Help! My Toddler Is A Bully At Daycare

What you should do when your toddler is acting aggressively at daycare


You pick up your child at the end of a long work day and the day-care provider pulls you aside. Uh oh, you think.

 “Could we talk for a moment?” she says. “I just wanted you to know that we are having some issues with Jayden. He’s been taking the other kids’ toys, and hitting them if they get in his way.”

Wait. She’s saying your sweet little toddler is a bully? But he’s not even two! Now what?

First, relax! This aggressive behaviour in a toddler is quite normal and very common. It doesn’t mean he’ll be a bully when he’s older. Toddlers are still figuring out the world. They are not yet capable of understanding that those other little children in the daycare room are people who have feelings just like them (although some at this age may show concern and offer comfort to children who cry). Concepts like taking turns and sharing are hard for them to understand, and they become frustrated very quickly.

Some toddlers react to frustration with tears, but others react physically. If a baby-gate blocks his way, the physical toddler may hit it or kick it. In the same way, if the physical toddler sees another child as stopping him from getting what he wants (such as the toy that child is playing with), he may strike out at the child.

So what can you do?

  • Discuss with the daycare provider how these incidents are handled. Ask that they don’t punish your toddler for aggressive behaviour, especially not by isolating him. If he’s so frustrated or upset that he needs to be separated from other children, he needs a reassuring adult to sit with him and help him calm down.
  • Let them know what you’ve observed so they can step in before he hits. Many toddlers (especially those who are bigger than the others) learn that hitting works. If Jayden swats Sebastian, and Sebastian hands over the car he was playing with, Jayden is likely to try the same strategy next time. An alert daycare provider can intervene with Jayden as soon as he shows signs of being frustrated – before he has a chance to hit; you may be able to help by letting her know how he acts when he starts getting upset.
  • Reduce other sources of frustration. Toddlers are much more likely to be aggressive if they are tired or hungry, or if they’ve already had some challenging experiences that day. You may want to send along extra snacks and be sure to let the daycare provider know if your son has not slept well the night before.
  • Teach empathy. When Jayden hurts another child, point out that child’s tears or sad expression, with concern in your voice, and give the child a comforting hug. It won’t mean much to a younger child but over time it will help him understand how his actions affect others.
  • Model gentleness and fairness. If Jayden took Amanda’s toy, you have a chance to show him some problem-solving. Return the toy to Amanda and demonstrate other ways to handle the problem. Maybe he could offer Amanda another toy in exchange for the one he wants? Maybe he could play with a different toy until Amanda is finished? The success of any strategy will depend on the child’s age and maturity, but he learns from observing you.
  • Teach other ways to deal with frustration. Ask your daycare provider about what options are available, but often children can run around the room, pound pegs on a toy with a plastic hammer, hit a cushion, etc.

Remember, many toddlers go through a period of bullying behaviour (some will even try to bully their parents).This week it’s Jayden; next month it might be Evelyn.  And there is an upside: you and your daycare provider can use this as an opportunity to teach your child about handling his frustrations and being aware of the feelings of others.

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