Parenting--Toddlers/Infants/Pre-Schoolers/Agressive toddler


Hi Mr. Windell,

I have a question regarding my toddler's (19mth) interactions with our neighbor's toddler (21mth). The two boys have been around each other since they were months old and although younger by 2 mths my son has always been ahead in the developmental stages. He walked several months earlier and has many words that he uses now while our little friend doesn't really talk. My son is also much larger then my neighbor's son, he is off the growth charts and we call him our "gentle giant" because although he is much bigger than his peers he is very passive and rarely acts out physically.

The problem is over the past two months every single time they are together (which is basically daily at least for some period of time) my neighbor's son is very aggressive towards my son. Unprovoked, he will walk up to my son, pinch his cheek (he has left bruises), push him over, pull his hair or steal his toy. I know toddlers are infamous for not sharing well (because they don't know how yet), but his attacks often seem to come out of no where. My son usually just starts to cry and after it has happened a few times, will grab my hand and say "home, home". I feel so bad for him and want to protect him.I really don't know how to handle it when this happens. My neighbor always apologizes and tries to put her son in time out briefly but it never has any effect on him. I'm worried my son could become anti social or fearful because of the constant aggression, or that he might start copying this behavior. We see our neighbor on a daily basis and she is a good friend. How should I handle this?

Thank you for your time

Hello Anna,

These kinds of situations are a concern for parents. Most of us want to protect our young children as best we can. However, when the aggressive child is the son of a good friend, it becomes a delicate situation.
To begin with, I don't think you have to be worried that your son will become antisocial, fearful, or aggressive because of the behavior of his friend. Your son has a more placid temperament and that is unlikely to be changed by the other boys' aggression. However, you don't want him to just be a passive victim either.
I would suggest that one thing you can do is to talk to him about how to handle his friend's aggression before going to visit. You could teach him to be vocal and assertive towards the other boy. For instance, he could be taught to say in a loud, direct voice: "Don't pinch me! I don't like it when you pinch me!" In this way he would be standing up for himself and letting his friend know what he will not tolerate. This might be more effective than the boy's mother's time-outs. It is okay for your son to ask to go home when he has had enough. But he can also say this to his friend: "When you're mean to me, I'm going to go home!"
Also, when you are present and you can anticipate (I know you can't always do this, because the aggression of toddlers is sometimes quick and unprovoked) aggression, you might intervene helping to redirect the other boys' behavior. That. too, is likely to be a more effective adult approach than time-out. Time-out presumes that the toddler can control their own behavior. Often they can't. At least not yet.
  I hope this helps. Feel free to get back to me with other 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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