How to Survive the Terrible 3'S

Updated on July 18, 2008
D.T. asks from Bothell, WA
5 answers

I've looked around and seen some other posts that seem to touch on the fact that the threes are harder than the twos but I guess I just need some support on this. My daughter turned three in May. She has always been a challenge from day 1 - no sleep and very high spirited. She is very articulate and so so loving so it's very hard for me to deal with the new phase she has been going through for the last few months. She started having terrible tantrums about 3 months ago. They seem sometimes absurd to me but I understand it's hard to be 3. The other day her nanny flushed the toilet and she had a tantrum for 40 minutes because she wanted the pee back :-) I know one day I will laugh about these but it's hard. Recently the 40 minute tantrums are escalating into her hitting, scratching, spitting and biting. I've been scratched and bitten several times over the last few days and it's very difficult to deal with. She goes on time out and when she tries to leave time out I put her back and that's usually when I get hit, bitten, scratched or spit on. Has anyone else been dealing with this or dealt with it and have any suggestions on how to deal with it? She is so sweet and happy and loving one minute and then totally out of control the next. She started to hit and pinch other kids now more too. Nothing seems to work to curb the behaviour. Losing privileges or toys or no treats for that day. This is sooo hard.

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answers from Seattle on

Hey there, I feel your pain. My son is 3 1/2 and we have been going through this for a while. It sure is suprising when they turn from that loving, smiling, joyful, child into the screaming, hitting, kicking, yelling monster. When I asked for help on here a lot of mothers recommended the "love and logic" books. I got one off of Amazon for around $2 dollars. We don't do everything exactly as it said to but we adapted it to our family and it helped a lot! It's based on the principle of giving the child choices, which in turn empowers the child and helps them to feel like they are their own person. Children through age two see themselves as an extention of the parent so they usually go along with whatever we are doing. When they turn three they start to figure out they are their own person and they do whatever they can to declare their independance. Anyway, I wish you luck, make sure you keep reaching out to other moms that is what has saved my life. T.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Oh yes three is such a wonderful age. My son, who is now almost 8, was a tantrum throwing whirlwind when he was 3. One thing that worked for me if you can leave her in a safe place is to put yourself in time out when she is acting like that. I would gate off an area so I knew he would be safe and then go in a room and lock the door. He would pound on the door and scream, then in a few minutes he would be calm again. "You Can't Make Me, But I Can Be Persuaded" by Cynthia Tobias is a great book too. You can get it from the library. The good news is, at least with my son, 4 is much easier. :) Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

This too shall pass. Try to enjoy the good times and just get through the bad times. I am sure you tried just ignoring her while she has a tantrum and loving her when she is done. Also something that works well with my three year old is, "When your ready to talk I am ready to listen." or "When your ready to listen to me I am ready to talk to you."



answers from Seattle on

When my daughter turned 3 I was having a hard time like you and my second baby was on the way at the time!!! So even though I was a stay at home mom I wanted help with my 3 year olds behavior.. I enrolled her at
lake forest park montessori and it helped so much and I learned from them too. The program goes infant clear to pre-k.. my daughter will be 6 in the fall. She went there for 3 years and loved it.. best thing I ever did and boy has she changed for the better :) They have extended hours starting at 6:30 am till 6 pm.. there web site is
Best of luck,
mom of a 2.5 year old and 5 year old(both girls)



answers from Seattle on

Boy, can I relate. My four-year-old boy is an extremely intense, persistent, sensitive individual, and we've been dealing with extreme tantrums, etc., since he was only a year or so old. He's the quintessential "spirited child." One book that has helped me gain some insight into his behavior is "Raising Your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. Spirited children are just more challenging than other kids, but of course, loving them can also be very rewarding as well -- especially if we can help them learn to manage their feelings and behavior. I read another book recently about "strong-willed children" that spoke about their need to understand the "why" of a situation more than other kids. "WHY can't I climb on that?" "Honey, you might fall off" -- instead of just "Get down from there now!", etc. So I often try to give my son some brief explanation, within reason, to garner his cooperation.

Our little boy, like your daughter, can change from a sweet, endearing little angel into a raging, shrieking, kicking, out-of-control tyrant the next. The tantrums can last a loooong time, at high intensity, and he often seems to have no capacity to regain control, no matter what extreme measures we are forced to take (short of hitting him, which we don't believe in.) His behavior also seems to go in cycles; he'll be cruising along and pretty easy for a while, and then *wham* -- totally out of control for maybe a couple of weeks. For a long time, we thought it was a typical childhood phase that would pass. Recently, we've come to believe our boy may need more guidance with his behavior than we've been previously able to give him. We heard about a program called "The Total Transformation" (, and when we listened to the testimonials, something struck a chord. We just ordered it, but have not yet received it, so I can't give you any personal feedback as yet. They have a 30-day money-back guarantee, though, so we figured we'd check it out. We'd rather be proactive and try this, instead of just hoping our son's extreme displays of temper will go away on their own.

Some other observations are that if we as parents are tense or angry about something, our little ones act as mirrors and reflect back those emotions. Also, on the days we have more structure, things seem to go more smoothly. My husband and I tend to be more go-with-the-flow types of people, so this is sometimes a challenge for us. But it helps kids immensely if they know what to expect. We also try to employ a lot of the "Love and Logic" techniques -- giving them some control within your chosen limits, using "enforceable statements," natural and logical consequences, etc. Although quite useful, it hasn't been quite enough to completely avert the mega-tantrums in our case, however, which is why we're checking out the program I mentioned. Like you, we've tried plenty of consequences, removing privileges, etc. And incentives, too -- I sometimes get little $1 (and some bigger) things, or plan special outings or activities with me or my husband, that I know my son will like and then he has something to work toward with his behavior. (I don't want to constantly be "bribing" him, though!)

Your toilet anecdote hit home -- we once took our newly potty-trained son to a function and my husband flushed the toilet without thinking and our son had a 20-minute shrieking fit that he didn't get to flush it himself. EVERYONE at the fuction heard the ruckus. Luckily, many were parents themselves and quite understanding, but it didn't help that it was during a eulogy at the memorial service for a friend's mother!

Well, obviously your topic has hit home with me, because I seem to have written a book. I hope even a little of this has been helpful -- at the very least so you know you're not alone.

Parenting is such a challenging journey! But I think we're here to learn just as much as they are. Good luck to you!


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