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Parenting--Toddlers/Infants/Pre-Schoolers/Agressive 3 1/2 year old vis a via younger children


Dear James, our 3 1/2 year old attends nursery school.  Simply put, is us very advanced on social development in his relationships with adults and children at his level.  However, the nursery school has younger children with whom he has difficulty.  When a child younger than him seeks to play or interact, he ofthe gets physica: pushing, hitting kicking. This is especially pronounced whether has built a structure (with blocks, etc) and it appears he "protects" the structure because he fears the younger child will destroy it.  The nursery school has placed in on an abbreviated school due to his behavior and outbursts.  Parents are very proactive in disciplining him after this happens - timeouts, leave play area etc.  The teachers at school are becoming frustrated.  It almost seems that he would be functioning better if he were in a class with older children as this behavior does not happen then.  He is very sophisticated with adults, but with younger children, his behavior is downright scary.  How do we help him out of this?  Thanks!!!!

Hello Peter,

Many children who like your son are advanced in many ways engage in aggressive behaviors in certain circumstances. And often nursery schools have no clue how to handle aggressive behavior by a toddler or preschooler.
One way to respond to such behavior is to offer verbal reprimands and some kind of punishment or consequence (such time-outs). However, if you use these consequences at home later on in the day, the whole effect is basically lost. Delayed consequences for a young child tend to be rather ineffective. And if they are used at school, even if they are used immediately, may not teach him how to control his behavior when he is faced with a younger child and he wants to protect his building.
One way of dealing with this at school (I don't see any good coming of dealing with this after the fact at home) is to have a teacher anticipate the problem, move to his side, and intervene before he strikes out at a younger child. That adult should get down on his level and verbally "walk" him through the situation: "You are afraid Jamie is going to knock over your building. What should you do? No. You shouldn't hit Jamie or push her, right? What would be a better thing to do? You could ask her to not touch your building. Why don't we do that. 'Jamie, I just built this building out of Legos. You can look at it, but don't touch it okay?' Now you say that to Jamie and I'll help you..."

 By taking this approach, your son is actually being taught some important skills: How to manage conflict appropriately; How to use his words to deal with a situation; How to think about solving a problem. When it's over and your son has followed the instructions of the adult and avoided aggressive behavior, he should get gobs of specific social and verbal praise and attention. I believe over time your son will be able to solve problems without resorting to aggression.
Any questions?

James Windell  


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James Windell


I can answer questions related to normal child development, disturbed behavior and how to provide appropriate guidance and discipline.


I've been a clinical psychologist in a juvenile court, worked in school settings, been a child psychotherapist in a private psychiatric clinic and consulted with schools, courts, hospitals and daycare centers.

American Psychological Association
Michigan Psychological Association

I have been a columnist with the Oakland Press (Oakland County, MI) for 21 years writing a weekly column called Coping With Kids, which is also published weekly in the Staten Island Advance. I have been a mental health columnist with the Detroit Free Press and a columnist for Working Mother Magazine. In addition, I have published articles in professional journals. I have published 16 books, among them are "8 Weeks to a Well-Behaved Child" (IDG Books), "Discipline: A Sourcebook of 50 Failsafe Techniques for Parents" (IDG Books); "Children Who Say No When You Want Them to Say Yes" (IDG Books), "What You Need to Know About Ritalin" (Bantam Books) "6 Steps to an Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers" (John Wiley & Sons), "The Fatherstyle Advantage" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) and "Defusing High Conflict Divorce" (Impact Publishers). My latest parenting book (2012) is "The Everything Child Psychology and Development Book." Articles about my work with parents has appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Sun Times, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. My website at includes more information about me, my books and includes many columns I've written.

B.A. in Psychology from Wayne State University
M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Oakland University

Awards and Honors
Best Educational Program by Juvenile and Family Court Judges Association (National award for the development of a parent training program for parents of delinquent teenagers. Beth Clark Service Award from the Michigan Psychological Association.

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