My 3 Year Old Is Driving Me CRAZY!

Updated on March 27, 2011
G.T. asks from Canton, MA
18 answers

I'd love to hear from moms with strong willed children!
My 3 year old is in temper tantrum mode these days, and I am losing it.
No mommy, yes mommy, now mommy, come here mommy, I said yes mommy, I said NO mommy (this she obviously learned from me), I want it now, I want it now, I said I want it now mommy, stop mommy, go mommy, not now mommy, and on and on and ON.
More cookies mommy - no sweetie, YES, NOW, MORE COOOOOOOOOKIES. Sigh......
She is also obsessed with doing things herself, and gets VERY VERY upset if she cannot, and gets upset right away. She tries once, and freaks out. I tell her to try again, and if a toy makes her mad, she should play with something else or ask nicely for help.
These particular tantrums last a loooooong time.
We have been working on asking nicely and working on patience....
Any advice?

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answers from Chicago on

When my son was three I posted a question just like this!
It sounds like you are doing the right things, she will grow out of it.
I agree with Jane :)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

My son is quite strong willed and boy was he hard at 3!!! 4 got slightly better but worse in some ways. 5 was slightly better with different issues again. Now at 7 he's doing SO GREAT. Hang in there. Be consistent with discipline and letting her know what is and is not acceptable. Try to have patience (so hard).

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Portland on

All of this is normal. Sigh. She's a long way from having consistent impulse control (that's brain development), but life is giving her lots of things she has to wait for, so she will eventually get there.

This is an extremely frustrating time in a toddler's life. Most of her time is managed and scheduled by big people who don't see much of anything from her perspective. She sees so many things that she wants to do and touch, and is not allowed very much of it. And when she does get to hold something, she may not yet have the ability to interact with it in a satisfying way. So she's frustrated a good part of every day.

Punishing chidren for being frustrated will only make them more frustrated. Helping her interact with all that fascinating stuff will help satisfy her need to understand and explore and manipulate. But if even that is frustrating for her, I'd leave her to interact at her own speed. Or not.

Though you won't ever have a toddler who can behave like an adult and make all the choices you would make, there are ways to eliminate much of the mutual frustration both mom and the child experience during the next couple of years. This may be challenging when you're busy, but overall, you'll expend less time and energy than you would if dealing with behavior that isn't evolving in a positive direction. Here's my favorite list of often-successful tips:

1. Trust that she is not "trying" to be naughty. Children don't really want to cause problems or get in trouble if they have any other way at all to meet their own growing need for autonomy, independence, and control of their circumstances.

2. Adults have the practice and self-control to make most of life meet our grownup expectations. Your toddler doesn't know any of that yet, and it will be a while before she sees very much from your point of view. As exasperating as that is for you, she can't help it. It's just reality, and reality is easier to take if you can accept it.

3. Digging in heels and tantrums are a natural outcome of becoming more frustrated than the child is able to endure. This "new" behavior may seem to come out of the blue. The stress of travel and changing schedules, or illness, or any major change, may contribute.

4. When she wants something, empathize. Big time, and in the child's language. I love the advice of Dr. Harvey Karp on how to get on a tantruming toddler's wavelength in this and several related videos: . Once your little girl realizes you do care about what she wants, she's more likely to be able to calm down and cooperate with what you need from her. And there are lots of positive ways to approach this, rather than just saying no. They hear no so often, and they can be so frustrated by it. And they learn to tune it out. So look for ways of finding a mutual "yes," as in "Here, play with this," or "Can you hop over to me?" instead of "No, don't touch that," or "Stop that and come here right now!" Save "no" for those occasions when children are trying something dangerous.

5. Keep it playful. Children lean primarily through play. You may need help with this if your parents didn't model a lighthearted and cheerful approach when you were little. The book Playful Parenting is a great resource. Your daughter's sense of humor is developing, and you'll both be happier if you can nurture that. (Also be aware that some "behaviors," like throwing, are a natural experimental activity for kids, a form of play that is programmed into them for the purpose of developing brain/body connections. Find plenty of "acceptable" play outlets for those repeating behaviors.)

6. There will also be times when you must have her cooperation, like diapering or trips to the store, so keep a special toy that she gets to play with only at those times or keep her as playfully engaged in the process as possible. This often requires creativity, because each child is different.

7. Here's a big one: give advance notice when you'll want her to be doing anything differently, especially when she's grooving on her activity/play. All children absolutely hate unexpected transitions (and so do most adults). With my grandson, we let him know at least a couple of times that a change is coming ("We're going to go to the store / have lunch / take a nap pretty soon." … and then a second alert one minute before making the change.)

8. Whatever the next activity is, make it sound as desirable as possible. Give some detail about the ride in the car, or a favorite food at lunch, or sweet snuggles before nap. Be positive and enthusiastic. Be calm. Be "as inevitable as the tides." Desperation will show, and even though she's too young to deliberately engage in a planned power struggle, she will quite naturally sense any cracks in your resolve in an attempt to meet her own emotional needs. And this is where future power struggles truly can begin.

9. Try to keep demands low when she's tired, over-managed, hungry, or sick. An already frustrated child doesn't have any emotional reserves left with which to cooperate.

10. Get to know her most likely trouble-spots, and plan ahead. For many kids, it's when they want some tempting object or food they've seen. So keep those things out of sight when possible. Baby-proof your home. Be prepared with a distraction – for example, another toy she likes when you have to take something away from her, or a healthy treat when she wants a sugary snack. Laughter, introducing a new game, a few twirls and bounces, hugs or tickles, a goofy song, can help break into her determination to get something she wants (that short attention span is both a curse and a blessing).

11. Avoid bribes, but let her work toward occasional rewards. Don't try to buy cooperation with "IF you'll do X, we'll let you have Y." Instead, phrase it as if she gets to assist in advancing something good for herself: "Hey, as soon as you help me get X done, then we get to do Y." It sounds like a small distinction, but it's important. It gives the child a chance to cooperate in what feels like choice, even when there's no "if" about it.

12. Be sure she gets lots and lots of physical activity during the day. Time outdoors in nature is calming for most children. If she has pent-up energy, it will have to come out some way, and unless channeled in a positive direction, it will likely to add to both your stress and hers.

13. Whatever you are trying to teach will need to be repeated hundreds of times over the next few years. That's completely normal. Attention spans and impulse control are extremely limited in toddlers. Look at your parenting contract, and you'll find it in tiny print under "I agree to the following terms and sacrifices."

14. Spanking and time-outs don't work for every kid, and will sometimes actually backfire over time. Especially with spanking: children may be scared, shocked, or shamed into cooperating, but behaving for the sake of avoiding pain isn't the same thing as developing an internalized sense of "good." Consistent, calm guidance and demonstrations of what you DO want from her will work better in the long run than punishing for what you DON'T want her to do. See more on this by googling The Science of Parenting or Emotion Coaching.

15. Pay attention to what you love and appreciate about your daughter, and make sure she knows. Remind yourself to do this even when you're tired or busy. Children seek attention and approval, and if she knows you're noticing her good moments, she'll try to create more of them. If she doesn't get that positive notice from you, she'll seek attention in other ways, and that often turns out to be misbehavior, because you notice it.

I wish you both well. A few weeks of this stage may have you feeling that it will go on forever, but it won't. Enjoy this magical time in your daughter's life.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Drink and wait until she's four : ) She'll outgrow it.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

Sounds like my kiddo. :) I answer a question twice. When she asks the second time (after I've said no), I tell her that I've already answered her and the answer is still no. After that I just don't acknowledge the question anymore. This has really helped from getting into arguements and debates about it, because I just don't acknowledge it.

When my kiddo was that age and had trouble w/ something I would tell her to calm down and try again. She would get so mad if she couldn't do it herself but wouldn't let me help either. If she started to throw a fit, I'd just walk away and let her know that I will help her if she asks and wants my help. To this day still (she's 5 now) if she starts to throw a tantrum cause something won't go right for her or she can't do something, I will ignore her until she has calmed down and asked for help. I always let her know that crying and fitting over it doens't help.

And don't forget timeouts for mommy. :) When the tantrums won't stop and you are losing it, it mommy time. Walk into the other room and calm yourself and wait. She will either keep at it, but you won't mind as much not being right there to hear it up in your ear, or she will calm down. Either way, it's win - win.

I never had the terrible 2's....but the 3's just about did me in!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

Remind her to use please and thank you for all requests.. Also to use an inside voice and We do not yell across the house.
Give her choices. You may have 1 cookie or a whole orange.

We cannot go outside, but you can help me get the clothes out of dryer and when I finish mopping this floor, we can go outside for 15 minutes. Decide what you want in your cup to drink when we go outside.

You are giving her some control.You are including her. You are letting her know you heard the request, and you are letting her know your own plans.

That is all that she needs and wants.

When you know she is about to lose it, tell her, I can tell you are disappointed, but I like the way you are not getting mad.

Or You seem frustrated, do you want a hug, or do you want to sit and look at books till you feel better?

Then when she does hold it together let her know. I like how you are being patient. Good choice deciding on playing with that toy. Thank you for helping me finish my chores. This will help us get ready faster for our trip to the park,.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

Hang in there - my daughter is 3.5 and is the same way, I feel your pain...

She is very persistent - she doesn't typically take no for an answer and even when I try to give a simple reasonable explanation, that still is not good enough. Being sympathetic and acknowledging her feelings does not stop her from going on and on. I've started giving her a warning when she is about to exceed her limit ("OK, that is enough - don't ask me any more!"), and if she still does not listen, she gets a time-out by standing in the corner for 3 minutes. If she leaves the corner before the 3 minutes is up, she gets put right back and the timer is re-started. If she starts having a temper tantrum about something, I have her go into her room and tell her she can come out when she decides to act nice again.

We've been working on her being patient, and asking nicely too. If she sounds demanding ("I want juice! More juice Mommy!") and does not ask for something nicely the first time, I ask her, "How do we ask for things?" and then she will say please. I refuse to comply with a request if she won't at least say please.

If she gets frustrated with something, I ask her if she wants help or not. If she says no, I leave her alone and let her either figure it out on her own, move on to something else, or decide that oh, yeah, wait, maybe I should ask for help.

I think it just takes time and consistency and a ton of patience on our part as parents. They won't be this age forever. You just need to be stronger than her.

I've posted about my DD before, so read the questions and answers if you want, and see if any of it sounds familiar and is helpful:

Her preschool teacher the other reminded me the other day that this age is all about testing boundaries and pushing limits and seeing what will get Mom and Dad to give in. The way I look at it is that their job is to keep testing their limits and our job as parents is to set those limits and stand firm so they know exactly when they have crossed the line. It is exasperating for sure, but I know it won't last forever. I know some moms with daughters just like mine who were the same way at 3, and are now 5 and 6, and are much better about things and more cooperative with less arguing. It's easier to set limits now when they are 3 instead of when they are 13.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Set limits but continue, when possible, to help her do what she can herself...... even if it isn't perfect or the way you would do it. She sounds to me like she will be an independent adult and not need much from Mommy and Daddy. That's a good thing!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

OMG! Totally going through the same thing with my DD. I wake up and vow to be more patient every morning, but then we start the day whining. I, by no means, spoil her in terms of material things, but probably have with attention. We just had a baby three months ago so have been wondering if that contributes to it or if it's just her age. Either way, it's making me crazy! You're not alone...I'm just praying this is a phase and we'll grow out of it. Feel bad writing this; she's in the other room playing with a friend and all I hear are sweet giggles!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Williamsport on

Firm discipline stops tantrums.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

She is 3.
They are all strong willed at this age.
It passes.
Just keep teaching her and guiding her... and being consistent.
Don't let her rule the home or you.
Stick to your guns.
Pick your battles.
Stick her in her room.
For a time.
Teach her to communicate and use her words.
teach her the name for feelings and how to say it.
Teach her HOW to say it.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

Be consistent in how you train and discipline. This too shall pass. =)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Rochester on

Check with your pediatrician at her next appointment (mine is great with child-specific discipline advice), but for now she might need removal from you for infractions. My ped. acknowledged that my middle child is totally different from my oldest and "might need 'breaks' in his room altogether." He has a horrible Irish temper and reacts to almost everything by screaming--his brother takes a toy away and he stands firmly and SCREAMS. I tell him he cannot have dessert after his lunch (it is a treat after all) and he SCREAMS "PLEASE!!!!!" then cries. It is quite irritating.

I am making a really determined effort to respond to everything with my kids right now in a normal speaking voice and to warn them once (lovingly whenever possible) and then take them to their room or a break in a chair. It is a lot of work on my part, but I'm hopeful it will pay off in the long run.

But yeah, 3 was the worst with my oldest (although 4 isn't looking so hot right now) and 2/2 1/2 is the worst (so far) with my middle. Maybe my youngest will squeak by to kindergarten without too much trouble. :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Sounds just like may daughter, who is 3.5. Some days are better than others, but I wake up many a day saying "today I am not going to react to her the way i did yesterday". I just started a book "raising our children raising ourselves" and in theory it seems great but I am having a hard time managing my OWN reactions to her behavior. THis book's premise is that once you do that, all else falls in line. I can see how this could work if I can just get myself under control. Not to sound like I am maniacal or anything, but after awhile when I am alone with her and she is pitching fits about everything I start to pitch fits too, and that gets us nowhere.

I love when people offer the advice - "Oh just offer her two choices which are both acceptable to you so she feels in control". doesn't work at all with my little one.

Just wanted you to know you are not alone.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Fayetteville on

Win every battle, don't pick one or two. Outlast her at all costs, and do so cheerfully and with great patience. Discipline her and use a calm, non-hysterical voice when you are doing it. Ambush her before it becomes a full fledged tantrum. Get down on her level and make her repeat back to you what you are requiring her to do/stop doing. Don't just tell her to stop doing things, give her things to do as well.
This too, shall pass. But not if you don't do something now. It will only get worse.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

G. T.,
This behavior is normal! Children at this age are still learning, I also have a 3 year old daughter and she sometime's pull's those little antic's on me too! I would suggest that when you come to correct her to get down to her level, like face to face and look her straight in the eye's and tell her that there is a more "polite" way to ask for things rather then demanding it. Also, when she ask's for a cookie or treat and you don't want her to have one simply tell her "no" and tell her why, like if she has'nt had dinner, or it's too late at night. If that does'nt work and she continue's to throw a tantrum then that's where "time-out" come's along. I had an issue once where our 3 year old threw a toy at her 8 year old brother and she thought she was going to get away with it! DON'T THINK SOO! So I got down to her level and spoke with a stern voice to let her know that I was serious and told her why I was putting her in "time-out", I had her sit on our stair's for 10 minutes! Not one word came out of her mouth, then when I went to get her I explaind that she needed to apologize to her brother for what she did , needless to say she never did it again.
What your doing sounds like the normal thing to do, but rember, this is the age where they are still learning right from wrong, yes verses no, etc. Patients my dear! I would'nt be too worried about it though. Hope my advice was helpful!


answers from Jacksonville on

This is SO my daughter! I love Jane's answer, I laughed till I cried.



answers from Chicago on

My daughter thankfully just turned 4. She spent a lot of time in her room for time_outs. I found a sticker/stamp chart very helpful. I came up with 4 ways she could earn stickers: sharing with her sisters, asking for and accepting help, using her words instead of crying/tantrum. The number of stickers decided how many books we'd read at bedtime. You can also have her "earn" special one-on-one mommy/daddy time.
My best advice is to ignore her tantrums and put her in her room so that she can't get your attention.
Good luck!

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