You have enough on your plate balancing work and family — bringing home a terror from day care wasn’t in the contract you signed when you enrolled your child. Is it your child, other children or the type of care that is feeding your tot’s out-of-the-blue aggression? It may be all three. Talking to your toddler or preschooler and taking a close look at your day-care center can give you some insight and help you put the brakes on your child’s troubling behavior.
The amount of time your child spends at the center can be linked to the problem behavior you see at home after day care, according to a study by the National Institute of Child Heath and Human Development. That doesn’t mean, however, your tot can get away with modeling the aggression he learned at school. Sitting down to discuss the differences between assertiveness and aggression can help draw important boundaries for your child. Explain, “I know some of your friends fight during the day, but our family doesn’t hit or bite other people — even when they do bad things.”
Visit your day-care center to see whether there are adequate toys, playground equipment and instructional materials available for play. Children at centers with shortages of any of these items sometimes develop a take-charge attitude that includes aggression to ensure they have a toy for the day, according to the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. Talk to your child about sharing, and talk with the center about the shortages and the importance of a formal program to guarantee sharing. Teach your child to say, “My mom says everyone should play and then share and take turns with that toy,” when children hoard scarce toys and play equipment.
You don’t allow your children to hit or yell at each other, but the supervisors at your day-care center might be run too ragged to notice this behavior. State laws require specific staffing levels, but that doesn’t mean supervisors have eyes on the children all the time. Your child might experience bullying — and even violence — when the supervisor is busy helping other children. This helps your child learn aggressive behavior to fight back against the abuse. Before selecting a day-care center, observe some activities and a snack or lunch session to see how supervisors take charge of the group and wrangle overly aggressive toddlers or preschoolers.
The age of your child when he enters day care influences the impact of the child-care programs, peer influences and type of supervision. Toddlers experiencing the terrible 2s and trying 3s quickly model the behavior of other children at day care. Taking some time to sit and watch your child interact with other kids at the center helps you determine whether he is leading the pack of terrors or simply following other children in aggressive play. Talk to your child about what’s happening at the center each day with specific questions such as “Did you hit or yell at anyone today?” and “Did anyone do the same thing to you?” Discuss and model ways to play that avoid aggressive talk and overly physical play. Giving your child the words to help solve a problem helps avoid aggressive behavior.