Q&A: My child has become very aggressive in social situations. How can I stop this?
My son just turned 2 and is an only child. In order to provide him with some socialization with other children I have enrolled him in music and gymnastics classes. The first semesters in both he did great; he participated, was cooperative, and was somewhat interactive with the other children in the classes.
Now that he has turned 2, all of this has changed. He has become aggressive and uncooperative. He doesn't want any other child to touch a piece of equipment he is using in gymnastics, he yells at them and tries to hit. He tries to interact with some of the other children (he leans close to them and says, "hi" or touches them). If they do not respond he gets aggressive and kicks or hits. I take him away from the siutation for a short time out, tell him the behavior is unacceptable, demonstrate acceptable behavior (asking nicely or touching gently) but he then yells at me and continues to try to "attack" the other child, or runs around wildly.
He does not behave like this at home or when we have guests in our house, only when he is away from home. I am considering taking him out of these classes for fear he will actually hurt someone.
Can you please advise me?
Some children have this difficulty adjusting to situations by temperament, which remains a lifelong tendency. But you describe behavior that has changed, and that only occurs in certain situations. So the question is, what is it about this situation which causes him to react negatively?
Here are some possibilities to consider:
- He is in a stage of development in which he is easily frustrated by, say, being asked to share or not getting the expected response from another child. In which case, with the good modelling of more appropriate behavior (that you are already doing) and with some time, this should improve.
- He is at his worst because he is “stressed,” from hunger or fatigue. Are these classes at a time when he would ordinarily be eating or sleeping? If this is so, some adjustments to his schedule may offer improvement.
- He is overwhelmed by the crowd of children or the level of stimulation in the class. Since he isn’t yet able to verbalize his feelings, he will ‘act them out’ with frustrated behavior. Perhaps you could add a small, short playdate to his week, where he only needs to deal with one other toddler in a less stimulating environment. You should be able to tell by how he reacts to this situation whether he is ready for the bigger class setting.