A.J. asks from Fresno, CA on August 18, 2010
Tantrums - Dos Palos,CA
Please help! My 3 year old daughter has some serious tantrums. She screams the way most kids scream when they get hurt, that loud piercing scream, then she litterally throws herself backwords onto the floor and keeps screaming and banging her head on the floor, kicking and waving her hands. Sometimes she bites me, other times she tears out her own hair. I've no idea what to do. She's thrown fits before, but never like this. When she'd do this before, it was just the screaming and she'd lay on the floor. For that, I'd give her a swat on her tushy and she'd stop it. Now, nothing works, not even when her dad gives her a swat. She screams NO! At her dad and hits him! What can I do?! At this point I'm lost. I can't send her to her room and I can't walk away from her, she actively hurts herself! Please mommies, any input at all is much appreciated.
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M.P. answers from Portland on August 18, 2010
It is normal for a child this age to throw tantrums but it's not normal for them to try to hurt themselves. I suggest taking her to her pediatrician for an evaluation if handling it by ignoring it doesn't work.
Unless, she only does this after you try to intervene. What happens if you completely ignore her at the start? Your trying to get her to stop may be causing her to increase her angry reaction.
I've found that the most effective way to handle a tantrum with my grandchildren is to go away from them but stay in the same room. I sit on the floor and wait until the screaming and kicking subside and she or he are just sobbing. Once the sobbing lessens I ask if they would like a hug. Usually, they crawled over to me and we rocked. I seldom talked about the cause of the tantrum and I didn't lecture or even suggest that they weren't to do that again.
I just accepted that the tantrum was in response to my saying no or their not being able to do what they wanted which infrequently had nothing to do with anything that I knew about. Once a toddler is overly tired they are easily frustrated. Sometimes, but not often, I've tried to deal with the frustration in a kind way and that put them over the top tantrum wise. It's best to intervene before a child reaches that stage.
But if, after a few of times with you ignoring the tantrum, she still tries to hurt herself, I'd get a medical evaluation. Try staying in the room but not paying attention. Also try leaving the room.
You could also try moving her to a carpeted floor with a large clear space so that she can't hurt herself before ignoring her.
She is having a tantrum because she doesn't know how to handle her strong emotions. A slap on the bottom usually increases a child's anger. I suggest that when a slap on the bottom worked she hadn't gone into a full grown tantrum.
I suggest that you watch for signs of being tired, frustrated, hungry, and try to calmly intervene before she gets this worked up. My grandchildren would and still do respond to my rocking them when I see them looking tired or whining. Quiet time with soft music, a cuddly toy, and soft music in their special corner might help. This is a way of teaching her how to handle her emotions. But you do have to catch them before they start to tantrum.
And I've never seen it help for parents to try to stop the tantrum. The child has to work thru it by themselves. I suggest that the most likely reason for your daughter's extreme rage is her response to your attempt to intervene. But if she doesn't calm down after a few times of you ignoring her, I'd get a medical evaluation.
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J.H. answers from Sacramento on August 18, 2010
My daughter is just over 3 1/2 years old. When I read through your post, I thought you might be talking about my own daughter just a few months ago.
I can share our story, and hopefully you're able to pick up even just a couple of helpful tidbits.
We tried ignoring her, doing the timeouts, etc. Didn't work. I decided this was because this method of discipline was reactive. I decided to try being proactive.
One of the first things we've added is to try to get to her before she's able to escalate to tantrum level. For us, with three kids, it takes a lot of effort to keep one eye on her emotions and the other eye on the rest of the family, but investing that time has paid off for us. The fact is, we have to watch out for her frustrations much less than when we first started. When we can see she is trying to do or say something and, for some reason isn't able to, then I get down to just below her eye level and talk calmly with her. I try to help her communicate before she's able to get to the point of frustration, which is when her tantrum seems to start. So, the first thing we tried is to get down to her level and let her feel and know that she's being listened to. Her frustration is nipped at the bud, so the tantrum doesn't get to happen.
I also know that for my DD it's important for her to know that I understand what she's trying to say to me. Although she has always been very vocal and loud, she wasn't able to articulate well until recently. Her speech has improved immensely in the past two months now where we are able to understand her. So, it's been at this point where she's able to say things and we're able to understand her more that her tantrums have lessened. This second point has shown us that much of her frustration was in our inability to understand what she was trying to say or do.
Lastly, although her tantrums have lessened in severity and number, my DD does still have them. Oh, my third child -- I think she could possibly cause my head to go all gray. Like my daughter, yours might also just have the personality that is naturally loud, rambunctious, demanding, and __________ (fill in the blanks, you get the idea). Each day, my DD matures as nature intends and with that maturity comes the ability to better control her emotions. I can see the emotional improvement each day and I do think this third point is yet another reason we see less tantrums.
A., I do hope you find the tantrums lessen and you have the same experience as we have found.
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C.B. answers from Kansas City on August 18, 2010
don't give her a swat. as soon as she starts it, take her to her room, calmly, inform her you will see her when she calms down, and walk away. if she comes out still throwing her fit, take her back. no one wants to witness that. teach her that this behavior will NOT get her any attention, and the only way she will get any is when she calms down and acts like mommy's sweet little girl. IF SHE HURTS HERSELF LET HER. a few smacks on the head won't hurt her. she won't commit suicide, she won't break any bones. she'll stop when she realizes it WON'T get her any attention. promise.
*edit. this works with my son although he rarely gets to full out tantrum mode, only has done it a couple times in his life. you have to nip it in the bud. it sounds to me like you have let this get beyond out of control. the key to any behavior "issue" is always consistent discipline - and like someone else said, be proactive. make sure she is fed, well rested, and has had plenty of excercise. if those needs aren't met, yes she will have meltdowns. you can't expect otherwise. a child that is in a stable environment, has all their needs met, and has been consistently disciplined, is a happy child.
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K.S. answers from Los Angeles on August 18, 2010
My daughter is turning two this year so I guess I'll see some of that soon. Anyway, I guess it's pretty normal for a small child to throw tantrums because they can't express themselves that well yet.
When my little brother was 3 he banged his head on the wall whenever he didn't get his way. The behaviour disappeared eventually, but what we did, of course, was to stop him from doing this and explain to him calmly why he couldn't have this toy or why he couldn't do this or that.
I also talked to my friend here, who's also a psychology grad, what she did with her daughter when she was 3 was just let her freak out or scream (ofcourse if she did something violent to herself she would stop her) and not let her have her way.
I understand your frustration, especially if your little girl may do this in public, but be patient. this phase will pass
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