Saturday, December 11

Normally Sweet 2 Year Old Suddenly Very Aggressive with No Eye Contact, Won't Pay Attention

Question:  My normally sweet, well behaved 2 yr old (only child) has suddenly become very aggressive towards the other children in his preschool (toy swiping, pushing, etc.) He will not make eye contact with teachers when reprimanded.  How can we get him to pay attention when we are talking to him? This type of behavior continues at home. He throws a fit when he does get what he wants.
Answer:
If this is sudden and out of the norm, I would first rule out teeth or some other physical pain.  Those two-year molars can be a bear and can make them VERY cranky.  Also look at life changing stressors - a move, a new baby, etc.  You might also have his ears checked.  Not looking you in the eye makes me curious if he actually hears what you're saying - or if it makes sense to him.  Fluid or infections can make comprehension take a dive. 
Once you rule out anything physical or an obvious stress, the first rule of thumb is that you do NOT reward behavior you don't want to see.  If he throws a fit, be darned sure he doesn't get what he wants.  Sometimes it's difficult to figure out what they DO want - but take a step back and try to look at it with fresh eyes.  Go to www.lifewithtoddlers.com and click on the fridge icon - it will give you a basic overview of the ABC guide and how to address behavior.  It's really meant to be used in conjunction with the book - there is just too much information and training to stuff into a simple guide - but it does get you to start thinking differently. 
Most toddlers will start in with the fits and tantrums at around 2 - we just have to let them know that it is not okay and guide them on what we DO want to see.  Many times, in our effort to do the best for our child, we give in to demands thinking it will make them happy - but it does the opposite and makes them very insecure - then they throw more and more fits in an effort to find some boundaries, and you've got yourself a giant pickle! 
As far as school goes, they should have some sort of method or system they use to address aggressive behavior.  Make sure they are consistent with whatever is actually working.  If it's not, they need to try a different approach.  And hey, he doesn't HAVE to look you or a teacher in the eye - he just needs to have a consequence that gives him the opposite of what he wants.  Then he needs constant guidance on what you DO want to see next time.  Model for him, tell him, show him. 
However, if he is going in a completely different direction (ie, tearing away from you) when you try to address the behavior, that tells me something might be off.  If he stands still while being corrected, that is different.  He at least knows he's done something wrong - even if he's not clear what.  But if he is tearing away from you, he needs a time out to cool down and get refocused on you.  Time out how to's are in my book - you need to have minimal talking, minimal attention, and absolute follow through.  Otherwise it's a waste and will not work.  After he is calm, use very simple, concise language to tell him what you want and how to behave.
You also want to make sure he can actually hear what you're saying to him.  To do a quick check of his hearing, pick a time when he is calm - say, eating a meal or playing quietly - and ask a simple one step command.  "Put the block here" or "give me your spoon please" - something completely casual, and see if he follows the command.  That will help you to know if he hears and understands or not.  Check to see if he watches your face closely (an indication that he has to concentrate to hear/understand) or if he doesn't need to look at you at all and can still follow the command.

Best of luck - it sounds like you are on top of it and you're a great Mommy!

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