When your toddler’s reaction to anger involves lashing out and hurting others, you may wonder why this behavior developed. If your toddler pinches peers or even parents and other caregivers, this aggression is a hostile act that expresses frustration and powerlessness, states Marjorie Kostelnik, Dean of College of Education and Human Sciences with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. With patient training, you can intervene to teach alternative methods of expressing anger.
Stop your child immediately whenever you witness him reaching out to pinch someone else. Hold his little hand in your hands, establish eye contact and tell him, “No pinching. We don’t pinch. Pinching hurts.”
Teach your child a positive alternative to pinching. Dr. William Sears, pediatrician and author, recommends telling your child, “We touch nicely,,” and guiding your child’s hand gently over the victim’s arm or leg.
Remove your child from the situation. Dr. Sears recommends a one-minute time-out to teach your toddler that pinching is unacceptable. You might say, “If you pinch, you sit here.” Another option might be to walk away to distract and diffuse your child’s hostility. Look out the window for a minute, talk about the dog or get a drink. The change of scenery and distraction with new thoughts can be a positive way to redirect his attention.
Observe the times when your toddler seems inclined to pinch and take notes. Over time, you may see a pattern of behavior that indicates when your child is likely to lash out and pinch. For example, your child may become overwhelmed at playgroup because of the excessive toys and other children, making him more likely to pinch. If your child becomes overextended and tired, he may also have more trouble getting along with others.
Modify your child’s environment to make it easier for him. Using the same examples, if playgroup overwhelms your child, it may be better to stop going for a short while and trying again after a month or two. If your child doesn’t behave well when he’s tired, don’t place him in potentially volatile situations when he’s sleepy.
Praise your child when he gets along well with others, suggests Kostelnik. This helps teach him which behaviors you desire, while reinforcing these behaviors so he’ll repeat them.