“””W”hen young children become overwhelmed with big emotions, they often resort to physical aggression. All humans have difficulty accessing language and formulating our thoughts into words when we have complicated feelings. This is especially true for young children, who have limited vocabulary or practice with using language. It is not unusual for young children to grab toys, push others, or even bite to get what they want. It is important for adults to know how to handle these situations. 

There are steps that adults can take to help reduce the number of aggressive behaviors. It is important to make sure our reactions model the empathy and compassion children need to learn. Always respond to the child that was injured first. We often react to the child who was aggressive, but young children find any big adult reaction to be reinforcing, even if it is negative. By initially focusing on the injured child, we do not unintentionally reinforce aggressive behaviors.  

It is key to try and understand the whole incident from the child’s perspective. What was the motivation of the aggressive behavior? What was the child attempting to communicate? The Center for Resilient Children recommends that adults try the “FLIP-It” strategy

  • F = Feelings (Name the emotion that you think the child is feeling to motivate the behavior) 
  • L = Limits (Set clear limits/expectations) 
  • I = Inquiries (Ask the child how they could solve the problem) 
  • P = Prompts (Help the child think of appropriate solutions) 

Here’s what the strategy might look like in action! 

*Mary hits Sally and takes a doll she was playing with. Sally cries, and the teacher comes over to assist*

“Sally, are you okay? It hurts when someone hits you. It can make you sad.”

The teacher then employees the “FLIP-It” strategy.

“Mary, look at your friend. She is sad. I think you wanted that doll. Maybe you were mad that Sally had it first?” (Feelings)

“It is NOT okay to hit. We keep our hands to ourselves.” (Limits).

“How can you get a turn with the doll safely?” (Inquiries)

“Maybe you can set a timer? Could you ask Sally to trade?” (Prompts). 

For support implementing this or other strategies, contact the inclusion services department at United 4 Children by calling:1-800-467-2322 or emailing: inclusionservices@united4children.org.

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