5 Ways to Curb Face-Grabbing and Other Annoying Behaviors on the Playground

playground toddler temper tantrum

He’s such a sweet boy. He really is. It’s just … unfortunately he’s developed a rather annoying and sometimes alienating habit on the playground. Face-grabbing. And occasionally he bites.

Most of the time, he doesn’t do it unprovoked. Toy or territory infringement, for example, will turn him into a complete barbarian, and considering his 17-month-old perspective, I understand where he’s coming from. His elders can say things like “¡es mío!” and he’ll more or less relinquish and babble, “Bueno, I won’t touch your mini shopping cart even though it looks like the coolest thing on earth.” 

There are times, though, when out of the blue he’ll toddle up to a child (usually a girl) and grab her face as if he truly wants to rip it off or see her cry. It’s terrible. Why, my son, do you do this?


Is it something you picked up from other kids on the playground? Is it because of the “rough-and-tumble” games you play with dad? Is it television, even though we don’t have one? Is it society?

I scoured the Internet and referenced my library of how-to-tame-your-tiger (I mean toddler) books. Here’s what I discovered: It’s normal. While the sight of seeing my little angel doing devilish things makes me cringe, I have to remind myself that -- like so many things in my parenting life -- it’s not personal.

So I can stop stressing on the playground, here are my five solutions to curbing playground violence:

  1. Remember, they have few words: But, boy, do they have hands and teeth! As such, these are their default tools of non-verbal communication when playgroup gets tense. I take him aside and explain how much the use of hands and teeth from a ticked-off toddler ticks off everyone in the room. In as few words as possible, of course, as in, “Ouch! That hurts [insert name of the offended]!”
  2. Persistence makes perfect: The first time he bites or grabs, I do step one. The second time, I repeat. The third time, I repeat yet again. The fourth time, it’s time to call it a day.
  3. Reward the good: I really do mean it when I say he’s a sweet and darling boy. And when he plays well with others, I’m sure to tell him as much with effusive comments like, “Wow, nice sharing!”
  4. Don’t demonstrate bad: I never revert to my hands or teeth to demonstrate my frustration, but I do have to watch my words if my temper flares when daddy isn’t playing nice. This is the hardest bit for me. But persistence makes perfect.
  5. Read the play: I know there are certain conditions and times of day that fit pretty definitively in the red zone. To be fair to my little tot, I do my best to steer him clear of those situations.

It’s all really a matter of getting to know him so I can learn how best to discipline him, my gentle (if not occasionally untamed) little tiger.

Image via K. Emily Bond

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