Ask Teacher Lisa: Aggression

Dear Teacher Lisa,

I’m writing because today was a hard day for me. I need some guidance on how to talk to my daughter. I know pushing is something she will eventually get over, but I’m struggling with it. I also don’t understand why she seems to have had a more intense reaction with another little girl today.

A couple things happened at the park, the main one that I just couldn’t handle and I was emotional about, was that my daughter pushed this other girl down a very very high slide! The other girl took a second too long to go down so my daughter kicked her, and then proceeded to kick her in the head!! (I didn’t see the head kicking as I was trying to climb the slide, but heard about it from another person nearby.)

It was all very bad, the other parent was clearly upset and who could blame them?! And I think them being upset triggered me and I got emotional. I tried to talk to my daughter, but she is just not really clear about why she did it. I asked her if we can check in with the other girl. She checked In and she said she was very sorry. They laughed about their rain boots etc.

I told my daughter I was upset about what she did, I told her we had to leave the park because I had to get to work (and I honestly had no more in me to wait for something else to happen). She said goodbye to the other girl and said sorry.

On the way to the car, I cried. I feel like I’ve been helping her through this physical way of communicating forever now!

In the car she kept saying, I’m really sorry. I asked her if she wanted to write her a letter. She said yes, so my partner helped her with that. She said she was very sorry and wanted her to come play princess at her house. And that if she came, then maybe she would stop hitting her.

She then remembered another time she hurt a friend of hers when she told him “ you can’t ballet because you don’t have ballet shoes” and asked if she could send him a letter and he could dance ballet.

I’m sure this is helpful, but I have zero doubt it’ll happen again 10 more times this week. I just don’t know what to say… “We don’t hit?” “We use our words if we are upset?”

Any help would be amazing.

And also, the whole “you can’t come to my house” phrasing that keeps bubbling up, help! Do we address it? Is it about something not going their way?



Dear Disheartened,

It sounds like you did everything right in terms of how you talked with your daughter about the incident at the park, and your plan to write a letter and invite the other girl for a playdate is great!

Hitting hasn’t been a frequent behavior of your daughter at school if that’s any consolation for you. I think it makes sense as her social world expands that she will have conflicts that she doesn’t yet know how to handle. I am happy that she is finally expressing herself and her wishes at school. I feel like she was quietly following along with things for the first year and a half and now she is feeling confident enough to advocate for herself…she just may not have the tools. Knowing that, I would say that we stay close in situations where someone could get hurt like at the top of a really big slide or on the climbing dome or the hill at school. If we are close by and we see her getting worked up, we can offer up words she can use before she gets frustrated or flooded and resorts to hitting, etc. Again, I think your idea of the letter and the playdate are fantastic, and offering up actions she can do to repair when she has hurt someone–bringing them something (ice or a peace offering of some kind) is often something kids can do and feel good about. 

Offering up things that she could say in moments of frustration might be more effective than saying “we don’t hit,” or “we use our words.” Try to instead give her the words that she needed so she knows for next time, whether it’s calling “help!” for an adult to offer support, or saying, “Hurry up and slide. I’m waiting!” You could practice role playing some scenarios at home.

The 3-4 year old girls have been working hard this year on figuring out how to play with more than 2 at a time. That is right on track developmentally. I would encourage you to revisit the excerpts from It’s OK Not to Share that I sent out after our last community meeting, as there are some really great sections on this stuff. (Also the article and info. I sent on aggression last week.) For kids, the person they are playing with at the moment is their friend, and anyone else who encroaches is a threat to that connection. It takes some time for them to be willing and able to modify play ideas to include new members and ideas and realize that they can maintain a connection with one person even when another comes into the game. They are also learning they can take space by themselves or with another friend and come back together later (“maybe later”). I’ve seen these things starting to click, but again it takes practice. The hurtful language is a strategy they are using to try to maintain or protect connections or advocate for their needs/wants, but we can reframe–“Those words are hurtful. Are you trying to say you are having so much fun with so-and-so right now, and the two of you need a little space? Maybe later you could play with ___,” or “Those words are hurtful. Are you trying to let so-and-so know that you would really like a turn with ___ when she’s done? Let’s go find something else fun to do while we’re waiting.” Etc. They need help with modeling of what words they can use, so try to figure out the need/desire/feeling behind the hurtful words and translate. If you’re not sure, you could just say, “Ouch. I’m wondering if you are trying to say ____?”

I’m also thinking in some cases of aggression with quieter or younger kids, there might be a bit of built up resentment about being so careful and patient with a new baby sister. She may be releasing some of that or a little less patient when these types of scenarios come up outside of home. 

Hope this helps a little. Keep up the good work!

Teacher Lisa

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