When to worry about toddler aggression? That is a question many parents ask because it can be hard to know what is “normal” when it comes to toddler aggression and what might be a warning sign that something bigger is happening.
These articles will give you an idea of some of the best ways to handle aggressive behaviour in toddlers.
What is normal toddler aggression?
Toddler aggression is very common. Hitting, pushing, biting, kicking, etc are all behaviours you can see in toddlerhood.
Toddlers seek their independence way more than when they were babies, but they don’t always have the words to express what they want to say, or the self-control to hold back their big emotions.
Toddlers might hit a playmate instead of just saying, “I don’t like that,” or, “Can I have that toy back, please?” They often use aggression as their form of communication.
You can expect to see toddler aggression, and as parents, it’s our job to keep everyone safe, which often means physically interfering to prevent the aggression and teaching our children emotional intelligence.
(Check out these recommended children’s books to teach toddlers about their big feelings.)
Why does toddler aggression “flare up”
There are likely times that you notice your toddler seems to be more aggressive than they have been before.
You might think this is a warning sign, that something is wrong, and that it’s time to worry about toddler aggression.
It’s quite common though that certain scenarios can make toddler aggression increase. Let me give you a few examples.
#1. Your toddler has just started daycare and they seem to be more aggressive than ever before, but the daycare workers say your toddler never hits at daycare.
This could be because at home they feel safe enough to release their big emotions physically, but at daycare, they are tenser.
#2. For the past few nights, your toddler was sick and not getting enough sleep. They’re better now but they’ve been more aggressive. This can be because they are sleep-deprived.
#3. Ever since you had another baby your toddler has been hitting you multiple times a day. This could be because they feel that they’re not getting as much attention before. They hit you to express their frustration, but also to get your attention. This can also happen if say busy lately and haven’t spent as much time with them (for example started a new job or even have been working on a project inside the home that’s taken up your undivided attention).
#4. A major change or traumatic experience has happened in their life recently. This could mean moving houses or if you have gone through a messy divorce with an abusive partner. Toddler aggression can flare up at these times because they are dealing with very big complicated feelings that they’ve never had before.
These are all normal reasons for toddler aggression to increase, and shouldn’t cause parents to worry. There are gentle strategies you can use to decrease the aggression your toddler is expressing as you can redirect them to appropriate ways to express themselves.
If your toddler’s aggression appears to be more than just a temporary situation then you might be starting to worry that something else is “wrong” that you need to address.
How to determine if toddler aggression is normal
Before we finally address when to worry about toddler aggression, let’s discuss the points you must first consider before thinking the toddler aggression might be a sign of something bigger.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. When your toddler is aggressive are you a calm presence and can help soothe them, or are you becoming irritated or angry and increasing the tension?
Toddler aggression might be continuing and getting worse if you’re not able to help them calm down, or if worse you are making them even more upset by adding your own strong negative emotions to the mix.
If this is something you already know you need to work on then I would encourage you to check out my Calm Down Corner Kit.
2. Can you identify an underlining cause to their aggression? Look at the examples above and consider any other possibilities for your toddler’s aggression. What are you doing to address the underlining cause?
3. Does it feel impossible to stop your toddler’s aggression, even when you are calm and respectful as you try to soothe them? Do you feel like you’ve already tried everything to help them calm down but still it seems like they are aggressive more often and to a higher intensity than most toddlers?
4. What is your gut telling you? Are there other things going on that make you think your toddler’s aggression is beyond typical toddler aggression? Gut feelings can be very valuable in parenting.
Toddler Aggression When to Worry
It might be time to “worry” (as in, consult your family doctor or pediatrician) about toddler aggression if:
- No matter what you do your toddler forces their aggression. Even when you are calm and gentle.
- You feel like their aggression is out of control and you can’t keep yourself or others safe.
- You always have to avoid places with other children such as playgrounds because you know your toddler will seek to hurt them.
- You can’t identify any other causes of their aggression.
- You feel a parental instinct that something is wrong.
This is “when to worry” about toddler aggression, but really it means it might be time for you to seek out help from a professional who you can talk to specifically about your child (unlike me who can only give you general information). It’s important that you and your child get the specific support you need.
It does not mean there is something “wrong” with your child. Often as parents we can’t see the obvious that’s right in front of us and there might be some minor changes you can make to decrease the frequency or intensity of your toddler’s aggression.
There is nothing wrong with worrying about toddler aggression if it means you seek to help your child. As the parent, you are there to coach and guide them.
Toddler Aggression & Neurodiversity
Children who are neurodiverse might experience more aggression and they might not.
It’s worth noting though that this doesn’t mean these children are “bad” or “worse” than neurotypical children, but they have their own unique challenges that might make them act aggressively more often, struggle to control it, and struggle to express themselves verbally, etc.
It is important to have compassion for all children. Toddlers do not simply “choose to be naughty” and act aggressively to annoy us.
I do not want to make a negative association that all neurodiverse children are aggressive or that we should immediately jump to neurodiversity when we see toddler aggression. Often times that takes the responsibility off the parent if it means then they think, “Well it’s not my fault, there must be something wrong with them.”
As parents, we do need to do our best to guide our toddlers and handle toddler aggression with a calm and confident attitude, but the truth is many parents of children with autism will state that they first suspected it due to their aggression in toddlerhood.
If you deeply feel that there is something else going on with your child then it’s important to talk to a doctor, but it’s also important that as parents we are handling toddler aggression in a truly helpful way, instead of just thinking it’s totally beyond our control.
Overall though it’s very important to note here the necessity of a medical professional to actually see and treat your child to be able to determine if they have autism or any other type of neurodiversity. Professionals are well trained to be able to know if the kind of toddler aggression you are seeing is within typical toddler behaviour or possibly part of something bigger that may need additional care.
Conclusion on toddler aggression when to worry
Often times toddler aggression is not something we need to worry about, but it can be an indication that there is more we could be doing for our toddler.
It’s important that parents realize the role they play in helping toddlers soothe their aggression and learn better ways to express their feelings.
It is really easy to feel overwhelmed and even angry when it comes to toddler aggression, so you might feel like it’s a reason to worry. Work on developing skills so as the parent you can confidently help your aggressive toddler.
This website is dedicated to making gentle parenting practices easy for you, so you can confidently teach your child how to handle their big emotions without aggression and so you can respond to them calmly.
Let me know in the comments if you’d like me to write more about how to teach toddlers how to handle their emotions and what to do when they do act aggressively.
(PS – Does your toddler also run away from you a lot? Read this 10 Easy Ways to Prevent Toddler Running Away