Fighting, hitting, kicking, pinching, hair pulling and other forms of aggression are usually physical expressions of a child’s fear, frustration, jealousy, anger or pain. Indeed, physical aggression is the principal way some toddlers have of coping with these feelings.
If successful, it produces a gratifying sense of power, and perhaps some material benefit, such as another child’s toy, and more attention than he would have attracted had he behaved amicably.
The presence of siblings complicates the picture. For a time, squabbling may be one of the main modes of interaction between two children in a family, especially when siblings are close in age or otherwise powerfully competitive.
Often, the stronger and the weaker work together; they fight because they are certain that you will respond by punishing the older and comforting the younger, thus proving the older child’s contention that you are unfair and confirming the younger child’s sense of himself as weak, helpless and victimized.
But the dynamics that shape a relationship between siblings may shift back and forth depending on age and situation; it is often difficult to know why your youngsters are at each other’s throat.
Fighting can begin as early as 15 or 16 months. A toddler acts without regards for whom or what may suffer in the process. By 30 months, however, he has begun to attack other children the intent to hurt. For most children, physical aggression is common but transient until the age of three.
After that usually begins to decrease as the youngster develops language skills to substitute angry words for physical attacks. Yet even then, the arrival of a new baby in the family can set off another round of aggressive behavior.
The shift to a more peaceful attitude also may come more slowly if physical violence is prevalent in your home, either because of aggressive older children or your own tendency to mete out harsh physical punishments. These set examples for a child to follow.
Whatever your child’s particular circumstances, expect him to be more aggressive any time he is under sustained stress. The sixth year, which coincides with the beginning of formal school, is one of those periods, marked among boys in particular by strong tendencies to fight.