.Violent Toddlers: the Norm?

Updated on July 10, 2014
J.K. asks from Los Angeles, CA
9 answers

Recently at various mommy/me classes, Gymboree, and at playgrounds, I've noticed that there are some violent toddlers out there. These kids push/shove/hit/pinch/kick/throw things at other kids intentionally and without provocation (and it appears, with malice).

For instance, yesterday, a girl who was about the size of a three year old violently shoved from behind another toddler who was not even two years old. The younger kid was sitting and playing near another child, causing her to bump her face on the other child's head. The grandmother of the older kid saw the entire incident and profusely apologized to the other parent. This was a multi-age class.

To give another example, a 20 month old was standing between two kindergarten sized chairs in a class with one chair in front of her and another chair behind her. Out of the blue, a 3 year old comes and begins to push the front chair forward causing the 20 month old to be squished between the two chairs. The 20 month old ended up with her knees bent and her butt just a few inches off the ground, unable to get herself out between the two chairs. The 20 month old's mom came running and stopped the older child from pushing the chairs further. This also happened in a multi-age class.

As I've posted before, my daughter has also been hit and pinched by other children, but she's never assaulted other kids (so far...). I just want to know if toddlers being intentionally violent toward other kids without provocation is normal. I was thinking of sending my daughter to preschool when she was around 2.5 years old, but now I'm getting scared thinking there will be lots of violent kids in her class because my daughter does not know how to fight back.

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So What Happened?

I think a lot of you are offended by my use of the term "assault," which is understandable since I'm talking about our innocent little children. While "assault" has a negative connotation, especially since they're used to describe crimes of violence, I used the term "assault" to just mean an assault. Merriam Webster defines it as "a violent physical or verbal attack." It does not refer to the intention or motivation of the attacker. In my examples, they were violent physical attacks.

More Answers



answers from Springfield on

It is normal in the sense that it is normal for them to lack impulse control and just do whatever they feel like doing without the ability to predict the consequences of their actions.

"I want to stand there. There is something (or someone) in the way, so I will push that object (or person) out of my way so that I can stand there. Problem solved."

"I see a chair I want to push, so I push it."

It's not that the kids are violent or that they are being malicious. They simply are fulfilling their wants.

Of course this is not acceptable. Parents and caregivers need to be jumping in and teaching. Some kids are going to be more aggressive by nature. That doesn't make them bad kids. In fact, that is a very positive trait, as they will be very persistent and determined and work hard to achieve their goals. But it does make the caregiver's job a bit tougher at this age.

My boys are older (5 ad almost 8), so I would expect them to know that (in one of your examples) pushing a chair forward would squish the child. But a toddler can't be expected to understand that. They do need to be taught.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

It's normal for toddlers to behave in a manner that we, as adults, would consider "violent." It isn't that they wish to do harm; they just don't yet understand the boundaries between themselves and others and that their actions can cause harm.
They aren't acting out of malice, just immaturity and ignorance. It's the adults' job to teach them about boundaries and how not to hurt people.

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answers from Dallas on

At that age, I do not think the children are trying to be violent. They are learning to express themselves and it is a learning process which needs the direction of parents, teacher, etc.

The groups you mention have various people involved, likely from various backgrounds and parenting styles.

When your little one begins MDO or preschool, she will learn how to vocalize what she wants instead of pushing and shoving. For some kids, it takes longer and so are more aggressive in nature and just have to be watched more closely.

When MDO and Preschool begins, the children begin to learn the structure and routine of the day, what behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable.

You want her to be able to stand up for herself but not be overly aggressive. It is a balance!

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answers from San Francisco on

Toddlers aren't "intentionally" violent towards anyone. This age group is learning how their actions affect others and basic impulse control. Most kids kind of "get it" early on but that doesn't mean the slower ones are bad in any way, especially when they are around compassionate and educated adults. Take a parenting or ECE class and let your child go to preschool. Stop worrying about "fighting back" I mean WTH (?) my kids went to preschool at 2/3/4 and it was FINE. There is no fighting back in preschool!!!

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answers from Washington DC on

First, please do send your child to preschool. The incidents you describe are in mommy-and-me types of classes and situations where parents are the authorities present (despite the presence of "teachers" or "leaders"). Things in a structured classroom setting with an experienced preschool teacher are very different, unless it's a very bad preschool indeed. Keeping your child out of a good preschool program out of fear she'll be hurt is unrealistic and does her a disservice -- a good preschool will prepare her well for kindergarten and school eventually. And in a preschool that's worth its salt, a child who bites or hits or kicks or shoves is a child who is watched closely and corrected - and who is ejected if he or she can't get with the program and stop it. You are basing your fear on a few incidents that sound frankly very typical for these ages.

I also am a bit taken aback at how very, very detailed your descriptions of these incidents are. While it's great that you're paying attention to these other kids' misbehaviors, I also would recommend that you read some good books on "ages and stages" to learn what is typical and normal behavior for children in the toddler stage, and up to and including age three. "Normal" does not always mean "nice" -- which you'll realize if you read up on development and behavior. Yes, in the two incidents you describe, the kids should not have behaved as they did, but an adult should have intervened before the kid shoved the chairs together, and in the first case, one shove resulting in clunked heads -- well, it's hard to stop that unless you're standing right over the kid in question. The child was corrected and the adult apologetic. End of issue unless the kid then roamed the room doing it again and wasn't removed.

Did the shoving kid then go off and shove everyone around? Repeatedly? Did the kid who pushed the chairs then keep on pushing and run off and do something else "violent" once he was stopped? That would worry me, but single incidents would not. I would worry if the same kid, every week in class, was rough. But again, one incident, corrected? Typical, not a reason to assume violence.

I also note that you seem to think that the child who "was about the size of a three year old" should have known better than to shove the two-year-old. Some kids are huge at two; that kid may not have been three at all. You also note that the child who shoved the chairs is three (for sure, or are you guessing based on size?). If you think that kids of three are supposed to know not to push or shove kids who are two -- please read up on development! The post seems to indicate that these kids were intentionally choosing to attack other kids--as if they planned it. At this age, they simply do not have the mental ability to plot things out intentionally. At this age it's about "I want X, you are in my way NOW." And it happens in a nanosecond.

I am not defending these kids' behaviors. But I also don't see this as some trend toward "violence" as if three-year-olds (assuming they even were three) should be far better at self-control than two-year-olds. Yep, they are older and more developed. But that doesn't mean they have the ability to control themselves ideally.

Consider the situations and not just what you are seeing as the kids' intentional violence. These were group gatherings -- "multi-age classes" as you note. Kids feed on other kids' energy and group play can get out of hand, which requires removing the child for a few minutes or even entirely. If these classes have an "anything goes" vibe and the parents are off to the side chatting, expecting a class leader to do it all, then find other classes instead where things are mellower and better supervised. Not all classes are like this. And not all older toddlers are out to get younger ones. It's the age and stage (and a lack of parents being close enough and watching closely enough much of the time, possibly). But don't deny your child preschool based on this.

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answers from Dallas on

What Gidget said.

I think it's important, as kids grow up, to go beyond "don't do that" and say WHY. Because toddlers don't think about this stuff - it's not developmentally part of they're make up yet. But if we parents say "don't do A because B will happen", it's a lot more meaningful and builds empathy.

Daycares tend to be more structured than these classes you're at. And the park has no structure at all. Accidents happen, but parents also need to be paying attention and teaching behavior.

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answers from New York on

2 and 3 yr olds really cannot see the world from someone else's point of view, though it's important their caregivers try to teach them. A good preschool will have a high teacher to student ratio, and very well trained, experienced teachers. (Much much better than relying on the supervision of parents and grandparents who need to socialize and care for siblings!!) A good preschool will have carefully set up the environment and the age range and the activities to prevent violence. Carefully check out any preschool you consider!

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answers from Grand Forks on

Toddlers have not yet developed social skills or empathy and often have very poor communication skills, so naturally they tend to be more physical at this stage of development.

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answers from Washington DC on

Firstly, please do not discount preschool in general because of these small instances. You don't have to send her at 2.5. You can wait til she is older, more able to speak up for herself, etc. My DD didn't go til 4. You also have time to pick a calm school where you don't feel you need to teach her karate just to sit in circle time.

Secondly, I would try to determine if this is a one-off or not. Kids do random things. My own non-violent child got fed up with another kid and pushed her, but it was a one-time incident. There will be kids that are more handsy than others. The difference, IMO, is how the caregivers respond. Ask the preschool how they handle discipline issues, what problems they see or don't see at that age group, etc. My DD's school had few if any real problems.

I also agree that size of child is relative. My DD is a peanut. Her cousin is a year younger and taller. I cannot expect the same maturity from the 4 yr old as I do from the 5 yr old, even if she is taller physically.

You might also look at the times and places your DD was pinched, etc. We had a child at our pool who took toys from other kids, and then hit kids with the toys. We realized that his parents were not in the pool area with him and got a lifeguard to deal with him. It doesn't mean the pool is a bad place, just he was unsupervised.

The chairs thing - was that just kids playing or was that malicious? I wasn't there. Hard to tell. Kids push chairs more than want to sit in them. Toddlers (1s, 2s) are still working things out socially. Perhaps you should read up on overall toddler behavior to see what the "norm" is vs just what you know from your daughter.

1 mom found this helpful
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