While it might not seem logical to try to teach your child how to resolve arguments through words right now, seeing how limited your toddlers’ vocabulary might be, it’s still a good idea to lay down the foundations for open communication, as using words instead of actions is one of the primary tools for defusing and correcting aggression in children.
Eventually, when your child is older, they will be more inclined towards using words to solve disputes, communicate their wants, and express their feelings. Here are some of the steps that you can take to teach your child to turn to words rather than violence:
Encourage your toddler to communicate.
Your toddler should feel comfortable expressing all their emotions to you, not just the positive ones. That means emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness, boredom, and disappointment. Help your child verbally express their feelings to you through gentle prompts.
For example, if your toddler shoves or hits a playmate, ask them why they did what they did, whether they are angry with the other child, and what made them angry. Don’t interrupt or stop your child’s attempts at expressing themselves, even if they resort to using rude words to get their feelings across.
Your aim at this point should be to direct your child’s actions from physically lashing out to using words to express negative emotions. Teaching them right and wrong when choosing their words should come later when your toddler is able to tell the difference between rudeness and self expression.
Do the talking for your toddler.
Since most toddlers at this stage aren’t verbally skilled enough to put their feelings into words or negotiate a compromise with a fellow playmate who has snatched away a toy, it might be a good idea to help them along by supplying them with the words they need.
Make sure to wait until your toddler comes up against a communication block and can’t express themselves any more before you chip in, in order to avoid cutting off your child’s attempts at communicating.
For example, if your toddler is frustrated with a task that they can’t manage to perform on their own and seems to be getting worked up over it, sit with them, ask them if they find the task difficult and whether it is making them feel frustrated, and suggest finishing the task together.
Be a good example.
A well-established rule of thumb when it comes to child rearing is to support your words with actions; in other words, parents need to practice what they preach to send consistent messages of how their children need to behave. If your toddler often sees you handling your own disputes peacefully using words, they will be more likely to emulate your behavior.
You can do this by simply interacting with your family members, neighbors and friends calmly in front of your child, and by explaining to your toddler that hitting is wrong. Make sure never to use spanking as a disciplinary measure, as this would just contradict your words and send mixed messages.
Point out other good role models.
When you see other children playing nicely together, point them out to your child and add a positive comment commending the children’s behavior. Do not, however, resort to using judgmental comments such as asking your toddler why they don’t play nicely too.
Regularly read to your toddler books on sharing, peaceful conflict resolution, and positive relationships between characters, and expose your child to TV shows and cartoons that teach children how to talk out problems rather than use violence to settle disputes.