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How to Stop Toddler Pushing

written by: Sylvia Cochran • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 8/2/2012

Are you running a preschool and notice a toddler pushing other kids? What to do about this problem depends in large part on the developmental milestones the youngster has hit.

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    The Young Child in the Preschool Setting

    “Toddler story time The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies(1) points out that a structured childcare setting prior to kindergarten greatly enhances the abilities of youngsters to integrate socially and excel academically. This places the preschool teacher and assistant in the position of dealing with children who exhibit a wide array of social abilities. For example, when there is a toddler pushing other kids, what to do may be somewhat similar to when dealing with a toddler biting or hitting. Since at this time there are some 11 million preschool-aged children living in the United States, it is only a matter of time before you must deal with a pushing toddler in your preschool classroom.

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    Understanding the Urge to Push

    Experts at Iowa State University(2) connect a toddler’s sudden urge to push another child to a lack of bodily control. It is curious to see that in some cases a youngster might have intended to hug or pat a friend, which somehow becomes a push or shove. In addition to lacking proper body control there is a lack of appropriate verbiage to get across the point that a quick shove usually delivers. Within the preschool setting, the failures to reach these developmental milestones early on are frequently made worse by the presence of numerous children, limited space and not enough toys to avoid any form of cooperation.

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    Altering the Behavior

    • Verbalize acceptable options. Experts at the University of Minnesota(3) explain that a child needs to be given options. One option a teacher may give a toddler, who pushes another child out of the way, is to tell the other child to move over.
    • Give words. Does the toddler know how to ask someone to move out of the way in the first place? Instruct the children that – if they want to get past someone who moves slower than they are going – it is acceptable to say, “please move over."
    • Reinforce positive behavior. It is easy to catch the child doing something wrong; simply follow the screams of protest coming from a child whom the toddler pushed. Make it a habit of catching a repeat-pusher doing something right. For example, when he asks a child to move out of the way, be sure to reward his effort with a “good job!" or a high-five.
    • Empower the child to choose the right behavior. If a preschooler is repeatedly disciplined for the same behavior, he may feel like he is powerless. Show the child that there is a lot of power in doing the right thing. Highlight choices – “you can go around her on the wall-side or the door-side" – and sequences, such as doing the right thing and reaching a favorite toy versus doing the wrong thing, being corrected and losing a turn at playing with the toy.

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    When dealing with a toddler pushing other kids, what to do is frequently not as simple as calling for a time out. Tying the behavior directly to the consequence is highly effective. For example, place a toy that the child wishes to play with into time out until the hurt child feels well enough to play with the other kids. Remember to openly and frequently communicate about children’s mistakes -- but also successes -- to the parents for further positive reinforcement!

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    Photo Credit: “Toddler story time" by Jdodge3/Wikimedia Commons at