Toddler Tantrums: Hitting, Kicking, Scratching, and Biting


Why Toddlers Get Aggressive, How to Respond to It, and What to Do to Prevent It

Most toddlers get aggressive sometimes. Tantrums and aggressive behaviours—hitting, kicking, scratching, and biting—don’t mean you’re a bad parent, but they are a call to action. Here are some thoughts and practical suggestions:

Happily Chatty Toddlers Who Start to Stutter


It’s terribly worrying, but not at all uncommon, for children who start talking early to experience a period of stuttering sometime between 18 months and 4 years of age. It can start all at once, and usually ends just as quickly a few days, weeks, or months later.

What’s Happening?

With some toddlers, the stuttering (also called stammering) is mild—a few f-f-f-false starts every few sentences. With others, it’s more severe, happening in most sentences, preventing effective communication, and leading to the child’s speaking less frequently.

Some little ones show signs of anxiety about the stuttering, blinking their eyes rapidly, raising the pitch of the voice, or looking worried. Being tired, excited, worried, angry, or upset usually makes stuttering worse.

For little ones with very active brains, their thoughts and ideas can be racing ahead of their physical ability to make the words. Or as one mom wrote, “Intelligent kids’ brains work better than their mouths.”

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, stuttering occurs in five to ten percent of all children, most of whom outgrow it. It can occur when a toddler’s desire to speak exceeds their speech and language abilities. When this happens, toddlers can begin to stutter until their spoken language skills have caught up.

And as speech-language pathologist Patricia McAleer-Hamaguchi wrote, “When your child is in the midst of a great jump in his language skills, it’s natural he should have difficulty putting his sentences together in a fluent way. His brain is like a computer, desperately trying to pull up the right words in the right order. While the computer is searching, his mouth may go into a pause (translated: repeat) mode.”

When a child who’s previously been happily chatty begins to stutter, many parents blame themselves or worry about other aspects of the child’s life. If that’s you, stop looking for someone or something to blame. Stuttering in toddlers is very rarely caused by environmental stressors. Instead, it is usually a transient phase in the development of language skills. The child who was previously a great talker will most probably become that again before too long.

What You Can Do if Your Toddler Stutters

  1. Wait and see. Because many children go through a stuttering phase while learning to talk, most experts recommend waiting until your child is 3 before taking action.
  2. Be patient and listen. When your child stumbles in trying to talk, maintain normal eye contact and wait calmly for them to finish. Don’t provide words or finish their sentences. If you’re not available to talk, let them know when you’ll have time, and then follow through.
  3. Avoid advice like taking a deep breath, slowing down, or starting over. You don’t want to feed the problem by increasing your toddler’s self-consciousness.
  1. Channel Mr Rogers. Talk to your child in soft, slow, relaxed tones. If you speak quickly, your child may rush to keep up with you.
  2. Smile your encouragement. Keep a pleasant, relaxed expression on your face when your child is talking.
  3. Repeat the sentence. Once your child has finished, repeat the sentence fluently so they know you understand, and so they can hear it fluently said.
  4. Make time for full individual attention. Set aside time each day for pleasant, stress-free conversation with just this child (as well as any others you have).
  5. Ask one question at a time. Keep your communication short, simple, and positive.
  6. Slow down the pace of your toddler’s life. Ensure as calm and unhurried an atmosphere as possible.
  7. Provide activities that don’t require talking. At times when the stuttering is particularly noticeable, look for something your toddler can do that doesn’t require conversation. This can be drawing, reading, dancing, outdoor play, or other nonverbal play activities.
  8. Acknowledge the problem supportively, with kindness. From time to time, say something like, “You have so many important things to tell me that it can be hard for you to say them all!”, or “Sometimes talking is difficult for everybody,” or “I love how you keep working to tell me, even when it’s hard,” or “Your big brother (or mother, or whoever) was a bumpy talker when he was little, and now look at him!”
  9. Review familiar stories, nursery rhymes, and songs. Encourage your child to tell you stories they know well. Sing simple familiar songs and rhymes with them. These usually come more fluently than unstructured speech.

Get a professional opinion. If your child’s really struggling and the stuttering hasn’t improved within three to six months or by the age of three, speak to your doctor about a referral to a speech therapist.
Resources on stuttering and other parenting concerns:

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster

Being Smart about Gifted Education, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster

“Stuttering,” by National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

“Stuttering,” by Baby Center Advice

“How can I tell if my child has a stuttering problem?” by Patricia McAleer-Hamaguchi

“Stuttering,” by KidsHealth

“I am concerned because my 3-year-old has started to stutter,” by Zero to Three

“Stammering in preschool children—How parents can help,” by The British Stammering Association


You can see this and other blogs by Dona Matthews at







How Much Homework is Too Much? 12-Step Pushback for Parents of Little Kids


Helping Young Kids Deal with Stress


Recent Blogs at Psychology Today and The Creativity Post

Dona MatthewsFor recent blogs by Dona Matthews, go to Going Beyond Intelligence at Psychology Today

joanne (2)For recent blogs by Joanne Foster, go to Fostering Kids’ Success at The Creativity Post

Psychology Today blog postings

worried little girl

worried little girl

Go to Going Beyond Intelligence to see Dona’s blogs on topics of interest to parents, including

and more!

Getting Along with Others: Supporting Children’s Social Intelligence

children art in heart hannes.a.schwetzChildren and teens can experience social challenges at any point during the school year. Social context—including opportunities for interaction and collaboration with others—makes an enormous difference in what and how much children learn, and how quickly that happens.

People who are able to get along well with others do better in academic, personal, and professional dimensions of their lives. What can parents do to help their children develop positive social connections, and build a strong foundation for happy productivity? Here are eight suggestions:

  1. Be encouraging. Celebrate your child’s interests, personality, efforts, and accomplishments. This will help her gain the self-knowledge and self-confidence that will help her do well in social situations in playgrounds, schools, extracurricular activities, and later, in colleges and workplaces..
  2. Teach tolerance. Help your child appreciate his own strengths and accept his weaknesses. Show him that everyone has their own unique pattern of abilities, so he learns to welcome individual differences and diversity.
  3. Explore interests. We’re more likely to be at our best in every way, including socially, when we’re doing something we love. Help your child find opportunities to interact with people who share his interests. (This is especially important with kids who are shy or socially awkward.)
  4. Welcome problems as learning opportunities. When you or your child encounters an obstacle or challenge, avoid looking for someone to blame, and instead focus on being resilient and on moving forward in a positive way.
  5. Solve problems together. Effective problem-solving skills are an important part of social success. Show your child through your own attitudes and behaviour how to deal respectfully and collaboratively with issues with other kids. Help him build a network of support, including ample opportunities for play, talking, listening, and sharing because that’s when kids learn important social skills.
  6. Teach safe social media habits. Does your child understand both the positive possibilities and the destructive dimensions of social media? Make sure she knows how to handle cyber-bullying, whether it’s directed at herself or others, and to avoid questionable online interactions.
  7. Be available. Problems with relationships are both unavoidable and a healthy part of growing up. Your child is more likely to thrive if he feels he can talk to you about what’s going on in his social life, without judgement, blame, lecturing, or recrimination.
  8. Model kindness, thoughtfulness, and good conflict-resolution skills. Work toward a positive family atmosphere where each member of the family feels liked, respected, listened to, and loved.

As children navigate the social challenges ahead, parents can support them in many ways including by reinforcing their efforts, teaching then to be tolerant, encouraging them to explore their passions, demonstrating how to welcome obstacles, solving problems together, and teaching safe social media habits. Most importantly, parents can stay attuned to what’s happening in their children’s lives and create a positive, responsive family atmosphere.

For more information on this and related topics, see

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster (House of Anansi, 2014).

How to Raise a Socially Intelligent Child, by Laura Markham

Growing Friendships, by Eileen Kennedy-Moore

Four Best Ways to Raise Children with Social Intelligence, by Janet Lansbury


Book Giveaway!

To enter a back-to-school contest and win 4 copies of Beyond Intelligence for your child’s school:


Back to School Challenge: Enter to Win!

 beyond intelligence all wrapped upWe’re giving away 48 author-signed copies of Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids to schools across Canada and the United States. We invite parents and teachers to send us an email addressing the topic, “How my school will benefit from Beyond Intelligence.

Many groups of parents and teachers have used Beyond Intelligence to spark lively discussions about a variety of topics that matter to them, including how to support children’s creativity, intelligence, productivity, and self-confidence. Other areas of interest include, bullying, advocacy, resilience, emotional intelligence, the importance of unstructured playtime, and ideas for establishing a healthy life balance.

We’ll select the 12 most compelling responses to our back-to-school book giveaway challenge. Each of the winning schools will receive 4 complimentary copies of the book. Where possible, one of us will deliver the books in person, and be available to answer questions. For the schools we cannot get to, we’ll arrange for delivery, and create an online discussion forum.

We look forward to hearing from parents and teachers, and to sharing with you our secrets for raising happily productive kids.

The details:

Deadline for entry: October 1st, 2015

Maximum 200 words responding to: “How my school will benefit from Beyond Intelligence

Please send your email to

Winning entries will be posted to (unless you request otherwise)

Photo by B. Wiseberg

How Parents Can Help Their Child Build Self-Confidence

superkidSelf-confidence is a worthwhile goal for parents to hold for their kids, and while parents are right to think they can have an impact on their kids’ developing self-confidence, there are two widespread misconceptions that can stand in the way of that:

Misconception # 1. People are either confident or insecure. In reality, very few people feel good (or bad) about themselves in every area of life. A child who feels confident in her social abilities, for example, might feel insecure about her athletic or musical ability.

Misconception # 2. Praise helps people feel confident. In fact, hollow praise actually diminishes a person’s self-esteem. A strong sense of self is built on feeling genuinely competent in areas that matter to the individual, whether sports, painting, academics, social popularity, or something else.

Not everyone is skilled at everything they do, of course, and certainly not right at the beginning. Sometimes what’s required is more effort, guidance, or assistance. A child’s lack of self-confidence can indicate problems with goal-setting, such as figuring out what he wants to invest his energy in, or persistence, which involves staying engaged with a pursuit long enough to have fulfilling and confidence-building experiences.

Here are some practical tips for parents who want to help their child or teenager develop self-confidence:

  1. Unique ability profile. Encourage your child to appreciate her uniqueness—what comes easily, and also what’s harder for her to learn—and to understand that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Incremental learning. Celebrate the small steps, and help your child see how those steps are required for larger achievements. Say ‘I admire  how you stayed with that picture. Those flowers make me feel happy when I look at them.’ Not, ‘You’re just like me, not very good at painting,’ or, ‘You’re a terrific artist!’
  3. Engagement. Help your child discover learning opportunities in his areas of interest. His confidence will build through experiencing activities he enjoys.
  4. Availability, especially through change. Be available to encourage your child as she considers her options, reviews her goals, and adjusts her efforts to adapt to changing demands and circumstances.
  5. Growth mindset. Show your child how to face setbacks with a positive mindset, seeing difficulties as ways to learn, not as insurmountable obstacles. Help him understand that everyone experiences problems during the course of learning anything that’s worth learning, and encourage him to take pride in overcoming hurdles.

Working together with children and adolescents to bolster their self-confidence will stand them in good stead at the outset of the school year, during the months that follow, and beyond.

For additional information on this topic and more see Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster (House of Anansi, 2014), and visit the authors’ website at for articles, blogs and resources.

For more on this topic:

Aamodt & Wang, (2012). Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College. London: Bloomsbury.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House. 

Foster, J. F. (2015). Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. Tuscon: Great Potential Press. 

Smooth Transitions During Times of Change


The beginning of the school year means new classrooms, friends, programs, expectations, and more. Here are some tips to help parents recognize and address the complexities of change, setting the tone for successful outcomes for their children.

Published at The Creativity Post – Aug. 24th, 2015

Parents cannot possibly anticipate all the changes that occur in a child’s life. Change might be expected or unexpected, big or little, painstakingly slow or lightning fast. Sometimes close friends move away, a new sibling arrives, or family problems arise. It helps if parents think about the transitions occurring within their child’s world—along with potential implications.

School-related change may involve new teachers, a switch from public school to homeschooling, relocation to a different neighborhood, or transfer to a specialized program. For children, these kinds of changes can be worrisome, pleasant, motivating—or no big deal.

Chat with kids about the reasons for a change, what will likely occur (academically, emotionally, or socially), and how to chart a sensible course of action. If you think a change may be unsettling for your child, discuss ways to make it happen smoothly. Get creative! Perhaps it’s possible to adjust the extent, pace, or nature of the process. Children who feel comfortable about a change are better able to handle it.

Most changes can be managed well with preparation and guidance. We all have times of uncertainty when we lack confidence about our capabilities, or are concerned about what might happen, or question how (or if) to proceed. Help kids appreciate that as they get older they will continue to develop a better understanding of what they can do well, what they need to work really hard at, and when they have to make the best of a situation by finding ways to deal with it.

Parents can help children develop adaptability and resilience during times of change. Here are six tips:

1.) Knowledge is empowering. Take careful stock of the change, and share information about it with your child. Better yet, teach her how to acquire her own knowledge about the situation.

2.) Reflection is constructive. Think about the implications of the change, including potential risks or benefits. Take into account your child’s comfort level, and help him understand his feelings.

3.) Support systems can lighten the load. Check out support services at school and within the community, including people involved in planning and implementing changes, and any others who might provide assistance.

4.) Complexities can be simplified. Can the situation be altered to be more accommodating of your child’s individual needs? Do you foresee any adjustment problems that can be offset?

5.) The unexpected is inevitable. Pay attention to unexpected factors and outside influences. Encourage your child to do the same, and to be flexible. Change might offer new possibilities!

6.) Professional help is available. Seek professional advice if it becomes apparent that your child needs increased support or coping strategies. For example, if she can’t sleep, won’t eat, loses interest in friends, or experiences some other unusual problem, this may indicate a need for assistance.

Children can learn to size up a change, and decide what and whom they can rely upon when adjusting to it. Parents can revisit the six reference points to help kids surmount difficulties, feel more confident, and sustain positive momentum throughout the year.


For additional information:
Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination by Joanne Foster (Great Potential Press, 2015).

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster (House of Anansi, 2014)

Make It a Happy Start to School: Our Top Ten Secrets by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster (See our blog)

Helping Kids Thrive in Middle School and High School by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster (See our blog)

For articles and blogs on this topic and more visit

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