Is it normal for my two-year old to be aggressive?
Yes and no. It’s normal for aggression to begin, but not to continue. Most young children don’t have sufficient emotional regulation to stop themselves. This is where we step in by modeling the desired behavior and teaching children to use their words instead of their hands, etc. If the aggressive behavior continues at age 3 or 4, and is angry and hurtful, I would consider it a problem. .
There are degrees of aggression. The most common and least worrisome is instrumental aggression, where children dispute over an object (normal for 2 to 3 year-olds). There is more thoughtful aggression, which is retaliatory (also known as reactive). We could expect 4 year-olds to begin to be able to control this.
If the first two levels are left unchecked, the aggression could escalate to relational aggression (deliberate emotional hurt) or to bullying, the most troublesome of all. Bullying is defined as a child’s repeated, systematic efforts to inflict harm on another, particularly through physical, verbal or social attacks. With boys (generally above average in size) the vehicle is threats or actual physical abuse. Girls (who are generally above average in verbal assertiveness) employ emotional abuse, e.g. ridiculing, spreading rumors, embarrassing, etc. Victims are usually withdrawn/rejected children – anxious and insecure, unable or unwilling to defend themselves.
Bullying occurs more often in communities where adults engage in violence. It often goes unchecked because parents and schools are not aware of the extent of it and/or because it is somewhat socially accepted (as a norm). Some peers and adults may even admire bullying and see it as a sign or strength. What I see as the most dangerous aspect of bullying is that many people don’t realize how harmful this is. “Oh, boys will be boys.” “Oh, girls, they are so catty.” However, this is a very serious situation, which could have dire consequences for the victim, ranging from anxious behavior, depression, or a long-range drop in self-esteem. There are documented cases of attempted/actual suicides directly related to physical aggression.
The future of the bully is not very bright either. There is a developing pattern of antisocial behavior. Bullies have obviously never learned the implications of respect, the value of friendship or how to form one. They have no experience with trust since their goals are obtained through force, not cooperation. Bullies have not developed a moral code of what is right or wrong, and apparently feel that they are above the rules. This type of behavior, more than likely, will escalate with experience, continue with law breaking, and result in criminal behavior.
Ideally, children, beginning as young as toddlers, would be guided to give – and expect to receive respect from their peers as well as their caregivers. In this ideal world, there would be no victims and no bullies. Imagine….
If you are interested in learning more about Positive Parenting (and topics such as the above), please contact me for info in my next workshop. My phone number is 769-7921 and email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You are most welcome to send questions and comments also
Carolynn DiGiuseppi is a certified Montessori teacher with a Site Supervisor Permit and a Master Teacher’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. With over 30 years of experience caring for children, she is the Director of Carolynn’s Montessori for Toddlers in Petaluma.