Is your toddler always kicking and screaming? There’s a reason for much of it.

Physical aggression, like pushing and hitting, is part of the learning process. This typically lasts from about one-and-a-half to three-and-a-half years of age, until children learn how to ask for a toy, for instance, rather than just grab it from another child.

Early childhood research first connected aggression and language skills. One theory was that kids who didn’t develop language skills early seemed to show more aggressive behavior. But after age 3, skills and behavior were in better balance.

Newer research, published in the journal PLoS ONE, has uncovered a different explanation for why aggressive behavior worsens for some kids, and it involves the amount of affection they get from Mom and Dad.

Affectionate parenting is connected to both low aggression and good language development. That means that it might facilitate both language learning and learning what’s acceptable behavior.

As a parent, you might think that you shower your child with hugs and kisses, but do a self-check to see how often that’s really the case. You want to make sure your displays of affection outnumber reprimands and punishments. Offer lots of praise along with the hugs and kisses — it helps motivate toddlers to follow rules.

At the same time, resist overloading kids, especially very young ones, with too many rules early on, which can be frustrating. Start with ones important for their safety, then gradually add others over time.

Though tantrums and other forms of misbehavior can be frustrating for Mom and Dad, find ways other than unproductive yelling back to rein in your toddler. Stay calm and even hug your child in the heat of battle to reassure him or her that they’re loved. Speak in a calm voice to avoid escalating the tug-of-war.

And remember that a time-out gives both parent and child time to calm down.


More information

The Children’s Trust of Massachusetts’ One Tough Job details great ways to show your child love.

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