Tantrums--is This Normal?

Updated on December 29, 2009
L.C. asks from Omaha, NE
13 answers

I write to ask about
tantrums. My son, soon to be three, had a doosy tonight. He didn't have a nap. He was
overtired. It is Christmas Eve. Talk of Santa has been regular. He's
already afraid of Santa. This talk only makes life more stressful, I'm
sure. Mom and dad had their customary holiday meltdown in the presence
of poor Owen. And resolution was not to be had. All of this
culmuniated in probably the worst tantrum I've seen. He spent 20
minutes, I would guess, screaming. Not that he hasn't done something
like this before. It's become an occasional event here during the 2s,
almost 3. And there are also the hitting fits. He likes to hit me in
his fits. (Sometimes he'll flat out wind up and slap me right in the
face--very disturbing! These have been subsided somewhat, but still
occur when he's feeling backed in a corner, figuratively or actually.)

Oh, and just one minor thing--he's been weaned from the pacifier,
which has been his companion for life. After this fit he said to me,
"Mom, I want some milk from your belly." I explained that I didn't
have any more and that I knew he missed his pacifier. He was sad.

Anyway, I'm just curious if any of you have experienced these fits. I really
worry that the adult lack of judgement sometimes is the main cause of
my son's meltdowns, etc. But I also know he's not the only one.

Any thoughts are welcome.

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So What Happened?

I just want to thank everyone for your great words of wisdom and support, especially at Christmas time. I know that sleep has been all over the place since we gave up the pacifier. I have to go back to good sleep habits. I also feel sometimes like it is up to me, alone, to manage behavior, and I think I just get overloaded. I have used many of the techniques given here, and usually we can avoid or calm a meltdown with patience. I just know that when I am feeling overloaded or stressed or like I am the only person who is responsible for taking care of these things, I don't respond so calmly. Probably my biggest problem is reacting as if he were an adult having a meltdown instead of a toddler. I sometimes just can't believe what he did/does. I do say, Stop It. (He's starting to tell his toys that.) It doesn't help. But it's then that I know I'm not reacting well. I know my son responds well to warmth and patience. I am working on keeping those both at the forefront. Thank you all, again!

Featured Answers

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J.P.

answers from Chicago on

HI L.,
I just read what you went though x-mas eve. My son just had a major meltdown-temper tantrum last night. I think it was from lack of sleep. I don't know because he went to daycare and my husband picked him up and didn't ask. My son is 3+ also. We do time-outs which he has difficulties staying in and too has a fit then. He hits me someitmes bites also. I've read some of the other mom's suggestion. I truly believe the lack of nap causes these meltdowns. I sometimes think I'm going to lose it!! It doesn't effect my husband the same way. I think someitmes I just need to pick my battles. I'm trying to do the best I can. Maybe we should keep in touch knowing we go through the same thing and brainstorm.

Good Luck,
Jackie
[email protected]____.com

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S.K.

answers from Chicago on

I would put him in a safe place where he can let it all out. Terrible 2s often continue into 3s, 4s, 5s... Making sure that he basic needs are met such as sleep, hunger will help a lot. Time outs for hitting.

1 mom found this helpful
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S.Q.

answers from Chicago on

Hi L.,

Happy Holidays, first off. I hope things have settled a bit this morning for your boy after a nice, long sleep.

I don't know a lot about the how and why's of tantrums, I just wanted to let you know what I have learned in 10 years...

It is OK for our kids to be sad every now and then.

It is normal for them. They have a range of emotions, just like us, and it is fine to have a good cry, or be afraid of something, or really, really miss their paccie, or be mad at us for not having any more milk to nurse, or 101 other things that it is very normal to a 3 year old to get mad about.

And the other thing I learned is...

It is not our fault that they will occasionally get sad or wound up (since that is normal) and
I DON'T HAVE TO FIX EVERYTHING!!

That was my biggest lesson in life, learned only recently and after much therapy, ha! I don't have to fix every situation immediately so my kids don't experience stress. A little stress is good.

You are a strong woman and I am sure you are a phenomenal mama and your son is going to grow to be a fine young man who will one day laugh about his fear of Santa.

When your son tantrums next, which will happen, just move him to a safe, quiet space and tell him you'll wait while he settles,but that it is not okay to hit mommy. I am sure you'll get lots more advice on how to handle tantrums, so I will leave that to the other mamas.

Hang it there!

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D.D.

answers from Chicago on

Hi L.,

My son (4 yo) has fits at the following moments...Hunger, lack of sleep, needs to "poop", and when he isn't getting enough activity outside (GOTTA LOVE THIS CLIMATE FOR THAT).

Tantrums are normal for his age. Try to keep him on a sleeping, and eating schedule. If that doesn't help try a social worker who specializes in VERY YOUNG CHILDREN. He/She may be able to help you see triggers and avoid them.

Best of luck,
D.
Mom to 4yo boy and 1 yo triplet girls!!!

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S.E.

answers from Chicago on

We have friends that choose to bring their child up knowing there was not a Santa for two reason. First the fact that many young children are afraid of Santa and Second because when the father was young he was devastated when he found out there was not a real Santa. he felt like he was lied too. (I know there really was a Saint Nicholas but I am talking about the today Santa) First if Santa scared your child be forth coming a tell him that Santa is just for fun.
Second our son had a short period when he was 3 when he had a couple what I would call tantrums. If a child needs a daily nap and does not get it heads can roll. A child can do and say about anything. Sometimes the best thing to do is sit down and cradle him, rock him if possible to get him calmed down.
Lastly, that is why we never allowed our son to have a pacifier because of the withdrawal children can go through. There is not much you can do about that problem besides letting it run its course.
Good Luck
S.

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N.P.

answers from Chicago on

you know the answer - you wrote it in your question - he was stressed, overtired and his routine was messed up - prime tantrum causing things even in kids as old as 10 1/2... (the age of my oldest, so can't say older than that, lol)

Now that you know what the issues were, do all you can to not let those things happen again.

I think the lack of sleep had more to do with his tantrum then anything else. I have found through my years of working with kids in my home daycare that the majority of tantrums occur due to lack of sleep. I'd say about 90% of them.

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C.H.

answers from Chicago on

A couple things to consider: First: dont' let him skip naps at all. If you are contimplating allowing him, think about how bad he can get later on. Secondly, go to the library and rent a dvd called, "1, 2, 3 magic". It will save your relationship. Since we've implemented the 1,2,3 magic technique, neither of my kids hit us or eahother, if they do, they now they get an automatic time out - no questions asked. The hardest part of the video is for the parents to follow thru. If you threaten a time out and don't give it, your kid will know it and will continue to misbehave. The video is pretty boring overall, but very well worth it.

My sister has a 3.5 year old (my daughter is 3) and my sister doesn't enforce naps at all and her daughter gets completely out of control, but at this point my sister feels it's just part of her daughter's personality. I know first hand that if my daugher skips a nap, she's the worst child anyone can imagine.

So, try those to ideas and see what happens, both you and your hsuband have to agree to follow the 1,2,3 magic technique in order for it to work.

good luck.

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A.W.

answers from Chicago on

Some tantrum-busters we've used...
If I can catch my son early, when he's just begun to escalate into a tantrum, I'll give him a bear hug - I challenge him to see if he can squeeze me harder than I'm squeezing him. If he's squeezing, he can't hit me.
Another early intervention, if you're in a place where running is acceptable, have him run, fast. Burn off the energy that's building.
If we're at home, I have him crash into a pile of pillows or swing on the hammock swing in the basement. Something about that sensory input calms him. I think kids need a physical way to get rid of that emotion. Good luck!

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M.M.

answers from Chicago on

Hi L., I also have a 2.8 almost 3 y/o boy the strategies I use to ward off tantrums are:
1. Avoid power struggles at all cost, distraction is the big thing...
2. Make sure he knows that hitting hurts you and it is unacceptable, my son knows hitting, biting is wrong and says "sorry mama" if he accidently hits me. First time he was mad and bit me I screemed, made a very disturbed face, pretended I was crying, showed him the place where he bit me and said "it hurts" and told him to say "sorry mama" and to pet my head to make me feel better and also to promice never to do it again. Next time he was about to bite I made a face like I was scared and reminded him he promised not to bite, asked him "Are you angry because we have to leave?" He said "Yes" and I told him that we will come back and it is the time we have to leave othervise the keeper (invention) will never let us come back. He understood and went along. And then I praised him. You get the idea...
3. Tell him what to do instead of what not to do. Children do not know better so they just act out. Tell him what he should do, for example, to apoligise, to share, to bring his plate to you, to clean up. Do not say :"Stop it, don't do it" if he throws blocks around, say, we going to play a different game now, please build a bridge and see how your cars can go under it. I hope these examples help...
Of course, if the child has some bad habits it will be hard to break them, you just have to be very patient and consistent.
Good luck!

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E.S.

answers from Chicago on

This is very normal for this age in my experience. I have a 5 year old boy and another boy who just turned 3 last month. Both went through the terrible 3s. I think 3 is a hard age for many boys (not all, but quite a few). My first son was a VERY challenging 3 year old. Very demanding, but mostly he was violent with is little brother and also with random other kids occasionally (kids at parks). He settled down a LOT when he turned 4. My current 3 year old boy also hits his brother and me occasionally, and he has temper tantrums constantly where he screams and cries (often for 20 min). Now that you konw this is fairly normal, my advice is to try not to overreact to it (especially try not to get overly angry because this is a way to encourage him to do it again I think). Try to be consistent in your response, and don't let him push your buttons. If he hits anyone, perhaps some quiet time in his room will help (especially if you do it consistently every time he hits). It is hard to be consistent, though, I know. Good luck, but please know that this is normal for boys this age.

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S.S.

answers from Chicago on

Here are a few ideas:
- make sure he gets enough sleep. This is easily why he is having tantrums. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby is a book I was given by 3 friends when I had my first child and I think the ideas in here are like magic. I think kids who have tantrums are easily affected by lack of sleep.

- be firm in your rules. No hitting mama! If he hits, automatic time out for 2 minutes (3 minutes when he turns 3). In time out, no toys, no talking to him or letting him talk to you. At the end, he apologizes and you two share a hug. Other infractions may get one warning, then the time out...but in our house, hitting, throwing, and breaking the "big rules" get you automatic time out. If you balk at the time out, it moves to level 2 time out - in your room!

- pacifier. If he needs it still - occasionally - maybe it is not such a bad thing to let him regress a little. You could tell him that he can have it once a week when he really needs it. Let him decide, now or later. This will give him some control of the situation perhaps.

- adult meltdowns. We are all guilty of this...I have been myself trying to manage my anger and not letting myself have them in front of the kids. It certainly does not help things, and little ones who have no other way to complain (words/vocabulary) end up screaming and getting upset themselves. Find some ways to cool down or set up time w/ your hubby to have "conversations" (even heated ones) out of site of your child. It definitely will help your child feel more confident if mommy and daddy are getting along in his presence.

- Santa. Some kids are scared of the guy. Give it a break if he feels scared. Introduce a card w/ a picture, or a toy santa, and let him be "friends" through that familiarity. Speak of Santa's activities as fun and exciting, but if he is scared, empathize with his feeling and don't force it. Soon enough (in a year or two) he will be loving the idea of Santa!! (toys!!)

Good luck - It is not easy, and we have all been there. Just remember, 1) you are in charge, not the child, and 2) your child is trying to tell you something (either straight on, or by his tiredness) by the tantrums. Make sure he knows he is loved, and be comforting - "I know this is hard for you to stop using your pacifier" "I know you don't want a nap right now but it is time for your nap - When you wake up we can have a snack/snuggle/go for a walk", etc.

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S.S.

answers from Chicago on

The other posters have wonderful thoughts and may I add my own.So here's some advice and then some thoughts. Sometimes just redirecting him will help and we ourselves feel so guilty and panicky that it does excalate. So forgive yourself, selves whomever. And accept that this too shall pass. While it was a good idea to get rid of the pacifier it was something that soothed him so you will be experimenting with different alternatives. And my husband used to tell me not to do things in front of the kids like try to make my point over and over just I think I should as I am a woman and he is a man and I needed to make the same point fifty times,(because we know they don't listen-really!!) but I noticed if I myself was able to not have a problem with him in front of the kids, they didn't pick up on our own anxiety too much. Remember it is your child and I can give all of my advice but don't listen to me, listen to you and your husband and experiment, experiment. And my children are all grown up anyway and yours will, too. So you have a lifetime to experiment. Merry Christmas and give the little one a hug for me!

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S.X.

answers from Chicago on

no paci? maybe he needs a woobie... like a favorite bear or something. that helped our kids.
our son had one Major blow out about that age where he was throwing things and sounded like a wild animal.
we carried him to his room (safe) and took the audience away.
it only happened once.
the other fits happened but we used redirection and positve rewards for all day w/good behavior.
time outs made things worse for him at that age but were necessasry after a warning was given.

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