean, of course there are times when she is reacting to something that she didn’t like and those actions are purposeful, but for the most part toddlers are not vindictive or aggressive. Your toddler may also be watching for your reaction or wanting your attention. I know that my toddler has deliberately acted like a bully or hit someone right in front of me simple because she wanted my attention. Keep your cool, mama. Respond firmly and calmly, with as little show as possible.
3. This doesn’t predispose her to a life of crime, so don’t overreact.
Please don’t think she is a criminal. It’s a very normal part of toddler development, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously at this age. Of course you want her to know that it’s not acceptable, and it’s not kind behavior, but don’t lose sleep over it. She will give you plenty of other real issues that will keep you awake over the next 18 years.
4. Make it very clear that she is hurting someone else, and that makes them sad.
Usually if I point out to my daughter that she is hurting someone, and they are crying because of something she did, she is remorseful, she doesn’t want them to cry, and when I show her how upset and sad the other child is, she will usually want to give them a hug or say sorry.
5. Model appropriate behavior.
Show her how to be kind to others. I am constantly modeling kindness to my toddler. Even reminding her to be gentle and nice to the cat or dog when she is petting them, is modeling good behavior. Use every opportunity you can to allow her to share toys or snacks, or even crayons. It’s never too early or late to start teaching your children to be kind to others, and I promise you that it will all be worth it!