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What is aggression?

Children might be expressing emotions such as:

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Excitement

Children might have:

  • A limited vocabulary to tell you what they want or how they feel.
  • Physical needs influencing their feelings such as hunger or being tired.

Children might be

  • Communicating “I don’t like that.”
  • Imitating “my sister pushed me.”
  • Experimenting “What will happen if I do this?”
  • Exploring “I’m asking for some rules and limits.”

Children might behave aggressively to:

  • Release stress: “When I bite, I feel a little bit better.”
  • Get attention: “Pay attention to me, Mom.”
  • Be powerful: “Look what I can cause, exciting things happen when I hit.”
  • Initiate Play or Affection: “I want to be your friend. Do you want to play with me?”
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Although a normal part of toddler development, aggressive behaviours are not well received by other children or adults. Other children may avoid a child who hits, bites, or takes their toys away. This can be distressing for you and damaging for your child’s self-esteem.


  • Teaching your child acceptable ways to express their feelings will help your child get along with others and develop nurturing relationships with adults and children.
  • Set clear limits and simple rules. “Keep your hands to yourself.”
  • Use specific praise and positive gestures when your child plays nicely with other children. Words, smiles, hugs, nods of encouragement or a “thumbs up” can convey this message.
  • Get to know what triggers your child’s aggressive behaviour. Take steps to minimize these triggers like hunger and tiredness.
  • Supervise and be prepared to step in to stop the aggressive behaviour before it happens. Redirect your child when you notice a rising frustration level.
  • Teach your child words to match their emotions (external link). Dramatic play is a way to encourage your child to express different feelings.
  • Guide an older child to problem solve before they behave aggressively. Help them learn to recognize the problem and come up with a few solutions.
  • Model appropriate emotional control. If children observe parents or older siblings behaving aggressively they will think this is acceptable behaviour.
  • Spend special one-on-one time with your child. The special time together can be just a few minutes several times a day doing activities they enjoy.

What can you do if your child behaves aggressively?

It is normal for young children to behave aggressively. If, despite your best efforts, your child behaves aggressively, there are some ways to respond. These steps will preserve your child’s self-esteem and teach them non-aggressive ways of communicating their feelings.

  • Calmly acknowledge your child behaved aggressively.
  • Let your child know they have hurt someone. “Jessica is crying. It hurts her when you bite.”
  • Tell your child what to do instead. “Use your words.”
  • Give attention to the hurt child and offer to let your child make them feel better. This will encourage your child to develop empathy and model positive ways to make amends or react to someone who is hurt.
  • Help your child identify their feelings and verbalize non hurtful ways of expressing emotions.
  • Teach the hurt child to use words to respond to an aggressor. “No! Stop! Or I don’t like that!”

Avoid behaving aggressively to your child

Although you may have heard family or friends say, “Just bite him back, then he will know how it feels”, there are three main reasons not to respond in this manner:

  1. Biting or hitting your child hurts your child.
  2. It shows your child aggression is acceptable behaviour if you are older and bigger.
  3. Your young child is just learning empathy. They will not understand that the pain they feel when you hurt them is the same pain they are causing.
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Resources on aggression

Further support

If aggressive behaviour persists, or you are concerned about your child’s aggressive behaviour seek professional support. Contact Halton and ask for HaltonParents or your child’s doctor.

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