Tantrums and Children

Updated on January 02, 2012
A.F. asks from Bellmore, NY
10 answers

My daughter will be three in March this year. I know that preschoolers have tantrums and mood swings but it feels like my daughter has a lot of them. I try to give her attention after work and on weekends but when she doesn't get her way, she throws herself on the floor and cries. She will hit and spit too although I have never heard her do that in daycare.

My husband and I are frustrated by our daughter's tantrums because it is usually daily and often more than once a day (after work I am with her usually from 4 or 4:30 until bedtime at 8:00) Is there anything I can do or change to reduce the frequency or length of her tantrums? Sometimes I can't even leave the room or cook dinner without her falling apart. In addition, if my daughter doesn't nap her tantrums are just that much greater but yet she resists napping (except for daycare).

Thank you for the advice.

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answers from Nashville on

When she is in daycare for a whole day with so much interaction and activity and very little sleep, after a long day she is beat. She is 3 and cannot express that she is tired. Sometimes the tantrum is just to let off steam..and you have to ignore it and then give her the attention and comfort she needs afterwards. On weekends she is out of her daycare routine and it can throw her off schedule a bit as well especially with you having to do other household chores and not be able give the attention at the same time.

You can work thru it and she is being a normal 3yr old. Just like there are differences in the intensity and expression in adults, it's the same with kids depending on their personality.

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answers from San Francisco on

It really depends upon *why* your toddler is melting down. As you noted, she is worse when she is tired (aren't we all?). The answer there is that she clearly needs her nap - even if she resists it, insist that she naps. (I made my kids nap until they were going into Kindergarten - maybe I'm the meanest mom in the world, but so be it, a nap never hurt anyone.) Is she worse when she's hungry? Maybe she needs small, frequent snacks in order to maintain a normal blood sugar. She is probably only about 30 pounds, right? Imagine being that size and only being able to eat a few tablespoons of food at a sitting. That amount of food only gets a child so far. Try to keep ahead of it by giving her small snacks, such as apples and a few cubes of cheese (protein and fat, plus carbs, well-rounded).

Aside from that, try to remember that the tantrum is like the tip of the iceberg. Kids that age have almost no control over the world around them, and the little frustrations they experience every day tend to add up (as they do for us as adults). Add to that that most toddlers have little to no language skills, and have a hard time verbalizing their frustrations throughout the day. So it builds up, then they have too little sleep and low blood sugar... it's a recipe for a major tantrum. Almost always when toddlers become better at clear speech, the tantrums decrease, because they're better able to express themselves. Also giving them small choices ("Would you rather wear your blue jacket or your green one?" "Would you rather have an apple or a pear?") does help. (Keep in mind that "What do you want to eat?" is likely to produce more stress for a toddler than "Would you rather eat an apple or a pear?" - limit the choices, but do allow choices, if that makes sense.)

I had one child with exceptional language skills, and she threw very few tantrums as a 2 year old. My other child had poor language skills at that age, and threw as many as 8 knock-down, drag-out tantrums per day as a 2 year old. It's a good thing she's so cute or we would have sold her to the gypsies. Anyway, as her language skills improved, the tantrums decreased dramatically.

Because most tantrums (in our case anyway) were not a result of the child wanting something (a new toy) and not getting it, it was more a result of frustration/fatigue/hunger, I did not punish tantrums. That made it way worse in my experience. (Is there anything worse than being extremely frustrated, and having someone tell you that you can't be frustrated?) I would just haul my daughter off to her room, calmly, and tell her, "You can sit here until you are feeling better." And then leave her there to tantrum. We all need a good cry sometimes, and toddlers are no exception. That being said, my eardrums don't need to be subjected to my toddler's bad day, so she was always allowed to cry in the privacy of her own room, and cool off. She'd come out a while later ready to take on the world again.

Just as a post-script, my Terrible 2 has turned into a Delightful 6 who is at the top of her class in 2nd grade, and whom total strangers will stop and compliment on her manners. So take heart, it does get better!

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answers from Los Angeles on

Ditto S. H. and Catherine C. My little guy will be 3 in April and has excellent language skills and very few all-out tantrums, maybe one every couple of weeks, he doesn't hit or spit, I suspect because he knows those earn him a time out or early bedtime. I remove him from the situation, he has to tantrum in his room (he usually stops immediately because he loses his audience) or carseat if we're in the car, (I get out of the car or ignore him until he's finished if i have to stay in it as I did on Halloween night) and we talk about it afterwards and I tell him what he could have done instead. Naps he sometimes resists, but quiet time is still a must, he lays down with books and stuffed animals for at least an hour, he needs the rest or he'll be fussy later.

At that age they absolutely hate not getting their way, but realistically they have to learn this as the real world isn't going to cater to them. Keep in mind that a tantrum is your daughter's way of asking for help, she's upset and doesn't know how to help herself. She needs you to help her learn self-control and ways to solve problems.

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answers from Honolulu on

Ditto Catherine C.

Really keep in mind, that children have a hard time with EVERYTHING, when tired/over-tired/sleep deprived, or hungry.

Next: at times a child is tired/hungry, it is not the time for social things.
Kids from about this age, even if tired... will try to push through being tired... and some kids even get more "hyper" when tired. Because they are trying, to cope. But are too easily overly stimulated or beyond coping, when tired.
So, the parent... has to know their child's "cues"... and regulate the child.
It might help to remember, that young children do NOT have, automatic "coping skills" nor do they even know how, nor is their development on par with even knowing how to instantly "cope" with frustrations or tiredness etc. So again, the parent has to know the child's cues and have them nap or have a quiet time. Or feed them. Kids often need snacks... which will help to keep their blood sugar from going to low... otherwise, they get moody.
A kid, does NOT have... self-regulating, ability.
Not even some adults have that.
But for a child, because their communication skills are not sophisticated, and because their "emotions" are not even fully developed yet, at this age... they have outbursts or get moody.

Punishments, are not the only thing to curb, these "tantrums."
A child, also has to be guided and taught... what their feelings are so that they can PRACTICE and learn HOW to communicate that, to their parent. ie: teaching them the "names" for their feelings, that they can tell you, that even if grumpy or frustrated that they can tell you... and that, you will help them to learn "coping skills." Of which there are many ways to cope with frustrations.
ie: using humor, showing the child other ways of expressing it in a palatable way, they can go and scream in their room then come out when they feel better and then you talk about it or "why" they were frustrated etc., helping them with problem-solving when frustrated. ie: if they are frustrated they can ask for help from you. Then as a "team" you will both find other ways for not getting frustrated. Sometimes the child just needs a hug. Or to hear, that you understand them, too.
So punishments alone will not conclusively stop a frustration then tantrum. But in conjunction with teaching the child about it and why and how to circumvent it... it gives them "skills" and an "aptitude" for learning HOW to cope. In the long run... this will bode them well. As they mature and encounter all sorts of frustrations.
It gives them... and emotional "IQ" about things... and helps them to trouble shoot, difficulties.
THAT... is what a child needs to learn.
Not just by punishments alone.

And yes, kids get moody. They have lack of development and maturity and the "skills" at this age-stage... to know by themselves, how to cope. Thus the parent needs to teach them and guide them on it.
Then, they will develop overall. In cognition and problem-solving and in their self-awareness. Because you are giving them "skills" on how to do so.
As you role-play with them, and teach them phrases to say when frustrated and how to ask for help.... they will become better at it. With age. With practice.

It takes, practice. Like a rock collecting moss.

And yes, when tired, a child this age "resists" napping. Because, they do not know how to turn themselves off or key themselves down. You need to help them.
MAKE the home quiet. Make the room dark. Key things down. Make a ROUTINE of it, daily. Have runaround time in the morning. Have an early lunch. Make things quiet after that. Tell her it is "wind down time." Turn things off. Read to her. Allow 1/2 to 1 hour to wind-down after lunch. Then take her to her room. Have her lay down. Don't argue with her or interact too much. Help to key her down.
That is what I have done with my kids since they were born. And they have always napped daily. My son is 5 and my daughter is 9... and they will still nap, when tired. Because it is a routine and I never made "naps" a bad thing. I taught them that naps are their body telling them they need to rest and recuperate. Then they will feel better. It was never a battle. I went by my kids' cues. And I knew their rhythms.
I know when they are tired. Because, a tired child will get clingier and moody and fussy and have nil, patience.

At home, a child lets it all hang out. So you need to teach them, and guide them on how to cope.
But thankfully, your child is not like that at school.
My kids were the same way.
But at home, if/when tired or at the end of their rope, they got cranky.
So then they nap. And I give them a snack.

Girls, are more emotional and more emotive. Bur instead of shutting her down or preventing her from communicating/expressing herself, teach her HOW... in palatable ways, that she can say.... things.
I taught my kids that from 2 years old. At 3 years old my son knew the differences between him feeling "frustrated" or "irritable" or just grumpy. And he would tell me. Nicely. Because he knew how. Because I taught him. And he knew he "could" tell me those things. I NEVER punished or shunned or shamed or scolded my kids for their feelings... but taught them that they could tell me/confide in me and I would help them. As a "team." If grumpy, my son would even tell me "I am grumpy... I'm going over there and just want to be alone..." and he'd go to the other room. Then he'd come out when he felt better... and tell me "all better now... I just needed my own space."

You teach a child... how. And it thus increases their aptitude and skills, for managing.
Which punishments alone, will not teach them.

3 years old is a very hard age, for the child.
4 years old, is also hard.
Both these ages are MUCH harder, than when they were 2 years old.
Developmentally, they are changing so much.
It is growing-pains, for the child.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Your daughter is exercising her independence and seeing what she can get away with.

She knows her limits and boundaries at day care - hence - no tantrums at day care.

She is pushing her limits and boundaries to get your attention - good or bad - she's getting attention.

Does she get regular snacks at school? What is her schedule at school? Try to mimic those as best you can if it working for her. She might be tired and hungry. If she refuses to nap at home on the weekends? Then she has to have quiet time...don't force her to sleep. She can sit on her bed and read. or she can play quietly - but she MUST be quiet for a certain period.

You need to be the parent.

If she throws a tantrum, send her to her room or whatever the consequence will be. Warn her of what will happen if she does not cooperate. Set the rules and the boundaries...BE CONSISTENT! if there is no consistency, it will be a on-going struggle.

Set aside time just for her. While 3 is young - have her talk to you about her day while you are fixing dinner.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

on the weekends i would insist on "quiet time". tell her she doesn't have to go to sleep but she MUST stay in her bed and be quiet for X amount of time. set a timer for an hour if that's helpful. tell her when she hears the timer she can get up. many times my son would fall asleep and miss the timer (meaning, mean ole' mommy would see he was asleep and turn it off so he didn't get woken up lol)

as far as tantrums, unfortunately i had to start giving my son a small snack as soon as we got home. something as small as a couple crackers or apple slices would improve his mood drastically. he was one to get cranky at transition times.

(i would also banish her to her room when she starts the tantrums - i have never been one to put up with them. it hurts my ears and my heart and i don't deserve that - they can be as mad as they want, in THEIR room. and they can come out when they are ready to act nicely)

also possibly she'd be interested in helping you cook dinner? if she feels like she wants attention and isn't getting it, maybe involving her will help her feel better. she can stir, you can get creative and she can "help" in many ways (even if it's just taking a dry rag to an already clean kitchen table) :)

just some ideas i had. good luck!

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answers from San Francisco on

I'd ask the daycare to go into detail with you about how they handle her tantrums and get her to sleep as well as a general overview of how her day is constructed. It might help her to have the same types of routines and discipline both at school and home.

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answers from St. Louis on

time to be in charge.....said with a smile :)

Watch the "1-2-3 Magic" video. It will save your life. It will teach how to effectively parent/discipline....without causing distress to the family/your child. Not a week goes by....without me recommending this video to families!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Hey A., sounds like the tail is wagging the dog so to speak. I know it was hard for me to be firm with my child because I felt so guilty being a working mom. After work I would be too tired and feel too guilty to lay down the law. Finally I realized that I needed to up my game on her behalf. How about make a behavior chart that has boxes for days of the week. Give her a star for everyday she does not have a fit. Each night she has a star she gets to read an extra story with you, pick a sticker out of a box, snuggle with mommie for special hug time....some kind of reward. I would make a big deal about showing her the chart and how it works. Show a lot of excitement about it. When you are explaining the chart to her, have her show you what is "star behavior" and want is not. Kids get a kick out of it. Let her know that "star behavior" means using words and no
yelling. If and when she does have a fit, I would firmly put her in time out. Sit her in a spot and firmly say, "no fits." and walk away. Do not let her get up until she says sorry for yelling mommy. Be consistent each time. She will test you but don't give in. Good luck!

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answers from Charlotte on

A., what do you do when she has a tantrum? Do you try to talk to her? Do you beg and plead for her to stop? Do you pay attention? Do you punish? It would help to know what you are doing about it.

I really would pick her up and deposit her in her room and not talk to her at all or let her know you are outside her door listening while she is having tantrums. I would not let her out of the room until she is done with the tantrum. Without an audience, she will let go of the tantrum a lot faster.

If you can figure out her triggers, (you know missing a nap is surely one), and mitigate the triggers as much as possible, that's great. After she realizes that her room is where she will always end up, without fail, you can start reminding her when she starts one. Get down at her level, look in her face and tell her that if she starts having a tantrum, she will be in her room. Would she rather continue to be with you, or does she want to be in her room?

If that doesn't work, and you've been sending her to her room for a while, start taking a toy from her room after her tantrum is over and tell her you are putting it in time out. Your choice of toy. Do it every single time you have to put her in her room. She will only get these toys back once she stops the time outs. The first day she goes without a tantrum, that night, give her back one of her toys and tell her when she doesn't have one, she gets a toy back.

This will take a while, but be totally consistent. If she does it in the store, leave the store and carry her to the car, put her in her carseat, stay outside of the car and let her cry by herself in the car. Then take her home and make her stay in her room for a while.

Good luck - it's tough, I know.


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