The Aggressive Preschooler
© 2003 Teresa Kellerman
Updated April 2008
Here is the response I wrote to a mother of a little girl aged 2-1/2 who is alcohol exposed, with symptoms of FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) and who is particularly aggressive with her younger sibling:
An aggressive preschooler? Yikes. Not a good sign.
Kids at age 2 and 3 are going to be somewhat aggressive anyway, and they are impulsive at that age, but sometimes we see behavior that seems just a little over the edge, and our instincts tell us there might be more of a problem than just "normal" behavior. If that's what your instincts are telling you, then it would be wise to listen to your intuition. You want to get the professionals to take you seriously NOW, before things get too serious, and they are likely to get more serious in the future. Here's some suggestions:
1) Watch out for her diet. Things like red food coloring in candy, Nutrisweet (aspartame) in diet beverages, MSG and other preservatives in fast food and some restaurants and even packaged foods, nitrites/nitrates in cured meats like hot dogs or pepperoni, and anything else you think might cause a reaction should be avoided. Try a week or two of this being really religious about it, and see if it makes a difference. Mountain Dew® might actually be beneficial. I have never heard of adverse reactions, and sometimes it acts as a mild stimulant would. You could introduce this after 3 days of no additives and see if there is any reaction. If no reaction, try two cans and see if you notice a reduction in the aggression.
2) Use very careful parenting strategies. You may have to close your ears to what other well-meaning friends and relatives (and hubby) tell you, and stick to what is sound psychology for special kids like this. My favorite guidelines for discipline are here: http://come-over.to/FAS/parenting.htm . I strongly suggest buying the 123 Magic video and follow that plan closely. That will work on kids as young as Lily.
3) Watch out for role models, either in the home, or the neighborhood, or at school. Your little girl is probably very susceptible to imitating behavior she sees in others. Be careful about playmates. I would not have her in a pre-school program, and would be very careful about child care or babysitters. She probably needs very close monitoring by someone who can be effective in providing intervention and good role modeling.
4) Start to keep a journal, with details of what happens, what happened before that (meals, situations, illness, disruption, events), what everyone's response was to the behavior. Time and date, and how long the behavior lasts. Lots of details. This will be helpful for three reasons. First, it helps you to emotionally detach so you don't react too negatively. Second, it will help you see a pattern, if there is one, that will give you clues as to what might set her off. And third, it will provide good documentation to professionals who might accuse you of overreacting.
5) Join a support group for parents of children with FASD. There are several online, so you can get supportive advice and suggestions from other parents without having to leave home:
I hope this helps.
PS: To better understand aggression, read this article:
The Biological Basis of Aggression
To learn about the many links between prenatal alcohol exposure and aggressive behavior, visit these Crime Times links:
FAS Community Resource Center