My 3 Year Old(just Turned 3) Has Uncontrollable Tantrums and Outbursts

Updated on January 09, 2013
A.H. asks from Knoxville, TN
12 answers

I have a little girl that just recently turned 3. She has been having uncontrolable tantrums and outbursts for no reason at all. I have tried everything that I know to do to get her to calm down and stop them but it seems nothing is working. Time outs, corner time, and even swats on the butt(yes I raise my daughter the way i was raised) have done nothing. I have even put her in my lap or crouched down to her level to try and talk to her to calm her down. But it seems nothing at all works to get her to stop. What else can I do to try and get these to stop?? I am at my wits end it seems like..I have run out of options and am looking for new ideas. PLEASE HELP!!

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answers from Appleton on

Tantrums = attention.
Stop giving the tantrums attention and they will stop. Put her on time out, put her in her room or just walk away. When the tantrums no longer get her desired result they will stop.

4 moms found this helpful

More Answers


answers from Norfolk on

Welcome to the terrible 3's!
She'll out grow it sooner or later.
Tantrums are kind of like a boulder on a hill.
Up to a certain point you might be able to prevent it.
But once you pass the point of no return, the tantrum will happen and you just have to let it burn itself out.
She'll be more likely to be overwhelmed if she's tired or hungry.
So make sure she's fed and well rested before outings.
She'll get better when her communication and words catch up with the big feelings she's feeling (about 4-ish give or take).
She can't be reasoned with when she's in a tantrum.
All you can do is haul her out to the car (if you are out in public) or put her in her room or other safe place until it blows over.
If you are in the car with her, bring ear plugs.
It's a stage every kid goes through one way or the other.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

Didn't you hear? Three is the new two!

Seriously, though, I found the 3's to be much more trying than the 2's. I agree that the most effective way to deal with a tantrum is to ignore it. If you believe you are seeing "pre-tantrum" moment, this is the time to get down on her level and help her to articulate what she needs or wants (or something) and empathize with her. If you've passed that point, it's time to ignore.

It's also important to give her lots of positive attention. This will help her see how to get he attention she really wants (she really wants the positive, not the negative) and help make sure she is getting enough attention. Negative attention is better than no attention, so she will see negative attention if she's not getting enough positive attention.

Good luck and know that you are not alone!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

FYI, I saw this video this morning and felt so bad for the parents. Don't you know the mom worked so hard to get everyone dressed, fed, get there on time, conversations about behaviors... and then they stood around waiting.. hoping for the ultimate family photo.. and this is what happened when it was their turn..

Any attention to a tantrum is too much attention.

When she begins the tantrum, either walk away (make sure she cannot hurt herself and banging her own head on the ground, will not hurt her) or pick her up and place her in her room. It is up to you if you want to close the door, or just leave her in there. .

If she keeps coming out of her room, place yourself in time out. In your own room with the door closed or the bathroom with the door closed. Tell her, "Mommy is in time out until you calm down and quit crying.".

If you are out in public, pick her up and take her to the car and strap her into the car seat. Make sure the car is a comfortable temperature.. and then you stand outside of the car until she calms down. You decide if you all can continue on with your activities or if she needs to be taken home. This may be a time when you will need to be prepared to not stay the whole time, if your child cannot handle it. Yes, it is a pain, but it will be a lot shorter than if you try to negotiate every tantrum with an unreasonable child..

It only took my niece once to learn my sister is serious about, "we will leave if you throw a fit"..

She will eventually stop.

Our daughter once threw a fit in the tub.. Not much water at all, so we left her in there.. at first it was a big old screaming fit.. when we walked out on her after a few minutes, it became a low whine.. then it would stop.. When we would peek in at her, she would start the loud screaming, so we would walk out again.. We actually recorded this 30 minute "whine fest".. My husband says we should sell it as "non medicated birth control"..

Children want an audience. Take it away and they will give up and learn that tantrums never work.

Try not to set your child up for frustrations..

Give her a heads up about what is about to happen. Give her time for transitions. "Yes, you can play for 10 minutes, then you will need to clean up your toys and get ready for dinner." Then give her approval. "I like how you picked up your toys!" "Thank you for getting ready for dinner. "

Give her a choice. "Would you like sliced apples or some grapes?"
"Cheese and crackers or peanut butter crackers?" "Boots or shoes?"
"This book, or that book?"

Each time she decides quickly, tell her "great choice!" "Thank you for being a big helper!"

At a calm time talk about "using our words"." You seem frustrated." "Do you need 5 more minutes?" "Do you need a hug?" "Do you need to look at books quietly?"

This will teach her options for when she is feeling overwhelmed.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

What Laurie A said - and here's a video that speaks to kids and tantrums and audiences. It's priceless!

Sometimes they tantrum because they can't communicate. That is a valid issue and needs to be addressed - through baby sign language or something so she can be heard. That's different than the "because I'm not getting my way, being a brat" tantrum.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I agree with putting her in her room. Save the swat on the butt for if she keeps coming back out. Personally, I always used the time to get something done around the house - or just relax and read a book.
Sadly there is no magic bullet discipline that will stop the tantrums in their tracks. As long as they are not encouraged they die out in time, in accordance with your child's temperament. You can take the preventative measures of making sure she is well rested, has even keeled blood sugar, and is encouraged to use her words.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Lynchburg on

Hi A.!

I am sorry you are having these issues with your kiddo...but it is a phase...and she will outgrow it...promise!

I have to say that 'we' (my 16 and 17 yo kiddos at home) watched the video that Patricia posted! We have been sharing 'tantrum' memories from the past from some of their older sibs...And I have to say that ignoring the tantrum...removing them (or yourself) from the 'show' really DOES work.

And...years from may have a chuckle or two over tantrums past!!

Best Luck
(and thanks for the memories)


3 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

Tantrum proof her bedroom and put her in there every single time she starts a tantrum. Don't try to talk to her when she's like this. Keep her in her room until she is finished. Don't let her come out until the tantrum is over. Then go in and talk to her and ask her why she was upset. Tell her that she is supposed to use her words and talk, not scream.

What may seem to have no reason usually really has a reason, like a trigger. Is it because you tell her no for something she wants? She doesn't get to do anything she wants just because she has tantrums. So you have to accept the tantrum so that she knows that having a tantrum won't change anything - she still won't get what she wants. If you ever give in, you are teaching her that tantrums work.

Don't let her know that you are outside her bedroom door when she is having a tantrum. You give her more of a reason to continue the tantrum if she has a "captive audience". Don't be a captive audience.

I think that if you put her in her room every time she starts (like tantrum bootcamp), don't go anywhere, just deal with this issue, that she will start to realize that tantrums never get her anything but time in her room, time away from mom, and never what she wants. Once you start to see that she is "thinking" about what you will make her do, say to her "Use your words." If she does, make your words a reflection of her feelings. "You want to go outside. Yes, it would be nice to go outside. It's very cold. We have to get "x" done first and then we put our coats on so we can stay very warm." Maybe she will start to listen to you before she hits the tantrum. However, it's going to take a while to get to that point because you have to be 100% consistent in making her understand that she gets NOTHING for these tantrums and loses your attention.

It doesn't work all at once. You have to do it every time. If you are out of the house, pick her up and take her to the car and strap her up in her seat. Stand outside of the car and "read a book". Open the car door when she sounds like she is calming down and say "Are you done yet?" When she is tired of this, open the door again and tell her that she knows that she is supposed to behave and that you expect her to. Either go back in the store and finish your shopping, or take her home. The point is, she never gets her way when she has a tantrum and she has to LEARN that she loses when she does it.

Be patient. Be consistent. Don't show her that you are upset. You can do this.


3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Kids don't enjoy tantrums any more than we do. When you give her the right tools to use to meet her needs and wants - she will give up tantrums. Those tools are primarily language (learning to express feelings verbally and ask for what she wants and needs)

Children are more likely to have tantrums when they are tired or hungry (just like adults). Tantrums are an expression of uncontrolled frustration. And being a toddler is frustrating - the world is ruled by big people who make all the decisions, change their minds on a whim and don't listen.

Things that helped when DS was that age were

Letting him make as many decisions as possible - meaning if he could have a choice (only offer two choices that are both acceptable to you) then I gave him one. Do you want to brush your teeth before breakfast or after?

Giving him time warnings before transitions. We are leaving the park in 5 minutes. Then give a 1 minute warning (time if pretty much meaningless to three year olds).

Help him express his feelings and show some empathy. Oh - you look mad/sad/whatever. Leaving the park would make me mad/sad too. It helps if you have a good plan for what to do next. I see you are sad to leave but after we get home we can make dinner together and you can help wash the salad (or whatever you are going to do next).

Give him an acceptable physical outlet for his feelings. DS's preschool taught them that they could stomp their feet X number of times, walk away or count to 10 (or 5 if that was how high they could count) when they were mad. Some parents find hitting a pillow or something soft ok too.

NOTHING works once a child is having a tantrum - because all it is is loss of control. Any sort of teaching moment is over until the storm is over. I would do a 'time in' - sit with DS (touching or not, his choice) until it was over. Then we could discuss what led up to it. Sooo much better to be on the same team with your child than to be opponents.

I would NEVER put a child away because they were having a tantrum. It teaches them that the parent doesn't love them when they are having big scary feelings. Not a lesson I want to teach. Of course a child should be removed from a place where they would disrupt others (store, restaurant, etc) to a safe place. That is just common courtesy. I would also never hit a child - it just teaches them that big people hit little people and the people who love you hit you.

ETA: I would disagree that punishing a child (by putting them away or ignoring them) 'works' to prevent more tantrums. No matter what you do a child will develop language and better tools and thus 'outgrow' them. My son NEVER had a tantrum in public and in fact never had one of those throwing themselves on the ground flailing and screaming ones. He would occasionally lose control and start crying hysterically out of frustration - these episodes (in hindsight) were generally predictable. By the time they were over he generally had no idea what they were about. So he never 'got what he wanted' by having one. But he did learn that his parents loved him even when he was unlovable. Which I would say might be the only lesson learned from them.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

You don't mention why she is throwing the tantrum or when, so I am assuming you don't know the reason.

Try to eliminate them. Observe the time of day. Was it before nap time, lunch time, with company who invaded her space?

Is she on medication? Is it working for her or against her? Medications will have an effect on their temper or personality no matter what age.

She is now at the age that she can begin to communicate with words, so work on that with her so she can talk to you rather throw a fit. They usually want or need something and just can't get their point across.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Memphis on

We tell our son that we will talk with him when he calms down. For us that means he is not screaming and we are able to understand his words. We taught him early on that he should blow out the fit like blowing out birthday candles. That helps him get to a calmer point so we can understand him. And the 3 year discovered on his own that listening to a music box helps resolve the fit almost completely. Then we give hugs and discuss why he was upset. He needs to know we always love him.


answers from Columbia on

OMG...these kinds of tantrums are the worst.

Way back in my archives I have one on tantrums. I have a tried and true method that has been passed on through four generations. I dug it out and here it is, cut and paste:

*DISCLAIMER* This is an unconventional method. Not for the faint of heart. Or those who can't hold back a laugh in front of their child. ;o) I have two boys, and because of this method, they've had a total of 2 tantrums each. Today they are extremely well-adjusted, well behaved kids. My mom used it successfully on me (2 tantrums total), and her mom used it on her (3 tantrums total, according to grandma Mom was stubborn).

Take a small cup (I like Dixie cups) and put about 2-3 inches of water in it. Put it in the fridge and let it get nice and cold. Reeeeaallly cold (but don't use ice!). Make sure it is easily accessable.

When your adorable little one starts in on her series of shrieks and tantrum behavior, go to the fridge and get that cup of cold water. Hide it.

The most important point here is that she should NEVER see it.

Put the cup behind your back and walk up to her confidently. When her face is screwed up in the middle of a scream, dash that water right into it. (Don't worry that she might choke...she won't. She's breathing out in order to scream and yell.)

Hide the cup behind your back and never let her see it. I suggest you use a Dixie cup, since you can immediately crumple it up.

The cold-water shock will stop the scream/tantrum immediately and she'll probably freak out a little bit and start crying. That's okay. Don't coddle her too much, and don't feel too bad...especially since this is going to stop the problem! Just go and get a towel and clean her up.

If you feel like you have to say something, say "Oh NO! What happened? Were you screaming/throwing a fit? Uh oh!" Give her a hug and send her on her way....but act like it had nothing to do with you at all. Don't explain....let her little mind work it all through. It won't take long for her to figure out that screaming/tantrums equals a cold surprise...

A couple of added points: For this to work you can NEVER threaten. She shouldn't know where it comes from or why...Never say "If you don't stop throwing a fit, I'm going to get the water" or, "If you have a tantrum, I'll do this!" The consequence should not even be related to you (this will save you a guilt trip, too). Never talk about the water or the fit in front of her. She should never know that you had anything to do with it.

This is based purely on conditioning. Like Pavlov's Dog drooling when he heard a bell, your child will VERY quickly associate her inappropriate screams and fits with that cold spash. I hope this works out for you...even though it's an odd method, and it seems extreme, it is tried and tested.

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