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My 2-year-old beats up on his older brothers
Q: Hello Dr. Caldwell. My 2-year-old is very aggressive and tends to beat up on his two older brothers, ages 6 and 3. Telling him “no” can send him into a fit of rage and bring on a huge temper tantrum. He does get told not to do things and we just try to ignore the temper tantrums, but lately he's gotten even more aggressive toward his siblings. We would like to avoid these episodes and teach him that things just can't go his way all the time, and that his brothers aren't here for him to beat on. He's a very smart child who is a master manipulator. Any suggestions on how we can deter these feuds before they escalate into shrieking fights?
A: Hello, Stephanie! I like that personal greeting; it makes me feel that we are talking directly to one another. Three boys under 7; you’ve got your hands full! Want to know what my husband said when we learned we were having twins: “Good heavens! What if it’s two boys?” And you’ve got three. Your little pugilist is bound to be struggling to do everything the older boys do, with frustration being the inevitable result. And when children (and adults) are frustrated, they tend to be aggressive. Your major tool should be prevention. I know you can’t hover over them constantly around the house, but it usually isn’t too difficult to recognize signs that trouble is brewing—rising noise level, one coming to “tattle,” whines or tears from someone. If it appears that the little one is about to cross the hitting threshold, whisk him out of the room. He won’t like it, but insist anyway and say, “You can go back with the other boys after you calm down.”

If you can’t intercept an aggressive response, simply remove him from the place where the big boys are playing after one happens and say, “You can’t play with your brothers if you’re going to hit them.” Finally, try to be especially alert to make certain he isn’t just “hitting back.” Bigger boys can be more clever and successful at hiding their own aggression than a 2-year-old can!