3 Year Old Throws a Tantrum When He Doesn't Get His Way

Updated on December 29, 2008
K.B. asks from Beaverton, OR
16 answers

My son gets so angry when he doesn't get his way. It doesn't matter what the reason is. It could be not having "enough" crackers in his bowl or having to get dressed in the morning. He throws a tantrum by kicking and screaming. We've tried putting him in time out (which he doesn't stay),putting him in his room until he calms down and can come out and apologize, or by sitting him down and trying to calm him down by talking to him. What else should we try? Any suggestions would be appreciated!

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answers from Lincoln on

When my 13 yr old was three he would do the same thing, it was rather amusing to walk away and go into another room, because it didn't take him long to realise he didn't have anybody paying attention to him. He'd get up off the floor and find me. I'd just leave again. When we were in a store and he'd throw himself on the floor I'd walk around the corner and watch him from around the end of the aisle. That usually put and end to the fit because he thought I'd left him. I never tried to talk to him because it didn't do any good. I didn't feel I needed to explain myself to my children and I still don't. As my mother used to tell us. "Because I said so!"

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answers from Sioux City on

I would sit him in time out. If he doesn't stay, keep putting him back until he does. It will be a battle for a while but he will stay. You have to be more stubborn than he is. Then the next five things he asks for you turn him down and remind him that he threw a tissy and that is why he doesn't get his way. So if he would like a cup of milk you say, "I am sorry but you can't have a cup of milk. You can have water because you threw a fit." If he begins to play with with a truck you say, " I am sorry you can't have that truck, you will have to play with something else because you threw a fit." If he begins to pitch another fit put him in time out and begin again. This gives him a chance to practice the behavior you want from him, It shows him your the boss, and it gives instant consequences for his behavior. Once I have mine tamed then I explain that somethings are an "OH Well" and we don't get upset about those things. We also have, "looking days" at the store. That means that I am not buying you anything but you are welcome to look. This way they already know what I expect from them in the store. If they beg or begin to fuss, I walk out of the toy department and declare looking over. The big thing is that you don't have to remind them each time of rules. You tell them what you expect and then if you don't get it you go straight to the consequence. Once they begin the poor behavior, tell them that behavior is not allowed and give them the consequence. Most people give them a million warnings and that just allows the behavior to grow right before you eyes. Good luck! Just remember. It isn't fun when they are three and throwing tantrums but it really isn't fun when they are six and still doing it. It is easier to take care of it now.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Oh man, do I hear you. Our son is 3-years-old and he has just been throwing tantrums left and right lately. What I do is go down to his level and talk in a calm voice and tell him that he can either sit in his room and cry or come out and play with mommy and daddy. Then, if that doesn't work, which it usually doesn't right away, I leave him in his room while he is screaming. Then, I go back in after a while and get down at his level and comfort him, that way he knows he is still loved no matter what. But I again give him two choices and then when he is calmed down, he can make a conscience decision. I hope this helps. It is just an idea! :)



answers from Minneapolis on

Sounds like the strong willed child- I have one of those too! You indicated that you put him in time out but he doesn't stay. I would just keep putting him there until he does his time. My daughter was the same way at that age. They are testing to see if they can wear you down and they can have their way. Be consistant. I know it is hard but they need that constistancy. Eventually when he knows he can not get his way with that behavior he will stop. P.S. He is really watching you and your reactions. Be calm but let him know that this behavoir is not acceptable. Good luck. Have a Merry Christmas!



answers from Madison on

There is a book called "1-2-3 Magic"
We bought the CD set (what parent has time to read a book on parenting?) Anyway...
My son who is 4 is also very "strong willed"
He tests, tests, tests everything, and I mean everything.
The counting method when used very, very consistently works so great!!!!!!!!!!! The best part of it- it takes all emotion out of the equation for you.
I also agree with Patina, I definitely notice he acts up more if I am stressed, PMSing or tired - so be sure to take notice of yourself.
Good luck and look for "1-2-3 Magic" and make your husband listen to it too.....



answers from Minneapolis on

Anybody who says "Terrible Twos" hasn't had a three year old yet.

He'll most likely grow out of it. Kids use tantrums as a means to communicate. I'm not sure how verbal your son is yet, but it could be that he's learned that making the most noise gets him attention.

I would continue what you're doing, but be sure that you remain calm. Don't react to his tantrum. Tell him that you can't understand him when he is screaming, kicking, whatever he's doing, but tell him you'll listen when he's calmed down. And then either put him in his room, put him on the chair, or just turn around and ignore him.

If he's in a full out fit, it will do you no good to try and sit him down and talk to him. That won't calm him down. Often times when children get out of control like that, they aren't being manipulative but are trapped in the behavior. They need help calming down and often want to calm down.

When my son was acting out alot I also took a good hard look at myself and how I was behaving during the day. I realized that I was frequently yelling at the dog and cat, hollering across the room at the kids to do something, and generally acting loud. I noticed when I stopped being so loud, so did my kids. So I think it is really important not to raise my voice unless it is absolutely necessary. Because when I get loud, my kids respond in kind.

Good luck. It will pass.



answers from Appleton on

Try this--no matter what do not let him out of his room until he calms down. A lot of parents will have a breaking point when the child hits a certain pitch in their screams and then decide to go in and talk to them or let them out or whatever. Hang tough if you can't and the other parent can go for a walk or a drive come back an hour later. It may take a few times but he will soon learn that it doesn't work any more.
I would also take a look at his diet. Read food lables and take all foods containing MSG (big one for behavior problems) artificial dyes and flavors out of his diet. It may take a few days to weeks to see a change in him then try to add one item back into his diet if the behavior starts up again take that item out of his diet forever. Talk to his doctor about getting a note for daycare and later at school. Wheat and dairy products can also cause behavior problems, take them out of his diet and put back. Keep trying until you find that food item makes him act out.
Good Luck


answers from Omaha on

I may as well have been reading about my child. I know your frustration. I thought I made it past the two's then the I discovered the three's (not fun). As you know, ANYTHING can trigger "a fit". A few moments ago my daughter had a melt down cause she couldn't get Dora in the truck. What we do is take away something she loves. Like No Max and Ruby or no green blankie at night. The mere threat helps and she shapes up. Has to be their most prized possession.

Also, a lot of people mention to simply ignore them. That helps some. I find when she's freaking out I go upstairs and leave her to herself. She gets quiet being alone then takes her little self upstairs (quiet the whole way mind you), finds me (oh joy), looks me dead in my eyes then falls out. They need an audience or it's just no good. On occasion I've locked myself in my room. She hangs out by the door freaking out. At least I know she's ok. After a bit she calms down and sometimes falls asleep. It can be exhausting but as the saying goes - this too ( or should I say three) shall pass.

Hugs and good luck - hang in there.




answers from Sheboygan on

My son did the same thing. The best advice I got was to ignore it. I mean literally ignore him - no talking, no looking at him, nothing. When you are in a public place, without a word pick him up and carry him to the car, strap him in to his carseat and go home, or wait until he is done (if you can't go home). After a few times the tantrums will get shorter and then eventually go away.
Good luck!



answers from Wausau on

Hmm, sounds like a typical 3 year old! They call them the terrible 2's, but I think the 3's are worse! My son who is also 3 has begun to throw tantrums when he doesn't get what he wants, or is asked to do something he doesn't want to do. I have found the easiest thing is to ignore and walk away until the fit is done. It helps me remain calm and also enforces that my son will not get my attention until he is calm as well. Good luck to you, and remember, this is a phase and this too shall pass.



answers from Sioux Falls on

2 things work best for me: (At my house, we call them the Terrible 2's, and Tyrannical 3's ) ;)

1.Explain to him the reason for the decision...
"no, you can only have a few crackers....it's almost lunch time" Then ignore him...walk away from him when he's throwing his fit and don't acknowledge him until he's calmed down. It's hard, but effective.

2. Give him a choice. " You can either have 4 crackers, or you may have an apple" Now that my youngest is 5...the choice has become, "you can either have 4 crackers, or 0 crackers.....you decide.

Good luck!



answers from Minneapolis on

K., I agree whole-heartedly with the advice to ignore him and walk away when he's throwing a tantrum. Tantrums are typically a way of obtaining attention, even if they don't get the child what he or she wants. If everyone walks away and ignores him (don't say anything to him, don't appear to be checking on him, etc), he'll stop when he realizes that no one is paying him any attention. Keep doing it. When he stops the tantrum and comes to you, ask him to use words to tell you what he wants. Each time he's finished, ask him to calmly explain what he wants and it will reinforce verbalizing his wants rather than throwing a fit. It takes time, but eventually the behavior does decrease and disappear.



answers from Milwaukee on

We all know 3 year olds are prone to tantrums, but your description sounds a lot like my adopted twins. We have finally found a strategy that works for our family, by realizing that odd as it sounds, there is always a reason behind "unreasonable" behavior. Is your 3-year-old jealous of the 9-month-old? Is he exposed to violent TV or video games? Does he have a food allergy that is stressing him out? (my nephew at age 2 went from angry and hateful to a sweet kid on the Feingold diet)

In the case of our twins, the adoption itself, although it happened when they were newborns, was a serious trauma that they are still healing from. What kids like this need is more compassion, patience (though it sometimes seems impossible), and being heard; not more stress such as time outs (we tried those, too, with zero results and only increased stress for everyone). Being heard is especially important to kids like my daughter, who want to be in control, and insist that things be done their way or they have a fit.

I recommend the following resources to deal with children who seem particularly angry or impossible to please.

http://www.feingold.org/ **(this is just one of many diets, it may or may not be right for your child; please consult a physician or natural healer)

Good luck, and peace to you and your family!

A little about me:
My spouse and I have been married 8 years, and we adopted our 4 1/2 year old boy-and-girl twins shortly after their birth.



answers from Minneapolis on

Ignore him. Walk away without saying a word and let him have his tantrum. He'll stop when he no longer has an audience.



answers from Des Moines on

I would stay as calm as you can and let him throw his fit. Ignore him to the best of your ability and tell him that the amount of crackers he gets is what he gets. If he chooses to be angry, then he doesn't need the crackers. He has a right to be mad-but the way he is expressing himself is inappropriate. I know that sounds like a lot to tell a 3 year old, but they are smarter than you know. I have a home childcare business and the sooner they know that you can't be pushed or bothered by their tantrums, they are more receptive to just saying. I wanted more crackers. Then they are okay with you telling them-if you eat all of those I will get you more if you ask nicely. Then it's not such a big deal. There are a lot of times when a child is throwing a tantrum when I will turn away from them, fold my arms, and close my eyes. Then they know that I am not giving them one bit of attention. I don't respond until they settle down and start to verbalize their feelings. It's a tough road especially if you have a strong one. You need to prove that you are stronger. Stay stong!!



answers from Iowa City on

A tantrum is typically normal at that age. Your response to him is very important to get him to stop and think. My suggestion is to IGNORE him at all cost. Remove him from the environment by taking his hand and placing him in time out. Do not talk to him or speak. If you do speak limit what you say. Like No No and walk him calmly to time out. If he does not stay you can place him on your lap and hold his hands until he is done. He will most likely were you out before he does!! You can also use words like you need to make a positive choice and mommy said no no. You will get tired before he does trust me but a few days of the consistant same reaction from you and your husband you will win in the end and he will realize that his attention seaking behavior is not appropriate and is getting old. ALso check out the book setting limits for the strong willed child (it is a must read)....

Mom of 4
ages 9,8,5,3!!!

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