Over It with Temper Tantrums

Updated on November 08, 2012
A.S. asks from Dallas, TX
12 answers

My three year old is about to drive me nuts! This morning she threw a temper tantrum over not being allowed to take her blanket to daycare. She already has one there and this is her "lovey" blanket so if for some reason my husband forgets to get it from daycare she will be without it tonight (and he will forget, he has left her jacket/coat there everytime I ask him to get it) I know she is three and this is all part of this age group but I am getting super frustrated and my temper spikes when she throws the tantrums over nothing. She loves to throw them in the morning and I have to get her to daycare so I can get to work so making her sit down and calm down isn't an option when I have to get her older sister to school and I have to get to work. Is it worth while to issue punishment nearly 9 hours later when I pick her up? I'm not sure she understands the implications. Is there anything I can do to help her see reason? How do I keep from losing my cool? If I get angry I just have a bad day afterwards. My oldest never threw temper tantrums like my youngest. What are somethings you have learned to do to help deal with these tantrums?

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answers from Seattle on

Ditto Dawn!!!

The only thing I'd add is that if she's not dressed, don't sweat it. Being clothes in the car to change at daycare.

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answers from Charlotte on

No. Don't do punishment 9 hours after the fact. It's not only not worth it, it's USELESS. She can't make the connection.

Here's what you do. Take all of your emotion out of the equation. When she starts her tantrums in the morning, strap her in the carseat. Have it SITTING in the living room on the couch. The first few times you do this, she will be livid and will scream her head off. IGNORE her. Get everything else done and together. If she hasn't eaten yet, fine. Let her eat at daycare. Pick her and the seat up and carry them together out in the car and strap it in. Don't talk to her about anything until she stops crying.

By the time you get her to daycare, she should be duly subdued. THEN, while she is still in the carseat, you have a TOUGH talk with her. Tell her that you will NOT put up with tantrums in the mornings. She will NOT scream at her mommy and cause trouble. If it's about her "lovey", tell her flat out that she KNOWS she has another one at daycare.

You must be 100% consistent about this in the morning. Only use the carseat consequence in the morning. Other times, put her in her room and close the door. I would leave the carseat in the car when you get home from work, but get it out of the car and set up conspicously in the living room in the morning so that she SEES it and knows "uh-oh - if I start this up, Mommy will put me in the seat."

It will only take a few times, and your mornings will get better.

Good luck and sending you strength!

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answers from Washington DC on

100% agree with dawn. it's useless and cruel to punish her later, she won't get it at all. but that doesn't mean you have to put up with it. don't lose your temper, don't yell, but remorseless, inexorably, put her butt in the car and take her roaring to daycare and dump her off. no bargaining, no negotiation, but also no yelling or anger. cool, calm, collected. if anyone's going to have a bad day because of it, it's her. and she won't. she'll be over it 20 minutes later.
firm boundaries are the kindest thing you can give a toddler.

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answers from Portland on

Hi Aria,

A few questions:
Are you all getting enough sleep?
Does your daughter have any 'goodbye' songs/traditions?
How are your mornings feeling? Rushed or relaxed?

I ask about sleep and time because so often, these are very important factors. Kids (and adults) who don't get enough sleep are very cranky and temperamental. "She loves to throw tantrums in the morning". I did see this a lot as a nanny. Because mornings are fraught with transitions, often one after another, kids get upset. They don't have time to go at their usual snail's pace. Add to this, parents are often distracted and have a harder time giving the children their undivided attention. A tantrum does get the child that attention.

My son is in kindergarten, and the beginning of the year was tough. Getting up early really helped us. Even an extra 15 minutes early has bought us FAR more pleasant mornings, because I had enough time not to feel stressed/rushed. We don't let Kiddo sleep in past a certain time, so that he has plenty of time to eat breakfast, get dressed, and ready for school-- about 90 minutes. He's not rushed, so he's happier.

If he does happen to have a tantrum, we have time. I put him in his room until he calms down. In regard to your daughter, I wouldn't make her sit, just put her in a safe place to be alone and let her know "You can come out when you are ready to do X".

One thing I would suggest, besides getting to bed/up earlier, is to try to say "yes" whenever reasonably possible. (Or sometimes, "Yes, you can have it Later" works.) Would it be hard to just say "Yes" to her taking her other blanket to daycare and switching it out, so you drop her off with the 'home' blanket and take the daycare one with you when you leave?

If there are consistent problems, see if you and she can come up with a plan the night before. Sometimes, it can help to make a simple picture book about how a regular process should go; it can become a 'neutral' item to focus on for both of you.

Unfortunately, my experience with this age is that I do far less good trying to get them to 'see reason' than I do with empathetic and reflective listening. "You really want to bring your blanket to daycare. It makes you sad to leave it at home. Daycare wants you to use your daycare blanket, so let's say goodbye to your "lovey" for now. It will still be waiting for you..." (This is where a 'goodbye ritual' can come in handy; when my son was about 1 we started a little 'goodbye' song to sing to places/things we had to leave, with the reminder that 'we'll see you again next time'. You can PM me if you want the basic gist of it.) I have found that often, feeling *understood* is a good replacement for not getting what one wants. "Yeah, it sure is hard that we can't do X... you were really wanting to... I know how much you like... and you'll be happy when you can..." Because we are agreeing with them, validating their feelings, without arguing the whys or the reasons, this can be very comforting and bonding for the parent/child pair. The trick is to get to that point before the digging-in-of-heels on both sides. State the circumstance, acknowledge their very real concern, and while the child may not get the material item they want, sometimes that connection is a very real substitute, and those good feelings from you to them can change what's going on with their brain chemistry.

(and for more on that--what's going on in their brains--I recommend Margo Sunderland's "The Science of Parenting")

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answers from Norfolk on

Lovey's stay safe and sound at home.
My son didn't understand why until one of his friends in day care lost his lovey (it was stolen) and the poor kid was miserable for weeks and his Mom frantic with finding it or replacing it - but it was gone forever.
Punishment 9 hrs later is no good and does not work.
Put her to bed earlier and wake her up earlier - so she has longer to adjust to waking up and getting ready.
Get as much as you can ready for the morning the night before - have clothes picked out, etc.
My son used to wake up more or less willingly because the Teletubbies were on tv first thing in the morning and I let him watch while we ate breakfast.
Yeah, tv in the AM is sheer bribery but all I had to tell him was "Your show is on. If you don't get up you'll miss it." and he'd be up like magic.
When the show finished, the tv went off, brush teeth, get dressed and away we went.
I left early enough so I could read to him in the car a bit before day care opened.
It's not easy, not every day is as smooth as you'd like it to be but you do get through it eventually.
Hang in there!

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answers from Chicago on

Could you strike a deal with her and let her bring it to the car, but agree that when you get to daycare, the blanket stays in the car? That works for us when my son wants to take his lovey to school with him. Those few extra minutes of cuddle time in the car help him out.

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answers from Syracuse on

I understand what you're going through, my soon to be 3 year old throws tantrums a lot when he doesn't get his way. So different from my older son. It's hard to stay calm and not get angry, especially when there's someplace you need to be. Right now, my son's tantrums are over his pacifier, yesterday was a LONG day but I did not give in once...today is a better day because of it, not once has he asked for it. I think the tantrums are punishment enough, he can't enjoy yelling and screaming all day.

He also will not cooperate when I'm trying to get my older son to preschool, throws a fit when it's time to get in the car. I have to strap him in to the car seat kicking and screaming on a regular basis, not fun. I don't know what to do either, nothing works right now...I think he's just difficult and I'm praying he outgrows it soon. Good luck to you!

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answers from Colorado Springs on

I'm with Dawn on this one. It's time to be firm.

For what it's worth, my otherwise-sweet youngest granddaughter has been a tantrum diva. It's been as if she has HAD to have so many meltdowns per day or lose her Star Toddler Status. She's tapering off now, but it was *really* difficult for quite a while. She could go from happy to screaming in fifteen seconds flat and she didn't need a reason. Her mama had to tell her what's what when they were out, and leave the room when the drama started at home (depriving her of an audience).

Pretend you're somebody else if that's what keeps you from getting angry. You don't want her to have the power to push your buttons; you're the grownup. This is a business deal; she's not receiving consequences of her behavior because you're angry, but because the tantrums are wrong for her to have! Don't worry about her understanding. She isn't ready for intellectual comprehension about the disadvantages of screaming. She just needs to do what you tell her. And yes, she will NOT understand punishment after the fact. Save that for when she's seven.

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answers from Tyler on

My recommendation is that in the morning, before you get into the car, you squat down to her level and have a clear conversation about your expectations for the drive to daycare and the drop off to daycare. Just clearly state what you expect:
1. You will be quiet in the car.
2. I will drop you off and you will NOT take any toys into daycare. I will give you and a hug and a kiss and tell you bye bye and then I will see you this evening.
3. If you throw one little fit this morning at daycare, you will not get: X. And tell her what that is (you will not get a dessert, you will go straight to your room after school for 5 minutes). Whatever the consequence is. I KNOW 9 hours later is much much later and very hard. But, I think if you clearly state what your expectations are and then follow through with your expectations and the consequences, then the behavior will improve. However, the key to all of this is follow through on your part. If you can't follow through, then don't even bother.

And, when you do follow through, state clearly, "This morning, we agreed that you would behave and not have a temper tandrum. Because you did not behave, you now cannot have X. Tomorrow, you have another chance to behave."

Good luck,



answers from Jacksonville on

Not sure what time you have to get up to get everyone to school/daycare and work, but maybe she just needs some more time to "get going" in the morning? The fact that she has tantrums so often in the morning makes me think she is having trouble with the "timing." Maybe she's picking up on anxiety with everyone rushing around (it seems like it's ALWAYS the days we're running behind that my 3 yr old has meltdowns). Can you try getting her up a bit earlier so she has a little more time in the mornings? Does she eat breakfast? Some kids are cranky due to low blood sugar....

I agree with not punishing her when you pick her up. Makes no sense to her. As far as keeping your cool....as others have said, just make it a non issue. Don't respond to her tantrums. Just pick her up and put her in the car. Ignore the crying and screaming and just drop her off. I usually give my 3 yr old a "warning" (if you keep arguing/screaming, mommy's not going to talk to you on the ride to daycare and just drop you off). If you feel that's too harsh, offer a "compromise" ONLY ONCE. So, in this case, well, you can take your blankie in the car, but it has to stay in the car once you get to daycare. If she says no/continues her tantrum, she doesn't get that offer again...

Good luck!



answers from Dallas on

I don't think there is one universal solution, I just wanted you to know that you're not the only one and I'm in the same boat just as frustrated.


answers from Williamsport on

Back to Basics Discipline by Janet Campbell Matson. Don't ignore it. Don't allow it. My first two tried a couple of fits- I handled it as per book and never again, my third rager threw several...but no more at three. Don't allow it. Discipline. You won't need to get angry when it's not happening :)

OH, and DO NOT discipline AFTER the fact or WAY after the fact. When the fit first BEGINS, warning, and EFFECTIVE firm consequence. After a few, she'll respond to warning and nip before she starts. After the fact will do NO GOOD. She's way too young for that. My three year old ex-terror will gear up for one but stop cold when I say, "hey!" She knows what would follow so sh stops and goes on her merry way. I've never disciplined her after the fact. Your window is when the fit begins, and then your window is gone.

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