Dr. Becky’s Tips for Tackling Aggressive Behaviors

We’ve gotten a ton of feedback about how helpful Dr. Becky’s episode was, so we wanted to share our our biggest takeaways here.

Dr. Becky’s Tips for Tackling Aggressive Behaviors

We’ve gotten a ton of feedback about how helpful Dr. Becky’s episode was, so we wanted to share our biggest takeaways here:

  1. Ask yourself, “What is my MGI?”

When your child is engaging in aggressive behavior, ask yourself, “What is the most generous interpretation of what is happening?” Your MGI might sound like, “My child was really enjoying their time at the park and doesn’t want to leave,” or “My child wasn’t ready for that transition.” Asking yourself this question helps you better understand your kid and get to the root of the behavior. 

When seeing these behaviors from your child, don’t worry about the behavior being “normal” (e.g., “Is this typical for two year olds?” or “Does every toddler do this?”) This will put you into panic mode and bring up so many of the anxieties that parents already struggle with. Instead, stay in the present, and try to figure out what your child needs from you in that moment. 

  1. Separate the child from the behavior.

Remember, there are no bad kids! Your child is a good kid who is just having a hard time. When your child is engaging in “unboundaried” behaviors, as Dr. Becky calls them, ask yourself, “What does my child need in this moment?” and get curious about what they are feeling. This helps you uncover the root cause and identify antecedents to the behavior.  

  1. Embody your authority. 

When your child behaves aggressively, say “I won’t let you hit me” to firmly communicate the boundary. When you say, “We don’t hit others,” you give up the authority and clear boundary-setting that your child actually craves. Then, explain to your child why their behavior is not safe, and remind them that your #1 job is to keep them safe. 

  1. Connect, then redirect

Before you redirect them or prepare them for a transition, make a connection so that your child feels seen and heard. This might sound like, “Oh, I see you were playing with your blocks,” or “You were having a lot of fun at the park, weren’t you?” When your child feels validated, they are less likely to be upset by a transition or direction and are more likely to cooperate. 

  1. Provide choices. 

If they become upset about transitions, give your child a few choices so that they feel empowered. Make sure you’d be happy with any choice they pick. (Dr. Becky suggests offering a funny choice to get them laughing!) This might sound like, “I see you were having fun with your blocks. We can change your diaper now or in two minutes,” or “We can change your diaper while you stand up or while you lie down. Which do you want to do?”

  1. Role play and skill build. 

Building these skills takes actual practice, and don’t expect changes overnight. The next time your child is behaving aggressively, say, “When you’re calmer, we’re going to practice what to do next time your feelings want to come out of your fingers.” 

When practicing the skill, reverse roles and let your child play the parent: “What would you say to me if I was getting really mad about leaving the park?” Dr. Becky suggests making these lessons personal: “When I was little, sometimes my big feelings would come out of my hands, so my mommy taught me to squeeze my hands and take a step backward. Let me show you how.”

  1. Keep your eye out for antecedents. 

Watch what happens just before your child shows aggressive behavior, and do your best to remove or limit those antecedents. Maybe your child hits whenever they are about to be put down for bed or when a sibling or friend grabs a toy. Work on removing those antecedents so that you’re not in damage control and can spend more time building the skill and changing the behavior.