3 Yr. Old Son Acts Out

Updated on February 26, 2008
M.S. asks from Saint Georges, DE
15 answers

My 3 yr. old son Every where I go, if he doesn't get his way, yells, screams, kicks, hits, and wines. He also does this at home when he doesn't get his way, and will do it for an hour and sometimes longer. Iv'e tried everything I could think of. From time out, to spanking his butt, to going down to his level and telling him he is acting up and it is not okay. I am new to raising a son so I don't know if this is a stage or if this is something that will last. It has gone on for atleast 5 months now. Sometimes I feel that I am a prisoner in my home because I connot go anywhere. The last trip to the store, I felt like crying in the middle of the store. I just don't know what to do. please if anyone knows anything that could help. i am intersested in any ideas.

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answers from Philadelphia on

Hi M.. I have a son who will be 4 in April & I'm going through the same thing. I know exactly how you feel, I don't like taking him places because it's so stressful, which makes me feel terrible. I find that being patient & consistent is starting to pay off. He probably acts this way because he knows at some point you are going to give in [am I right?] When you say No! stick to it & let him know that you will not pay attention to him until he calms down. I know it's hard to ignore him, but when you react it's only adding fuel to the fire. So,that's the way I'm dealing with it. Whatever you decide to do, the thing is to be consistent.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I agree with some of the ladies here, but I don't think this behavior is a symptom of something else. This is typical behavior. Three yr. olds will test your boundaries. If you give in once, then they have realized this works and will repeat it. My son had bona fide meltdowns in the store. I was horrified to see that I was that lady with the obnoxious kid screaming for a toy. I then began our store trips with a talk about behavior that wasn't going to be tolerated. Once in the store, if he started to act up, we left the store immediately, and went to the car where I explained why everything was still in the store and we were going home. I had to do this twice. But after the second time, he realized I meant business, and if he was good, he just might get something. You have to be consistent, and willing to waste a trip for the greater good.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

My daughter had major temper tantrums when she was 2-3 years of age. All kids whine. I can imagine how you are feeling at this point. Here is what worked with my daughter... For the temper tantrums, we put her in her bed in her room and told her she could come out when she could control herself and act like a normal little girl (in your case, boy). Then I would check on her every 5 minutes, reminding her of what she needed to do in order to come back out of her room. If she had a major breakdown when we were out, whenever possible, I would give one warning that if she didn't stop we were leaving. If after two minutes she was not working on stopping or stopped, then I would put her back in the car and take her home. As for the whining, my husband came up with the solution to that and an additional help for the tantrums. My husband's rule is that if you whine, cry or have a tantrum, then as a parent, we are not allowed to give you what you want. Occasionally, (at 8) she still needs reminding but a few times of not getting candy because of her behavior when we would otherwise have gotten it for her really did wonders for her behavior. When she was whining and crying for it, we made sure to tell her that we really wanted to get it for her but because of her behavior we can't. Parents have to follow the rules, too. It took a few times but it really seems to have worked for the most part.

There is no quick and easy fix. It takes consistency and a lot of patience.

Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

He is 3 he will act out when bored, tired, etc. Have you tried bringing a stroller and juice and a snck out with you. Also where do you take him and how long is he out. I have found that spanking and time outs don't work. Something I larned about recently was time in, meaning catch them when thy are good. Get something you child loves and a snack and get a timer. Start with a min and give him a treat every min, then slowly up it. Don't tell him what you are doing and if you stick with it you will notice a change. You have to change your behavior and reactions to see a diffrence in his.

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answers from Philadelphia on

Hi M.

I just read your posting and I also have a 3 year old the cries, wines, and screams if he doesn't get his way. It drives me up a wall and I ask myself...is this normal? I was going to ask my pediatrician the next time I see them...What I do when he acts up is say no and try to ignore it...it's hard but I have to do it. Sometimes I just go into another room and wait until he is done. I think that it's the age where they don't quite get what we are saying to them so I wouldn't be too concerned but maybe you could ask your doctor too...just as I am the next time I go. email me anytime...maybe we can be each other's shoulder to cry on.

take care

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answers from Lancaster on

Someone else mentioned this, and I agree it is very important that your son get undivided attention from you for a set period of time every day.
I think the tantrums in the store must be so hard for you because you're in public! No wonder you don't want to leave your house... It could definitely be a stage developmentally, but I think if you let it go, he might not learn how to regulate his emotions.
A book or video that might be helpful for you is 1-2-3 Magic. It's a way of discipline using 2 warnings and then a timeout. The key is to be very consistent. And to not try to reason with your child while tantruming. The author, I believe, goes a little overboard with urging parents to have authority and not try to reason with kids. But the general idea is to not get caught up in a battle for control that will lead to unproductive arguing and yelling.
And in the store, you could use a timeout by finding a bathroom or other private space, or going to your car- leaving all your stuff in the store and have your son sit in the car.
The trick is definitely to be consistent. Start a behavior plan and stick with it. Good luck!

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answers from Scranton on

Have you tried telling him the first time he does it that having a tantrum won't get him his way or attention. Then if he persists just walk away and let him scream it out. If he follows you put him in his room and let him sit there until he calms. Out in public is another story, my son has done the same thing and i just (for instance at a grocery store) hold the cart out of reach of his feet so he can't kick me. Hope this helps.



answers from Harrisburg on

Sounds like you got pretty good advice already but I just wanted to add one thing. When you are taking him out somewhere its important to remind him what's expected of him before you ever get out of the car. So.....when going to the grocery store let him know you're there to pick up a few things, etc and then we're going home. If he's allowed to get something if he's been good, then tell him that too. If he's not getting anything on that trip to the store be clear on that too. And DO NOT give in to his tantrums, it'll only teach him he gets what he wants when he acts that way. Be strong, and don't worry. Look at all the mom's who experience the same thing as you and have responded! So when you feel helpless in the middle of a store just remember, most of the mom's staring at you are probably just remembering the days when they had to deal with the same things :)



answers from Allentown on

I want to reconmend an excellent book! 123 Magic, simple yet it works! I have a now 8 year old son who is ADHD this is the ONLY thing out of the millions I tried that worked with him! I still use this method with him and my two other children. Now all I have to do is hold up a finger and it stops! Amazon.com has it and so does the library. I reconmend buying it and highlighting the "tactics" so you can re read the important stuff to stay consistent! Good luck.



answers from Reading on

M., I don't know what happened with your son's dad, but his behavior sounds like the kind of thing that can happen when a childs' world is upset and he feels scared or angry and insecure, and at 3 years old he may not be able to verbalize how he is feeling. While it is important that he learn to take no for an answer, it is also very important that he get plenty of yes's for things that will help him feel secure--reading stories, finger painting, whatever he enjoys doing that is not harmful in any way. And do it with him sometimes. You can't get on the floor and play with him every time he asks, but it is awfully important that you do it once in a while. I learned with my kids that if I would take the time to play with them for 10 or 15 minutes doing what they wanted to do, I would save myself hours of frustration over unwanted attention-getting behavior.

Here's something else to consider: diet has a HUGE effect on children's behavior. They should not be given large amounts sugary foods--breakfast cereals, snacks, kool-aid, soda, etc. There have been a lot of studies tying high sugar diets with behavior and learning problems. If he is accustomed to having sweet snacks and such, try replacing them with sweet fruits like grapes, bananas or apples. If he is used to sugary drinks, try using 100% fruit juice instead. The ideal is to cut out all snacks, and just feed him 3 high quality meals a day. Just MHO.




answers from Allentown on

Here is an article by Dr. John Rosemond that addresses a problem similar to yours. Here's his web site as well http://www.rosemond.com/
Hope things get better!

Q: We recently kicked our 6-year-old out of the Garden of Eden for constant whining, frequent tantrums, hiding behind me when I’m talking with another adult, running away from me in stores, and other behaviors typical of 3-year-olds. He has no developmental delays, however, and is actually fairly intelligent. The problem is getting him to act his age. Help!

A: Before I give you some advice, I need to explain for the benefit of our readers what is meant by “kicking a child out of the Garden of Eden.” In this case, Paradise is the child’s room, and kicking the child out means to strip the room of anything and everything that is not essential furniture and clothing. The parents then establish specific behavioral goals which must the child must attain and maintain for two weeks to a month in order to begin getting his “stuff” back. I recommend this conservatively, only when a child’s misbehavior is persistently beyond the borders of outrageous, and the child has failed to respond to lower-level consequences. The purpose of “kicking” is to issue the child a powerful wake-up call in the hope that the child will finally see the wisdom of changing his errant ways.

The immature behavior you are describing is certainly outrageous enough to justify this course of action. To begin your son’s rehabilitation, establish one behavioral goal, such as not hiding behind you when you are talking with another adult. Tell your son, very specifically, what you expect of him in that situation—hold your hand, stand still and quiet at your side, and answer the adult’s questions while maintaining fairly good eye contact. Rehearse the proper behavior at home with Mom and Dad. When he has the new behavior(s) pretty well "down" in practice sessions, tell him that when he's able to successfully perform them in a public situation, with a third party, as well as he is performing them at home, he will get back a certain coveted toy or toys.

If he makes the attempt and doesn't quite get it, go home, review his "performance," rehearse again, and then try again. Keep trying until he has success. Then establish a second goal, but if he backslides with the first, he has to give that toy back and start anew. This will take some time and self-discipline on your part, but perseverance will eventually carry the day.



answers from Philadelphia on

Hi M.,

I can relate, having 3 boys! My best advice is to remain calm at all times, do not engage with him when he's acting like that. Instead, state your wishes, and keep repeating them calmly. This will take a while to rub off on him, but the less you react to his outbursts, the faster he will realize that he can't get his way by doing the things he's used to doing for attention. You can also make a start chart towards getting a prize for good behavior, using an "inside voice," being kind, etc. This is REALL:Y effective - try to catch him doing good things, even little things, and recognize this and tell him he gets to put a star on his chart. Yelling, screaming and getting angry with him doesn't work, even though it feels like it will in the moment, and its hard not to react this way as a parent of a child who is constantly seeing negative attention. However, if you can really tap in to a calm place in your mind, and consistantly just say, "If you would like _______ , I would like to hear a "please." Or, "We don't kick, we use our words." Does this help? You are not alone, this parenting thing is hard! One of my twins has anger/aggression issues that started around age 4, and it gets worse. He's 9 now, and I am seriously concerned about how this will pan out when he's a teenager. But if you can get a handle on it now, I think it will become better. I try several times per day to be calm and not freak out on him when he's mean. it has gotten better, some days are harder than others, but modeling the positive behavior myself, that I want from him, has helped. Btw, there are a ton of great books about raising boys at the library...
Stay strong!




answers from Philadelphia on

The best advice I've ever gotten for tantrums is to put them in their room and ignore them. I have a 3 y.o. daughter who is super-dramatic. Whenever she starts I just pick her up and put her in her room and tell her she can cry and scream as long as she wants in there but she is not coming out until she stops and then I close the door. It seems like taking away her audience and giving her permission to cry it out tends to shorten the tantrums. In fact, now she can stop them at the drop of a hat if she wants. And when you're in a store you have to be prepared to walk out even if you have to leave a full cart in the store. Once you do this a number of times consistently and he sees that you're serious he'll think twice about throwing a tantrum when you're out next time. One important thing that I really struggle with is to remain calm the whole time so they know they aren't getting a reaction from you. My daughter has been so frustrating that I get so upset I try to out-scream her so she can hear me and she just gets louder and I get angrier and the whole thing escalates. Hope this helps!


answers from Philadelphia on

The first thing that you need to know is that you cannot talk to a screaming child. Really, you cannot really talk to a screaming adult either. When children have tantrums make sure that they will not hurt themselves and you just walk away. You do not need to go far. Peek at them from around the corner, sit across the room, but let your child know that you are not going to respond to that type of behavior. As soon as they have calmed down go to them. Talk to them.

MOM: "Wow, you really seemed angry. What is it that you need?"
They will tell you, though you may need to prompt them. Have your child express their feelings calmly. Let your child know that you want to hear their needs and feelings, but yelling will not get your attention. Help your child find other ways to express anger or frustration such as art, finding a quiet space, jumping in place, talking it out, quiet crying.....

Children have just as many emotions as we do, they just need help in learning how to express them.

*Make sure your child is safe.
*Walk away.
*When your child calms down, talk to your child about how yelling will not work to get your attention but calm and kind words will get them what they need.

If you have any questions feel free to stop by www.childandfamilycoaching.com and drop me an e-mail.

Child and Family Coach, B. Davis



answers from Philadelphia on

My son is only 6 months old now, so I don't have personal experience with this, but some of the other comments sounded good. Especially the behavior coaching. I just wanted to comment on the diet thing. Eating healthy is very important. However, juice is loaded with sugar, sometimes as much as soda. If giving juice you should fill half the cup with water & the other half with juice. Also, kids (and adults) need snacks between meals. Especially if you have a long time between lunch & dinner. If a child is hungry they are only going to get cranky. Make it a healthy snack like fruit or cheese, but do give him a snack.
Also, I don't know if you should be rewarding your child with food...that could lead to eating issues (fat) in the future. If you choose to do rewards, stickers or increased play time would be better.

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