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Reality Falls Short of Expecations for Mother of Aggressive Toddler Girl

Posted Sep 27 2013 7:00am

pouting-baby-girl Dear Susan,

I am in desperate need of your help.  I have two  sons (7 & 9) and a baby girl, who will be 2 next month.  I have heard the notion that girls are harder than boys and I really believe them now!  

My daughter has started talking recently and say “NO” about 50 times a day.  She is also aggressive and mean.  She can also be a sweet, playful little angel.  Oh, and she’s acting out at school. 

I’m particularly upset because I prayed for a girl for so many years and I love her so much…I really want memories of a sweet little girl!  Can you tell me how to tame her meanness?   

Sad Mom

Dear Sad Mom,

I’m sorry you’re sad. Please keep in mind that children are all born with their own unique personalities.  As parents we can influence our children but we cannot control them.  

First, the best way to handle your toddler’s aggression is by containment.  This is a learning process for you and your daughter and so you will need to eat your Wheaties each morning to be up to the task!  

Here’s what I mean:  

When your daughter shows aggression (hitting, for one), firmly say “No!  We do not hit.”  Then walk away (not far, just far enough).  If you have a room that is gated off, step over the gate and be on the other side of it, supervising without direct engagement.  When things have calmed down and you want to play with your child, return and enjoy!  There is no reason to bring it up or talk about it.  The incident is over.  

The above is an example of containing your daughter’s outburst (by keeping her inside the gated area) and establishing your authority over her (you walked away).  In the above example, there was no power struggle.  

Side Note:  The “Terrible Twos” is a transition between the time when parents naturally revolve around the infant and the time that parents naturally resume their place at the center of the family.  The child, again quite naturally, rebels. 

Also, with children, and perhaps especially toddlers (and most especially husbands), the less you say the better. Too many words create confusion and frustration.  Giving a lecture about why we don’t hit, how it hurts others, etc. is not effective.  In fact, it is counter productive.  A short “We don’t hit.  Hitting hurts Mommy.” can be very effective when used with containment.      

Also, encouraging your daughter to be independent may help as it will give her a sense of (healthy) control.  She can help you with all sorts of household tasks, entertain you while you prepare meals, etc.  If you say “Darling, Mommy needs a picture to put on the fridge.  Will you create one for me?”  And she says “NO!”  Say “Okay.” and let it go.  She may let it go, too.  Or, she may decide to draw something.  The point is that she wants to make the decision.  She is establishing authority over herself and her world.  And she will learn the things she gets to decide (like if she wants to hug grandma or not) and the things she doesn’t (like eating cake for breakfast).

As far as taking away her meanness, I have a solution!  And the good news is that you have all the power to change it…your expectations.  I had to do this with both my children (and still do).  We all have fantasies of how life is going to go and that’s part of our story.  When the story doesn’t play out the way we want, it can hurt.  But when we accept the situation (or person) exactly how it is, we see the perfection of it all.  As a matter of fact, I think I’ve seen a glimmer of that a time or two.  I’ll let you know if I ever reach Nirvana…

Good luck and let me know how things go.


Susan Eppley

Leadership Parenting Coach, Speaker, Parent & Child Educator 

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