Angry 3 Year Old

Updated on September 23, 2010
P.H. asks from Whittier, CA
18 answers

Help!!! my son is 3 years old and has issues with anger, frustration and tantrums. When he try's to do some thing like dress himself and he cant he gets very frustrated and angry. Does anyone have any advise.....

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answers from Los Angeles on

It is a tough son is three. I try hard to incorporate him to "helping" me. For example, my father is town and so my son and I went to the market to get items to make dinner. I had him help me, put what I need in the grocery cart, etc. He just wants to do everything himself...and it is frustating when they can't.
If you say, "want to help mommy pick out a shirt for you today?"

I have learned about this recently and it helps. Someone said this is more of a positive way of going about things.

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answers from Honolulu on

1) is this something new with him?
2) how was he at 2 years old?
3) is it only with things that he 'can't' do, that he gets angry?
4) does he nap?
5) does he get enough sleep?
6) Is his 'anger' something more than just the typical/normal three year old behavior?
7) Is there something new/traumatic in his life, that he may be having a hard time adjusting to?
8) does he go to daycare/preschool?
9) How do you handle him when he gets this way?

When a child, 'cannot' do something, they naturally get frustrated/tantrum.

These are some things that you have to consider, in light of his 'anger' as you mentioned.

Keep in mind, that 3 years old is much harder than 2 years old... because it is a transition age, and they are going through so so many developmental changes. ie: at this age, they are expected to behave like a 'big boy' but yet...they are still 'baby' in terms of their cognition and ability to 'cope' and their developmental maturity AND emotional maturity. It's growing pains for the child... then the parent gets frustrated. The child is not understood.

Now, a 3 year old still needs help to get dressed. If for example he is 'expected' to just change clothes himself and get dressed himself... then a child naturally gets frustrated. And if they are rushed and hurried along, MOST kids get fussy and tantrum. Kids need TIME to get ready, and to have a lead-time to get ready. BUT... if he is just wanting to get dressed himself and insists on it... this is normal too, at this age. At this age, they want to do things themselves...BUT, their coordination and what their mind is telling them versus their actual 'ability' to do it, is two DIFFERENT things. Thus, a child gets frustrated. This too is normal.

Also, a child this age, does not have 'coping skills.' Thus, they erupt, get frustrated, tantrum. They also have emotions which are STILL developing... so they can't possibly juggle all of these things and be sane about it all. They are trying to figure it all out. Its a time of contradictions. Ability versus the inability to do things. THey are still learning.

Just a word of warning: "tantrums" and frustrations of a child, does not end at 2 years old. Many say the 'terrible 2's' are hard... but actually 3 and 4 years old is STILL an age where there WILL be tantrums. By 5-6 years old, it settles down. Because the child is more emotionally 'mature' at these ages... and more capable, and they can communicate better. Then when pre-teen and at teen ages, they get like this too, but in a different way. Their "maturity" is STILL developing, and their abilities.

Also, if a child is 'expected' to behave a certain way, versus what they actually can do... then a child gets 'stressed.' Thus, tantrums and frustration/anger. Then, the Parent has to take the CUES of the child, and help them or comfort them. Its all about going according to your child... and keeping expectations AGE-APPROPRIATE. If for example, and 3 year old is expected to behave like a 5 year old, it won't work... and the parent and child will always be frustrated.

If your child tantrums doing tasks... help him through it. Don't just tell him "quiet", "no", "stop it", "grow up" etc. It will NOT help. (I'm not saying you do these things, just as an example).

For me, with my 2 kids... each child is different in their abilities. And I don't expect "perfection", just doing their best even if it is not 'perfect.'

Sometimes, instead of just scolding, try and put yourself in his shoes? What is he going through? Why? What is triggering it? How can you coax him through it? Is he getting praised enough? Or is he just told what to do? Maybe, he gets frustrated getting dressed, because there are TOO many choices. MANY kids, get overwhelmed if there are too many choices... so, just get out 2 outfits, and ask him "Do you want to wear this blue shirt, or this green one?" Then that's all. Don't leave him to do the whole dressing process by himself. A 3 year old can't do that. Now, an outfit does not have to "match" either. If he wants to wear something that to you, does not match, then fine. A child needs to learn this too, and have their own learning curve and self motivation.

Sometimes kids also get this way, because they can never do it good enough, like how they imagine in their heads. So... it's a process too, they have to learn. Maybe at this point, help him identify 'feelings' so that he can tell you how he feels... and express himself. Then a child feels understood. If my kids feel angry or frustrated... I don't tell them they can't. Instead I say "I know, you feel frustrated/angry... Mommy feels like that too sometimes. What can we do to make it better?" Then, talk about it with him. And sometimes a kid just needs to vent. Just like adults.

Try and distract him, when he gets angry/frustrated. Change the mood... and the expectations of him. Make funny songs about getting dressed, make rhymes, act goofy... and make dressing "fun." Maybe this is a task that gets him grumpy... because he needs help to do the task. No matter how 'smart' a child is... their emotional and cognitive 'maturity' is STILL that of a child. Again, it's all about ages and stages, and age appropriate expectations.

Anyway, just some thoughts, sorry for rambling...
All the best,

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

When kids are big enough to talk but still have temper tantrums it is usually that they want validation for their feelings. My son had times like that (still does every once in a while) and the easiest way was for me to sit on the floor so I was at his height then empathize and encourage.
"wow, did you get all three of those buttons by yourself? Now, you've come to a button that won't behave? That always makes me frustrated too. Maybe we should skip that button, let it be in time out while we do the rest. OR Can I try to make that button behave for you? You did a very good job calming down and letting me help you take care of this misbehaving shirt. All done"
Show him you understand his feelings, calm him down, and then remind him he can always come to you to ask for help because that is what mommy's are for.
He will need lot's of reminding to ask-the smarter they are they more they think they should be able to do themselves. Let him know, too, that he does things that most kids his age or older can't and if it's not perfect it's still better than what a 3 yr old should do. I let my son know he was a "smarty pants" and that most 3 yr olds don't speak in complete sentences, let alone, correct people's grammar so when he got a word wrong it was more than ok, he was still a "smarty pants". Most 3 yr olds can't ride a bike or a scooter or whatever, so the fact that he fell down was ok he was trying to do more than a 3 yr old should. It let him know that his "perfect" expectations for himself were not real expectations and that it is ok to fail and he will still be an amazing kid to me and everyone else. He is still loved and still special.
Now my son is 9 and doesn't excel at everything but does several sports, reads, sings, plays piano, is advanced at school, has lots of friends and tries so many new things because it is ok to fail, doing all of that even if only average means he is way special.
Good Luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I work with a lot of kids to get rid of "trapped" emotions, especially anger. Certain organs harbor different emotions. Grief seems to get "stuck" in the lungs. (An example of this long term might be Dana Reeves, who never smoked, etc and ended up with lung cancer after 12 years of caring for her husband and being "strong" - basically stuffing her emotions.) Anger is the liver. Self esteem is the pancreas and spleen. Feel free to Google this emotion and organ association. What may help is having him stop what he's doing when he's angry/frustrated. Have him put his hand over his liver and the other hand over his forehead. Have his tap both at the asme time while he breathes in and out 3 times. While this is basic from what I do, it still can work pretty darn well. You should see the changes in the kids after 2-5 visits! Tha parents are amazed.

Good luck.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Hi P H,

I can honestly say, I know what you are talking about.

I am a mom of 4 kids and boy do they go thru their stages and did I feel helpless and unsure how to handle this.

Anyway, I dealt with this issue by changing the games and toys I had around them.

I learned that puzzles, coloring, finger water painting, etc. where games that got you on your tummy with your little ones and it showed them another world.

It taught my kids patience and most of all time to be creative. My son when he couldn't get dressed and started with his frustrations and getting upset, I would grab him and sit down with him in my lap. I would ask him what was wrong and why "is this pant not listening??" I would tickle him and start playing with his pants and little by little started pulling them up until he was wearing them. His frustration turned to curiousity of what the pants where going to do next. His attitude changed and he would put a smile on his face. Once I realized he was calm again, I would give him a hug and remind him how much I loved him. It took a while, but I kept at it. Now, he is way better. It helped him in school too.

I guess what I am recommending is time and patience with him. If he sees you calm and making a bad moment into a happy playful one, he won't have a reason to be upset.

I hope I have helped.



1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

This is age appropriate. He is a big boy who is discovering his world and his abilities, while also at the same time not having the fine motor skills and verbal skills that are not fully developed. Your job would be to help him through these moments of frustration and sometimes look away and let him figure it out on his own. You can teach him to ask for help and how to express himself. Mainly, he will move out of this phase. As long as his frustration is not directed at another person, I would just help him through this phase in his life. Best of luck. We have all been there!

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answers from Los Angeles on

Give him safe space to vent. It's O.K. to get angry, it's just not O.K. to take it out on anybody else with hitting or screaming. Show him how to put his head under his pillow and scream as loud as he can. Get him a toy punching bag to take his aggression out on. Try understanding why he's upset and use words to validate his feelings. "I can see you're upset about having a hard time getting dressed." Offer to help but let him choose whether or not to accept. Maybe he just needs to blow off some steam before completing his task. Good Luck!

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answers from Los Angeles on

i would get this book called "the Feelings Book" it's a kids book....i read it to my son and i act out the when he's cranky i say.."are u cranky?" and i make light of it..i did it today helps..point out how he's feeling and talk about it..also u can rent Best Toddler on the Block..and see how the doc deals w/ emotions

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answers from Honolulu on

My daughter has similar anger issues. I read the book "Raising your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and it did help me to understand her a bit better. I would recommend it. My daughter is 7 and I have come to learn that she is a perfectionist. I have her involved in activities that are more expressive than precise (i.e. art classes instead of piano classes, dance classes instead of soccer) so that there is no "right or wrong" way to do things. We struggle with homework and reading, because she wants to be perfect at everything, and she does not accept that there is a learning curve. It is probably his personality type, so you have to help him to work through his iterations of things, instead of getting it right the first time. He will be a leader some day!

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answers from Los Angeles on


Yes you are right that he is smart. He is aware of his limited capabilities in the dressing and coordination area.
My mentally gifted son refused to try to write again and became made when he couldn't copy the first letter of his name that I had written for him to copy.

First, as far as dressing...purchase easy on clothing for now...pull up pants with elastics..not buttons, snaps and zippers..also slip on or velcro fastening shoes. He wants independence and doesn't have the coordination yet.

Try to ignore the tantrums as best as you the reassuring when he has calmed down. As far as the anger, tell him you understand he is annoyed because something is hard to do and assure him with practice and also when he is older it will became easy for him. Assure him that your daughter did not know how to dress herself when she was his age. My son would get mad at the dinner table and we found we had to send him to his room because we couldn't have a family meal...telling him he could return at anytime he could behave correctly. It took about a month, but he finally ended those tantrums.

As he gets older, he will be less frustrated. Make sure you find things that he is capable of doing around the house and praise him for that...sort socks, set table (yes my son could at that age when I handed him the right number of utensils he would put them at each place...helping in kitchen (loved to do this...putting things into bowls, etc.). Enjoy your wonderful son and keep reading to him is amazing how much they can learn at that age:)



answers from New York on

my son is 3yo, he has the same issues... It hurts me so bad to see him this way, cause once in a while he will be the sweetest little boy.. I don't know what to do. At times I feel as if I'm not doing the right thing for him...



answers from Los Angeles on

Good Morning PH,

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answers from Las Vegas on

He may be flustered as much as angry. Because he see's you
do it & it looks so easy. Yet when he tries to do it, it's hard for him. Let him try it on his own & even if he gets angry. Leave him be then once he has had his tantrum. Then ask him if he would like you to help. But don't do this when he is having the tantrum because this will just make him think that having tantrums everytime something doesn't go you way is ok.



answers from San Diego on

Hi PH,

I think a lot of that is typical three year-old behavior. They get mad easily because they want to do a lot of things that are still difficult for them to do.

Try to help him to be patient--just be calm and offer your help. If he still freaks out, I'd put him in a short time-out until he calms down and then try again. It's okay to be angry, but not okay to freak out when help is offered. That's what we tell our boy. That works pretty well.

Good luck!
:-) D.



answers from Los Angeles on

He is just expressing what most 3 yr olds do, which is the "I CAN DO IT MYSELF" phase of their young little life. Just be patient, ask him if you can help or help to show him, like you button, then he buttons, then you, then he. Make a game of it. See if this helps. Just remember this to shall pass.



answers from Los Angeles on

i have a 3 year old who does the same thing. I think my guy does it because he really wants to do things by himself can't always do it or it is tough for him.
It is kind of an in between age - not a baby anymore, but not able to be big boy stuff. I just try to talk him down when I can. I say things like,"It's hard to get dressed by yourself sometimes, isn't it?" Other times a tantrum begins and I just have to let him get over it.
Good luck!



answers from Reno on

I personally took measures to let my three children know that throwing tantrums would not help or get them anywhere. Your son will soon learn that tantrums get him nowhere, and he will stop. Your sons frustration in getting dressed is common when children begin to make the effort to dress themselves, just ask if you can help him out once in a while. He can either accept or reject you help. Good Luck.



answers from Los Angeles on

Be sure to tell him when he does things correctly, or well, and praise, and clap! (maybe you already do this). when he is angry, you can say, "You are angry, it's ok. Use your words." You also can wait a bit, staying calm and sitting quietly until he has relaxed. If he is throwing a tantrum, let him finish, being certain to move dangerous items out of his way. Showing him you are there, waiting, can give him security. The more attention he gets for doing things well, the less attention he will want for not being able to do something, or for doing something wrong(sometimes children do things wrong because they know they will get attention). Good luck, and praises for you, for asking what to do!

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