Discuss: Dealing with Toddler-on-Toddler Conflict

“When have things gone too far?” That’s the question I’m pondering in an ongoing situation at our preschool.

Suppose your 1- or 2-year-old is in a playgroup and another toddler shoves yours over control of a toy. You pull your kid aside, talk about sharing and taking turns, being nice and yada, yada, yada. And you hope the other parent does the same with his kid.

But what if the other child initiates conflict at many of the playgroups you attend? Would you remove your child from that playgroup?

That’s sort of our preschool situation. My daughter recently began covering her ears at home when she doesn’t want to listen to us.

“Why do you cover your ears?”

“That’s what we do at school when things are loud.”

“Tell me about the noise.”

“Some of the kids yell.”

“Who yells?”

“Oh, that’s just [child's name].”

“Tell me about [child's name].”

“She pushes me.”

“Really? When does she push you?”

“Every day.”

Zing. Alarm bells go off. Mercury rises. After a while we deciphered that “Every day” meant “often” and “me” meant “someone in my class” and “push” meant “push, kick or has a verbal outburst.”

We don’t know how often our daughter is the target of such activity; she now says it’s happened only once to her. However, she has learned a new and valuable skill: avoidance.

She has learned to avoid being near the shoving child in situations where she’s liable to be pushed.

We were semi-tipped to the situation during our school orientation, being told that one of her classmates has a dedicated aide. The teachers try everything they can to accommodate the child.

But let’s get back to the central question, “When have things gone too far?”

Regarding physical attacks, I’m okay with occasional shoving because it’s a fact of life with kids. I’m a bit uneasy if it is indeed occurring regularly with the same child, but also glad that my daughter is learning coping skills.

I would be outraged if it was a bullying situation, but my daughter believes she is a random target. She’s far more upset when she’s treated poorly by a friend visiting her home because it’s more personal.

She understands that the shoving child doesn’t have ill feelings specific to her. I love how she shrugged off the situation as, “Oh, that’s just [child's name].”

An entirely different matter is the verbal outburst issue which sometimes includes profanity, as we’ve been told by another parent.

We don’t use certain words around our daughter, and here we go with her possibly learning them at preschool. Sure, it has to happen sometime, but at age 4? Hmm.

The glass-is-half-full perspective would be to say she’ll associate profanity with bad behavior and thus not use it (umm, except maybe when she throws a tantrum at home? Oh, wonderful!).

How do you balance protecting your toddler from violence and adult ideas versus teaching her to cope? At school she’s dealing with a 4-year-old microcosm of real life.
Oh, but again, when have things gone too far?

Conversely, what if the shoving child was yours? Wouldn’t you want the school to try everything to help your kid out?


9 Responses to “Discuss: Dealing with Toddler-on-Toddler Conflict”

  1. BusyMom says:

    Wow. That is a toughie. At our school, they do their best to work with a child.

    Our son was a biter and we would get alternating incident reports, he bit, he was bitten. I worried that we would get kicked out, but the administrator reassured us that they would work with the kids and they had seen the before and were sure that it would stop. They asked that we reinforce their efforts at home. We reinforced no biting at home…but he didn’t bite at home, so it made it harder to have learning moments at home – it’s a lot easier to explain what we don’t do when they do it than to just spark up a conversation. It did eventually stop.

    If it hadn’t stopped, what would have been my response as a parent of the offender – I’m sure I would have asked a lot of defensive questions….is the other child antagonizing, not sharing, biting first and not being seen, etc. How would have I responded if they said he was no longer welcome to attend? Frustration, concern about where I would have taken him, etc.

    On the converse, if there was a child that was acting up and pushing, shoving my child and using inappropriate language, I would fully expect the school to work with that child to end the inappropriate behavior (they did work with my child) and at the same time, I would hope that they have informed the parents of that child and that they were also taking measures to teach that child right and wrong, social skills and such.

    I would also make sure that as the parent of the child that is being pushed and exposed to obscenity that I took the time to explain appropriate/inappropriate and try to explain that some children don’t follow the rules, but that it doesn’t make it right for you to do what they do or repeat the words they use. It really is a delicate line…you don’t want to condemn the other child, as you don’t fully understand their mental/physical development or any delays or challenges that they might have, but you don’t want to ignore the behavior either. If it continues and the school takes no action beyond working with the child, then I might consider an alternate school.

    October 16th, 2008 at 3:06 am

  2. CanCan (Mom Most Traveled) says:

    We were in a similar situation just two weeks ago. My son said that some children (he mentioned them by name) were hitting him “all the time”. He also said he didn’t want to go to school, which has never never been an issue before. He will be 4 in a few weeks but is already in a Pre-K class. He kind of cheated the cut-off date because his birthday was so close and the 3 year old class was full. So maybe it is a 4 year old thing?
    Anyway, I was super concerned and even thought to myself about a life of homeschooling (not really my boat, but I didn’t want my child being hit “all the time!”.
    I wrote a note to the teacher without mentioning names and asked that she please be aware of this especially if there are times they might be unsupervised, however briefly (washing hands in the bathroom in small groups, for example).
    The teacher responded by meeting with us and the school director and explained that some times my son is very sensitive and will lash out verbally if someone looks at him or even touches him normally (I knew this was the truth because he does this at home some times when he is in a bad mood, i.e,” DON’T LOOK AT ME!!”). Then they encouraged us that if kids are physically aggressive it is definitely dealt with and not overlooked. So I felt much better after having that talk, and it also gave me a little perspective.
    The 4-year-old perspective is their version of events (not a lie, but they can’t express the whole scenario).
    As for the bad words, my son started chanting this strange playground rhyme today that involved the word “sexy” and interesting choreography. I am not comfortable with my 4 year old talking about “sexy”. Maybe another note is in order…

    October 16th, 2008 at 3:36 am

  3. Jennifer says:

    Preschool teacher here! I can’t comment on your specific situation because, it seems, that this child may have a special circumstance (if she has her own aid). However, my question would then be, what is that aid doing? If that aid is there specifically for THAT child, then she should be stopping these behaviors before they happen.

    Now, onto the “victim”. I’m all for giving children the power. The power to say, “I’m not going to play with you because you hit.” When any sort of conflict or aggressive behavior comes from one child and is directed at the other child, I give both children the words they need: “Tell her you don’t want to play with her because she hits.” This works for the agressor as well, “Ask them, Can I play with you?”

    So many times it’s the lack of social skills that children have at this age. By giving them the words to use and then having them use those words, you are giving that child the power back. They learn to stand up for themselves.

    What’s important is to have an adult back them up, not stand up for them. So, when there is a conflict or even (especially) a bullying situation, I always make the child stand up for themselves. I only give them the words. They need to be empowered to take care of the situation so that they can do it without us around. I’ll always be next to them (feeding them the words if necessary) but I make sure that the children are looking at each other when saying the words to each other.

    Then, of course, the matter of your daughter hearing words you don’t use (or want her using). A simple, “We don’t say those words in our family.” usually suffices. Another way, and I tell parents that it’s okay, is to say, “This person is not someone who is a good influence. I don’t want you to play with her because ….” As adults, it’s our jobs to guide them into the right decisions. We need to choose to be around the right people.

    Oh, as a teacher, I never encourage the children to NOT play together; but I think it is well withing a parent’s rights to tell their children that someone is a bad influence and they PREFER them not to play with someone. When a parent tells me they have told their child this, I tell the parent that it is okay for them to tell their child this (I actually commend them for doing so) but, as the teacher, I cannot enforce that rule. If their child end up playing with that other child, I allow it (closely supervised, but I allow it).

    October 16th, 2008 at 6:43 am

  4. Kelly says:

    I always relate situations like this to adults, you would never expect an adult to put up with being pushed every day, why should it be ok for a child?

    October 16th, 2008 at 7:10 am

  5. Sandy W. says:

    I’m not in total agreement with Jennifer. If there is an aid for this child it might not be so simple for the aid to stop these outbursts or behaviors.

    My son has autism. He also has an aid in school. Most times he is very well behaved but he has a very strong reaction to certain sensory input. If a noise is suddenly too loud (an unexpected school bell, a truck driving by, etc.) or a light is too bright he might suddenly lash out and push a child. He doesn’t do it out of cruelty. It’s more of a “knee-jerk” reaction to his overstimulated state. But I am certain that there is no way that his aid could predict or prevent each time his lashing out behavior would occur.

    If this child has an aid then there is certainly more to the situation than just a bully.

    I also don’t know about the profanity situation either but I will say that my son also tends to have echolalia. He’ll hear a phrase or word somewhere and he likes the sound or ring of it so he’ll just repeat it at random. We don’t curse around our son but he’s been exposed to bad language by just being out and about in the world.

    One day at the post office he was standing in line with me and just kept repeating “holy sh#t” over and over again. I had never uttered that phrase to him and I’m certain his father hadn’t. But he had heard it somewhere and liked it’s sound and just kept saying it repeatedly. I tried to make him stop but he wouldn’t and I ultimately had to leave. I got a lot of stares that day and many of them were condemning stares. I’m sure people assumed we used that language around him regularly.

    I totally understand the concern for your child to not be pushed or exposed to bad language. Nobody wants that to happen to their child. But I do encourage you to find out what’s truly going on and try not to assume anything about this child or her parents.

    It sounds like your daughter has a very good tolerance and awareness about this child and it’s great that she can separate herself from this child’s extreme behavior.

    I really hope this situation improves for everyone involved. It would be really terrible for classmates to separate themselves from this child who obviously needs more positive peer social examples.

    October 16th, 2008 at 3:59 pm

  6. Jennifer says:

    Sandy, as I stated, I can’t speak for this particular situation. I know not EVERY action can be stopped. However, I do know that if one aide is specifally hired to shadow this one child then there is some accountability.

    This aide may not be hired just for the one child. The other problem can be that, if the aide is there soley for that ONE child, the teacher may be asking her to do things away from the child. I’ve seen it happen.

    I also am HUGE on integrating in the classroom. I think it’s very important to educate the children. I have succesfully had children tolerate certain behaviors because they understand that the other child just doesn’t have the same ability.

    My purpose was to just give help in empowering children.

    October 16th, 2008 at 6:38 pm

  7. Sandy W. says:

    Jennifer, it seems we are mostly in agreement.

    It’s true that neither one of us can speak for this particular situation. I just wanted to present the thought, based on my own personal experience, that outbursts are not always predictable and interceptable. But yes, there is a certain level of responsibility on the aide’s part to try and circumvent the aggressive behavior.

    And I am most certainly in agreement with you about the importance of an integrated classroom. I think, when done properly, it can be greatly beneficial to both children with special needs, and their classmates.

    October 16th, 2008 at 10:27 pm

  8. Amelia Sprout says:

    We had an issue with a biter in my daughter’s class. (younger toddlers) We were warned, and she was bitten a few times right away. We were almost at the point where we needed to ask to have more action taken, but it seems to have stopped. We did ask what was being done, if she prevoked it (in one case she fell on someone and was bit, but it wasn’t the regular suspect) and what we could do.

    I don’t know what we would have done if it had not stopped. I think if it gets to the point where kids don’t want to go to school because of something that is happening there, then it needs to be addressed. Mainstreaming is good, but if it comes at the cost of others ability to learn, then it needs to be reevaluated.

    If she were the agressor, I think we would be doing everything we could to make sure that it stopped.

    October 17th, 2008 at 7:43 am

  9. AJ says:

    AJ here…

    Regarding the aide, I’m not sure it matters how closely the child is shadowed. It sounds like the conflicts are surprising outbursts, not slow-brewing conflicts.

    As Jennifer mentioned, our teachers have the kids talk about their conflict, and “back up” the victim by standing next to him and making suggestions if necessary.

    I’ve omitted some details to protect privacy (yeah, I don’t identify the school; I’m just overprotective). I’m inclined to believe there is some sort of disability in play and the issue isn’t as simple as how the child was raised.

    What next? We’ll probably observe the classroom to get a clearer sense of what’s happening. Some parents began doing that this week.

    October 17th, 2008 at 10:56 am

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