Aggressive Behavior in Toddlers: What Parents Need To Know

As your child progresses from infancy to the toddler stage, you may encounter unexpected adjustments. One of these adjustments could be a rise in your toddler’s aggressive behavior, which may not have been present during their earlier years.

Toddlers are usually aggressive because they don’t have other ways to express their dissatisfaction. Since your child will be able to push and hit before his vocabulary is fully developed, he may look to these actions when he feels treated unfairly or he is asked to do something he doesn’t want to do.

While mild aggressive behavior is normal for toddlers, there are situations when a toddler’s aggression may be due to an underlying issue.

Know what to look for so you know what is expected developmental behavior and what is not.

Understanding Aggressive Behavior in Toddlers

Your toddler suddenly becoming aggressive can be hard to handle. It’s easier to respond when you understand the reasons behind it.

Is It Normal for a Toddler To Be Aggressive?

Yes, it is normal for toddlers to be aggressive because they don’t have the language skills they need to express themselves verbally.

The frustration and disappointment they feel spill out in aggressive behaviors like hitting, pushing, or throwing objects.

Reasons Behind the Aggression

Toddlers are big on things being fair, and fair to them usually means situations turning out the way they want.

They aren’t yet great at sharing, and if they have to do something they don’t want to do, they are going to let you know.

Toddlers also aren’t good at self-control, and their brains aren’t wired to help them understand the consequences of their actions before they get aggressive.

When Does Aggression in Toddlers Peak?

Aggression usually peaks around the age of two. It’s not all smooth sailing after that, but two is generally the age when your toddler will be learning more words and can communicate verbally. 

What To Expect

Every toddler is different, but it’s a good idea to have an idea of what you should expect as your toddler enters their potentially aggressive phase.

1-2 Years Old

The year between one and two will see your child learning what they do and don’t want. They just don’t know how to let you know that verbally.

Expect hitting and fit-throwing that could lead to your toddler refusing to get up or go where you ask.

You may also notice biting or hair pulling, and your child may have no problem pushing another child if the other child has something they want.

2-3 Years Old

Two- to three-year-olds will exhibit aggressive behavior, but you should see it taper off during this time since language skills are becoming more developed.

You can also start successfully helping your child identify her feelings at this age.

Toddler Hitting Phase

Most toddlers experiment with hitting for a couple of months. When this happens, you should ask your child to stop, gently restrain him if he doesn’t, and redirect his behavior.

He may not be old enough to understand that hitting hurts others, but you can start discussing this concept.

Toddler Biting

Toddler biting is an especially unique challenge that may start out of curiosity when a child is breastfeeding and lead to more aggressive biting when a child is upset.

1-Year-Old Biting

Children who bite at this age are usually doing it to see the reaction. Redirect their behavior, and let them know that biting hurts and is not okay.

2-Year-Old Biting

A 2-year-old may bite because he is angry. You should move him away from the person he is biting and redirect his behavior.

Try to teach your child to talk about what he is feeling so he can learn to verbalize feelings as opposed to simply reacting.

3-Year-Old Biting

By three, your child should understand that biting is not acceptable. If biting behavior continues, it may be time to look for outside assistance from a professional.

Toddler Aggression: When To Worry

A concerned mother holding a very angry toddler outside.

If your toddler’s aggression does not improve after the age of two or if your child is repeatedly harming others, you may need to seek outside help.

Underlying physical or mental health issues could be causing your toddler’s aggression to be worse.

Once these are identified and treated, you should see an improvement that makes life easier for everyone in your home.

How To Manage Toddler Aggression

The best thing you can do when your toddler is being aggressive is to stay calm. This is also one of the hardest things to do because aggressive toddler behavior feels so personal.

Take a deep breath before you respond, and try to get down to your child’s eye level before addressing them.

It’s not a good idea to give into toddler fits, and it’s also not wise to threaten punishments or discipline you aren’t going to follow through on later.

Try to softly soothe your child through holding or talking while they calm their emotions. The actual incident is usually better addressed once they are calm.

To try to preemptively lower the amount of aggression your child exhibits, make sure to praise them when you see them handle something the right way.

They will start to understand that they can get attention for good behavior, not just aggression.

When your child is ready, help them identify the feeling behind the aggression.

Once they can recognize and use their words to identify emotions, they won’t be as likely to rely on aggression.

Related Questions: 

Why Are Some Toddlers More Aggressive Than Others?

Some toddlers are more aggressive than others due to their life circumstances. A child living in a chaotic environment may have an even harder time regulating their behavior. 

That being said, even toddlers growing up in an ideal environment may be aggressive. This could be due to underlying mental problems, sensory processing issues, or their overall temperament.

Just like all adults are different, toddlers also bring their unique selves to every interaction and may react differently to something than their peers.

Why Do Toddlers Throw Things?

Toddlers throw objects for different reasons. Sometimes they are just trying to see what will happen when they throw something.

They may also throw something because it gets them attention or a response that they want repeated.

Toddlers can also throw items if they are frustrated or angry. Figuring out the reason your child is throwing things will help you know how to deal with it.

Final Thoughts

Toddlers are not tiny adults. They are in a unique stage of growth that may leave them acting a bit aggressive or moody at times.

Handle it with patience for the best results, and remember that way too soon, they’ll be all grown up, and their childhood will be just a memory.