Should I Encourage My Toddler Son to Be More Aggressive?

Updated on June 18, 2011
M.T. asks from Miami, FL
18 answers

Hi Moms,

I'm a single mom to a wonderful 2 1/2 year old boy. He is well mannered and so sweet but at times can be a bit meek and I wonder if this is something I've done wrong. I recently witnessed multiple episodes of his playmates swiping toys away or hitting or pushing him and much to my dismay he seems to just take it. I've stressed the importance from a very early age to be gentle and tried to model good behavior but did I overdo it and as his not so involved dad likes to say, "you've turned him into a sissy"! I understand aggression is typical toddler behavior and that they outgrow it but my concern is: am i setting my son up to get bullied and beat up in school?

What can I do next?

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I think you are mixing up assertive and aggressive.

It's OK for him to be passive, kind, quiet, etc.
BUT he needs to know how to speak up for himself IF it bothers him. If it doesn't then there's not necessarily a problem, right?

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answers from Charlotte on


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answers from Seattle on

This probably not something you taught him. This sounds like an inborn personality. And no, this type of kid doesn't tend to be a bully victim. The hypersensitive kids who give extreme responses to everything are more likely to be targets for bullying.

I worked with a kid like this in a childcare center. At age 18 months, we'd turn around and discover that three kids were sitting on him. He'd never complain, he just sat there with a confused look on his face. We encouraged him to make some noise if other kids were sitting on him, and reminded the other kids that he was not a pillow.

Fast-forward six years. I also worked with this same child in a school-age program. He was the most bully-proof child I've ever met. No one *ever* picked on him. What would be the point? He never reacted to anything. Everyone knew you simply couldn't get a rise out of him, so no one ever tried. He was friendly, social, well-liked, and *never* picked on. It was amazing.

Encourage your son to speak up for himself, if you feel he could use his voice a little more effectively. But don't worry too much about bullying. Bullies look for a reaction. If he doesn't react and doesn't care, he's not likely to be bullied.

Tell his father he's the strong, silent type. Not a sissy. And not to call him names.

Good luck!

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answers from Dallas on

I wouldn't teach him to be more aggressive, just more assertive, and would probably do it in a year or two and not yet. If I saw kids taking his toys, I would get them back myself until he's older.

My son was the same way at that age. He was just too freakin' sweet to stand up to anyone. If they took something, it didn't cross his mind to do anything about it. But he's also very good at sharing and including people in everything. He's very social and loving.

As he's gotten older, he's naturally become a bit more assertive. It might be because of his little sister who can get a bit bossy. My son has learned to stand up to her.

I don't know if others would agree, but I'd consider waiting a little while longer before trying to teach him to be more assertive. At 2.5, he's still pretty little. He might figure it out on his own. My son is now 4.5 and will speak up just fine if he needs to. He's learned over time.

Hope that helps!

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answers from Portland on

Never teach your son to be aggressive. Yes, perhaps teaching him to be assertive is in order. However, he's just 2 1/2. "Turning the other cheek" is an acceptable way of handling other people's aggression. I suggest that if it's truly not bothering him to let it be until he's older.

And yet, are you sure it isn't bothering him? Perhaps he just has a quiet way of showing his feelings. Does he make a face or stomp off? Does he look confused? Watch for subtle signs of dismay.

One way to teach is to model assertiveness for him. When another child hits him, intervene by saying "that hurt (son's name.) Do not hit." As to taking away toys, you can say, Thank you for sharing your toy. Lets get another toy for you" so that he knows that he can do something about his toy being taken away. You do want him to share. It's up to the other boy's mother to teach him to not take away toys.

I don't think he's a sissy. I suggest he's just not as easily upset which is a good thing. I wouldn't want to teach him to hit back or to fight and I suspect that is what his father wants.

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answers from Tampa on

Standing up for yourself is not aggression. Teaching him to be able to stand up for himself towards others is a good thing, as well as teaching gentle and good manners.

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answers from Mayaguez on

You ARE doing the right thing. Good behavior is never wrong. You can ask the other boy to give back the toy and/or not to push. As a supervising adult you shouldn't let the bad behaviour pass without trying to correct it.
When my grandaughter was in pre-school, she was always the good kid and there was this little bully-in-the making who would take her stuff and push and shove his way around. His parents had always taught her never to hit other kids. Then the lesson had to evolve into never hit other kids UNLESS they hit first. Till one day, the other kit stepped on her foot, and that was IT. She stompt on his foot as hard as she could...and never again.

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answers from Honolulu on

Aggressiveness... is DIFFERENT from standing up for oneself.

Girls can be aggressive or "sissies" too.
It is not gender related, and I hope, your son's Dad does not criticize your son, to your son, this way.
Otherwise, your son's Dad, will be making his son... meeker.
Because he is hammering down, his son's own personality.

Your son is VERY young.
At this age a child does not "socialize" yet. They do what is called "Parallel Play." Look it up online.
It is developmental based.
A child this age, does NOT play, interactively yet. NOR do they know social skills or nuances or social protocol nor how to communicate, yet.

Keep "expectations" of him, age appropriate.

Again, kids this age, are not totally socialized yet, and they Parallel Play.
They are not, rocket scientists, about playing/interacting, yet.

But sure, you can teach him how to communicate and role-play with him and teach him what to say.

Again, the more a child is criticized by a parent, the meeker they will become. Or, they will act out, aggressively, because they are not happy and they are being told, they are a "sissy."

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answers from Provo on

Ugh I hate it when people call boys a sissy or are worried that they are turning gay just because they wont fight back.
Dont change the way he is. That is who he is. Would you want someone to change your mama instincts at all? I highly doubt that. Same thing for him. Right now as a toddler, aggression is NOOOOOOT what you want. When they are older and can understand when to defend or when to walk away, then yeah karate classes type thing would be great.
And no, you are not setting him up to be bullied at school. You can NEVER know who will be bullied and who wont. I know some amazing prom queens that you would have never guessed that k-8th grade they were bullied. Or I know the opposite. I know other popular girls and guys, but are now being bullied at work. You can't predict it. Love him, tell him that they are being naughty and he was so good for not being mean back. And give him big hugs and kisses.

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answers from Portland on

Your son's not-so-involved father needs to keep a lid on it.

You did not 'turn him into a sissy'. Wow, what a horrid thing to say.

My son is four, and not an aggressive kid at all. He's only hit at me about twice, and the second time, he took a 'near miss' swipe at me before taking a soft swipe at me. I still treated it as if he'd hit me, because he was testing this idea, and asked him to take some time in his room. Then he had to "check in" with me. ("Are you okay?"etc.)

Some kids just aren't aggressive kids. I'm not even going to suggest that this is a parenting issue, it's just a personality trait. What you can do is notice your son's discomfort and model language for him. "I don't want you to hit/me" or "I want my toy back. You can have it when I'm done."

Keep using assertive language in those situations. No, you are not setting your son to up to 'get bullied'. No one is making the bullies bully another person. That's a very "blame the victim" mentality.

And the not-so-involved dad might benefit from actually being a parent and attending some parenting classes. What he said is rather ignorant. Your child is 2.5, not 15.

And yes, my son will be enrolled in some kind of tae kwon do or self-defense martial arts class when he's old enough and self-disciplined enough. I think all kids will benefit from some kind of self-defense teachings.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I think he's too young to be worried about being bullied in school. It's probably just his personality right now, and my daughter was the same way: very laid-back and not too concerned about things that would annoy most people. If someone took her toy, usually she'd find another one to play with. If her little brother hit or pushed her but it didn't really hurt her, most of the time she wouldn't care. Once my younger brother (her uncle) sat down next to her and kept poking her in the shoulder (gently, just to try and annoy her) and she had this amazing tolerance to ignore him. She was very laid back about things like that.

As she got older I encouraged her to stand up for herself more, especially if her little brother tried to be aggressive towards her, and she learned quickly how to pick her battles and fight back when she needed to. With your son, I think that once he's older, he'll understand more about mean kids and standing up for himself. I think you are doing just fine with your son. :-)

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answers from Portland on

You won't be able to change your child's basic personality. He sounds quite a bit like my grandson, a smart but gentle soul. We keep teaching him verbal skills so that he can hold his own, but will not deliberately teach aggression. That tends to land kids in more fights and arguments.

We also teach him ways to deal with frustration and disappointment, which more aggressive kids will eventually have to learn, too.

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answers from New York on

It may just be his personality - some kids will respond with equal or greater energy when people take something or do something against them. Other kdi don't - they make an internal judgement call that the truck or sand-pail just istn't worth the aggravation of fighting to get it back. i ahve to say in most instance he is probably right and will probably be more emotionally healthy in the long run.

I don't think that will cause any more or less bullying. There's a difference between a wise kid deciding it's not worth the fight and a kid who is afraid of his own shadow. Only you can realy know your child well enough know the answer to that.

WAtch him and see which he is. if he seems afraid of these kids then you do need to teach him to assert himself (not be aggressive - but firm) and stand up for himself and others.

Good luck mama

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answers from Las Vegas on

I'm not sure if 2 1/2 is the right age per say because he may not fully understand circumstantial boundaries. My daughter is 2 1/2 and I respectfully get after kids if they hit or swipe toys. As long as you do it respectfully most parents don't mind or get offended (from what I've witnessed) and if they do then you probably shouldn't be around them anyways because that's where their child is learning not so great behavior. When he's older you can teach him hitting is okay sometimes. I will teach my daughter that because I don't want her to just let someone hit her or beat on her. Self-defense is okay in my opinion. I didn't let people beat on me when I was growing up, but I was definitely not a bully and was the opposite of a bully. Maybe teach him somethings to say, otherwise you should get involved when it happens. I've never had a child sass me about being nice, not even older kids.

His dad may not be involved, but he better know not to say that bs in front of the boy. or try to "teach" him to be aggressive. That will just make him overly aggressive or be even more passive because he's being put down all the time by his dad.

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answers from Phoenix on

They're 2, I really think it's the age. Some are passive & some are aggressive & more physical, especially boys. I think it tends to even out a bit as they get older. Make sure you reassure him that being polite is the right thing to do & that it's okay to stand up for himself when someone's being mean.

Who are these playmates? Is it the same kids being aggressive every time? And where are their parents? And are the parents correcting the bad behavior? Because that's the thing I have an issue with - the grabbing/pushing happens, but it pisses me off when parents don't discipline their kids.

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answers from Chicago on

He needs to learn to stand up for himself ... that is not the same as bullying/aggressive actions.

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answers from Williamsport on

Being OK with other kids snatching toys doesn't mean he's a sissy. That's just a nice demeanor. He should only "retaliate" if someone pushes or hits him. If he's whiny or allowed to have tantrums and cry excessively for mommy (which you don't mention, but those would be alarms), you might need to firm up to preserve his "manhood" :) My son is very well behaved and well disciplined. I didn't baby him in any way and neither did dad. Therefore, he's never snatching and being aggressive on the playground, doesn't get mad when other kids do it, and is super sweet.

BUT, I did teach him to fight back when another child was hitting him every day in the daycare at my gym. My son was 2 1/2 at the time and absolutely knew hitting was not allowed, so he just stood and cried and didn't hit back! He was so happy when I taught him he should hit back (the mom refused to swat her hitter with the "no hitting for hitting" philosophy even though his time outs were having no effect, so I let her know I had given my son permission to use her beloved "logical consequences" if necessary. She may put her kid in time outs, but other kids who just got slugged won't).
We practiced yelling "no" at bullies and hitting them if they hit first at home. The next time we were at the gym and the kid hit him, my son hit him back and knocked him down, and the kid never did it again. The day care lady already knew the other kid was always hitting mine, and I told her I had given him permission to defend himself and she was all for it.

My son is now 3, big for his age, and his dad has refined his proper "punching" form (he can hit pretty hard) while practicing boxing and we're putting him in tai kwon do as soon as he's 4. And again, he is never aggressive to other kids, he's sort of sweet almost to a fault, but because of his size kids don't pick on him. We want him to be tough and defend others and understand wrongdoing. I also love to watch westerns with him because he likes the brave men :) So do what you feel, and tell his dad to be a good manly example and quit the name calling.

As for the middle ground between fighting or not, you should encourage him to speak up right away if someone treats him wrongly, but if it's not bothering him, all the better. He doesn't need to fight back "just because" if he's not upset.



answers from St. Louis on

You should definitely teach him to stand up for himself! Don't teach him to fight, but teach him not to let the other kids push him around or steal his toys!

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