What Would You Have Done? Toddler-on-Toddler Aggression

There are some things I have on lock as a mom. I know what to do when my kid is overtired. I know how to treat a high fever. I know which foods he’ll gobble up without hesitation, and know not to push him when he’s feeling shy.

There are infinitely more instances when I feel completely out of my depth and have no idea what to do. Like a week ago when I took my kiddo to a play group and he was attacked.

Okay, attacked is a strong word.

Assaulted? Tormented?? Tortured??? (It only sounds melodramatic because it is.)

So I took my kiddo to a play group. This play group is the kind that’s organized at a facility that boasts child development teachers, sensory crafts and toys, outdoor play and a semi-structured environment.

I’ve been taking him to these kinds of groups for several weeks now in preparation for preschool. I want him to get used to being around other kids and to a general structure outside of our home. And, let’s be real, I need the practice, too.

This particular play group was new to us. I went with a friend and her daughter. It seemed like a cool place, if a little chaotic. But what toddler-designated space isn’t?

Then it happened.

We hadn’t been there five minutes before an older kid ran over to mine and out of nowhere threw a full cup of dry beans (the sensory craft of the day) into his face. Like, imagine the classic scene of a woman throwing a dry martini into the face of a cad, and you’ll have the scenario right.

Except my kid didn’t deserve it. (Richard, you slug #satcforever)

I was shocked. Maybe this is run of the mill toddler behavior, but to me it (melodramatically) felt like an attack!

My sweet, sensitive, shy kiddo who was quietly playing was ambushed out of nowhere and, in one action, dropkicked into the world of aggressive behavior and toddler politics.

I’ve never experienced a child being antagonistic toward mine before. I had no idea that the mama instinct would be quite so strong that I would have such a visceral response.  If the kid hadn’t run off (laughing by the way), I’m pretty sure I would have throttled him.

(I’m being too harsh, aren’t I? But c’mon, it was upsetting! Is there a difference when it’s siblings? I know my sisters and I were horrible to each other — did it affect my parents the way this affected me as a parent? This, I think, requires deeper probing in a post for another day. I’m full of digressions today.)

Ultimately, I had no idea how to handle the situation. The kid had run off and his caretaker hadn’t seen it happen. My kid was fine, and probably more shaken up by my coursing fury than anything else.

If only we could keep them safely inside forever. Except that sounds horrible and never mind, forget I said that.

The other moms around me, including my very sympathetic and supportive friend, encouraged me to talk to the program director who was still signing people in. Since it was my first time at this place, that seemed like a good place to start. I went over to her and explained the situation.

Let me be clear that I was only looking for sympathy and a little direction and input on how to handle a scenario like that in the future. I wasn’t looking for the child or his caretaker to get disciplined by any means. Anyway, it went down like this:

Me: “Hi, so I’m new here and I don’t know what the protocol is exactly, but a kid just threw a cup of those dry beans in my kid’s face, then ran away.”

Her: “Okay.”

Me: “Um. Okay…so…what should I do?”

Her: “If there are issues like that we have the parents work it out.”

Me: “But I don’t even know who his parents are. I don’t even know where they are, the kid ran off.”

Her: “If you need further support you can ask us, but we have the parents figure it out.”

Me: “Well, that’s why I’m asking you, I’m not sure what to do.”

Her: “It’s $10 by the way.”

Me: “What?”

Her: “You didn’t pay the fee, it’s $10.”

What a nurturing and safe space!

I paid the fee btw.

Basically, this woman had zero interest in helping me navigate this touchy and stressful scenario. Sure, once I get further exposed to this kind of stuff, my reaction won’t be so extreme and hopefully, I’ll handle it on my own. Growing pains of motherhood. But wouldn’t it have been nice to have the support of the staff of the very person who claims to be a “child development specialist”? I guess that’s too much to ask.

I learned two things from this incident.

1) I won’t be returning to that facility (not because of the incident, per se, but because of the dismissive and apathetic response of the staff member).

2) I learned that I freeze when I don’t know what to do. That instead of handling it like a productive adult, I get upset, try to handle it a little, get discouraged and go home.

This serves no one, least of all my child.

My sweet kiddo deserves an assertive mom.

Look, I know that kids get physical. I know there are going to be disagreements and conflicts on the playground and at school. But I don’t know how to deal with it! It’s my hope that as time goes on, I’ll get more comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.

The real issue beyond my being upset, was that I don’t like to stir up trouble. I disengage from conflict far more often than I care to admit. It’s something I’m actually actively, furtively working on. Yet in this instance, I froze and, thus, feel like I failed.

It’s probably not a big deal, but it’s been a week and I’m still thinking about it.

So my question to you is this: what would you have done? Do other parents experience this? Will it get easier?

Parenting is an ever-evolving landscape, isn’t it?


2 thoughts on “What Would You Have Done? Toddler-on-Toddler Aggression

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  1. Something similar happened with my little one at the playground. A slightly older kid came up and physically wrenched her away from a play captain’s wheel and she burst into tears. I felt paralyzed with rage, but then my mother stepped forward and said to the little boy: “You know, she’s really little so you have to be more careful. Can you do that?” My mom has this total teacher air, so the kid nodded solemnly and ran off. It was a humbling moment to say the least 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that’s a really good example. I think I also freeze from rage so to have some examples in mind will probably help until it feels a little more natural for me. Thanks for sharing your experience!!


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