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My toddler is developing an aggressive streak

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The question

My two-year-old daughter is developing an aggressive streak. She'll push kids over at day care and scratch their faces. But the thing is, she doesn't seem to be doing it because she's upset or because she wants to hurt people. In fact, she almost always behaves this way when she's very happy and over-excited. My wife and I tell her it's wrong but she doesn't seem to get the message. How can we get her to play nice?

The answer

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Your toddler is very energetic and at the age of two, most parents find it a huge challenge to teach toddlers what is socially acceptable.

She may have a desire to get the attention of her peers and because she may not be able to communicate her needs, due to a limited vocabulary, she may resort to aggression.

Although you mention that she does not seem to be angry or upset, make sure there are no frustrations that may trigger these events. She may have a nature of wanting to control things and if she does not get her way it may frustrate her. Pent-up frustrations may lead to unintended aggression.

However, these aggressive episodes can hurt the other kids in day care. For that reason one must put an end to it before it escalates and become too difficult to change.

Dr. William Sears (See suggests three useful methods you may want to try

---Identify the trigger or situation that prompts your child to be aggressive. Could it be more common when she is tired, or hungry? Are there too many kids in a small and confined space?

---Use time out as a consequence. Children remember rhyme rules well such as "If you hit you must sit" For a two year old 2 minutes of time out is appropriate (See for more ideas on time out)

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---Model kind behavior and help the child make the connection that kind gestures are rewarded.

Be cautious when it comes to her watching TV shows where there is aggression; deal with older siblings who may model aggression; make sure there are no recent changes in the day care staff.

I have heard from a mom, who faced the same issue you are facing, that she found a resource which prevented her from pulling her hairs out in frustration.

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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