Temper Tantrums in 3 1/2 Year Old

Updated on June 30, 2009
C.J. asks from San Diego, CA
10 answers

I'm in dire need of advice. I have a 3 1/2 year old little boy who has a fierce temper. A little background -- only son until three months ago when we welcomed boy #2 and both boys are now in day care full time. He loved to push the limits with me early on -- and setting boundries has always been an issue. We have things under control somewhat at home with the use of time outs and quiet time in room -- however the behavior continues at his day care. I don't know how to change the behavior at home and at school? He's picked up words -- four letter "choice" words and he knows how to use them when he's angry...that happens when someone says 'NO" to him....

I'm just at a loss at how to stop the hitting and stop the yelling....any suggestions?

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answers from Los Angeles on

Sounds like you have a future leader on your hands!

This can be a frustrating age for parents, especially with a child who has natural leadership qualities (strong will, decisiveness, drive, etc.). It's great that you are trying to help him control his overwhelming emotions with quiet time instead of escalating the situation with verbal or physical aggression.

I HIGHLY recommend the book "You Can't Make Me (but I can be persuaded)" by Cynthia Tobias. She is a genius at helping parents effectively interact with their strong willed children. I read this book when my daughter was 2 1/2 and it completely changed our relationship. Cynthia will give you concrete things that you can do and say that help you both get what you want out of any situation. Everybody wins, so everybody's happy!

In addition, remember to stop and see things from his perspective. He is likely missing the amount of quality time he used to get with you, so make a point to take him out for a "big boy" activity without his little brother. This will remind him that he has a very special place in your heart that no one else could ever fill.

Best of luck to you and your precious boy!!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I had a son with temper tantrums and we went and saw homeopath. What a dream, it changed our lives. Homeopathy works on the energy of the individual and removes unwanted energetic disturbances (i.e temper tantrums) here is a link as I am not explaining it right. http://nationalcenterforhomeopathy.org/about/...If you need a referral I'd be happy to help. It was a wonderful experience.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Have you tried positive incentives (carrots) in addition to the time-outs and quiet time?

I found that by 3+ my kids were both able to understand the concept of the sticker chart. You might divide the day into morning, "school" and evening, with space for a sticker for each. He gets a sticker for not having a meltdown during that period. Then, if he has, say, three days in a row where he gets stickers in all the boxes, he gets a treat - maybe an ice cream cone, or a new video, or whatever is meaningful to him. Do that a few times, then extend the interval to three days, five days, etc. I think a week is about the longest you can expect a three-year-old to understand (if that).

Hope that helps - I have always found that carrots worked better than sticks with my kids - in other words, find a reward for good behavior, rather than a reprimand for undesirable behavior.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Why do children misbehave? By Aletha Solter

When my son was 4, his baby sister was born. He was a horror to me (and her) for a year. I had no clue what was going on. I asked the Director of his parent education co-op preschool. She said "all misbehavior is due to unmet needs". So that's what I focused on...
I gave him more one-on-one time (it practically disappeared once she arrived and OVERNIGHT he turned to a different child.

I made the HUGE mistake of pushing him away emotionally. Stupid, I know.

A tip I got from a parenting teacher is to spend a day alone with each child per month. I don't do that much, but when I do spend one-on-one time, each one is so much better.

Are you working? Any chance you can pull them OUT of daycare? Work part-time? Them being left in daycare (especially for the older one) might be a huge part of the puzzle also. He might feel pushed away even more. I made that mistake with my then 5-year-old, putting him in every summer camp I could. By the next year, he refused ALL of them. At 9, he is very picking about what camps he wants and says no to most. Thankfully, I'm a SAHM and I've come to peace with this - I can enjoy them now at home and not worry about "what to do to entertain them".

What do YOU like to do? Is there anything you like to do that you can share with them? I love to go on outings, so I take them wherever I want - blueberry picking, beach with friends.

The thing about parenting is that if you give the job to someone else YOU won't learn how to do it. Are there any parent education classes in your area? Check your local Adult School or College. That could really help you. It really helped me because children ARE a puzzle aren't they. I so wish I had parenting classes when my son was 2 b/c I made so many mistakes. I would have loved some guidance. It IS out there, you have to find it.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Hello Chirstina,

Congratulations on your new baby! It sounds like you have your hands very full right now. My heart is with you!

It sounds like your son is trying to express himself. If you can help him do so, you will discover what he is seeking to fill. Neither punishment nor reward will help him achieve that... only listening will.

Every misbehavior is a symptom of a need that is unmet, or "missed."

In the words of Ruth Beaglehole, CNVEP, "Every behavior is a tragic attempt to meet an unmet need... tragic because the behavior in question will NOT result in the need being met."

It is our challenge, every time our child "miss" behaves, to determine what that unmet need is, and then help them to find a behavior that meets that need, rather than misses it!

I second the advice of Aletha Solter's book, and also recommend "How to Talk so Kids will Listen, and How to Listen so Kids will Talk" by Mazlish and Faber; as well as Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting" to help you get a handle on your dear family and reconnect!

Lots of Love,


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Eirka K. Had some great suggestions.

With a 3 year old... its a hard age.
For a boy, you might nurture his ability to communicate and express himself.... to KNOW himself, and that he can express his feelings... etc. Whether for good or bad, it is important for a child to 'know' that they can express themselves, feel validated, and then talk about it. It will in the long run, foster a 'foundation' in a child on how to communicate... and verbally say what they want/don't want etc. Then for the parent, it is wonderful to see our child be articulate in terms of their verbal skills AND in their blossoming emotions... and how they can tell us about it. Which then translates into, our child being 'able' to tell us about their day, their problems, their happy moments, anything under the sun, and that we are their soft place to fall no matter what.

From this age, it greatly benefits a child to learn 'how' to express themselves constructively... even if they want to grumble about something. And knowing that they are 'heard.' For my daughter and son, this helps deflate things rather well.
If it is something I disagree with, that they are telling me... I explain, let them respond, then there is an outcome... they learn that things then go full circle... there is a "conclusion" to things and how they feel... or that there is a "productive" way to go about it. It is a SKILL and "problem solving" that a child then learns... and it will serve them will in the future.
This helps them to realize how to talk/speak/communicate, instead of "battling" for it... or that it is a battle and that it is "futile" for them. For kids, at this age... it is typically always the kid being at the short end of the leash or at the short end of the stick. AND, then no one really validates their feelings nor helps them to understand it. Feelings at this age is STILL developing. It is not fully evolved yet. Thus, they act out.

ie: "I know you are upset... adults get frustrated too. Let's see how we can problem solve that. How can we make it better?.. but I"m glad you told me how you feel, otherwise Mommy wouldn't understand you..." This is pretty much what I do with my kids. It lays a manner in which they will then learn... about "managing" situations. THIS then enables a child to understand "boundaries" and that it is not always negative, nor denying them, nor banishing them from things. But that there is a CHOICE... always, in how to handle things. It is not always black and white. AND, if it is actually MY fault that I triggered my child into a BAD temper, I always recognize that and apologize to them... for my Daughter, this always matters to her, in her heart. And it softens her reactions. Sometimes kids just feel miffed and always at the end of the stick for no reason and being told 'no' all the time.

Next and MOST importantly, your son is now feeling he is "2nd fiddle" to his baby brother born ONLY 3 months ago. THIS is also normal for a little child to feel. In my case, I had my son when my daughter was also about 3.75 years old. For me and my Daughter's Preschool Teacher at the time, after I had my son, I told them that my Daughter is adjusting to a new baby. AND they worked WITH her, not against her, because they UNDERSTOOD that my daughter JUST had become an 'eldest' child and had a baby, too, not only Mommy. So TOGETHER, we worked harder with our eldest child... to help her integrate, to feel wanted, to feel like she still matters, that she is STILL IMPORTANT and that her life is not just about being told rules and 'no' and being controlled all the time. That she is only human... and that she is having difficulty TOO, to having a new baby in the family, in the house, taking up Mommy's time, taking a lot of attention, and pretty much changing HER life. So... a child needs LOTS of time to adjust to a new sibling. It can even take a couple of years.
In the meantime, they need to be 'taught' about caring, about being loved together, that they are still loved, about how baby loves him TOO, about how they are now the 2 Muskateers... to engender commonality between the 2 siblings not differences, and Teamwork. My daughter, loved her brother... we also taught her all about baby development, age appropriately, in order to help her understand... and it made a real big difference. She then took pride in having a baby brother etc. Not that baby was a "competition" for attention. Which some children feel.

A great book is "Your 3 Year Old" or, "Your Four Year Old" which you can get from www.amazon.com

Just some ideas, all the best,

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answers from Los Angeles on

Hi C.:
It looks like you need to get him out of that preschool,and fast! I have to assume,This is where he's picking up the four letter words. If he's merely aping what he hears at home,then issuing punishment for his use of those words would be wrong.Clean up his verbal environment,whether its friends or family and Pick your battles wisely. I'd think,with a new brother,and a mom and dad that work all day,he is fighting for attention,good or bad. He'll take what he can get. He sounds like he could use some one on one time,rather than time outs alone. I wish you and your darlin boys the best. J. M

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answers from Los Angeles on

He's looking for those boundaries again after a new little one entered his world; he wants to make sure all the rules are still in place so keep up the good work on setting limits and using discipline. Don't react to the four letter words right now because he'll continue to use them if he can see if he's getting a 'rise' out of you. He'll know their power soon enough. He continues this behavior at day care because his world has changed and he wants to make sure it hasn't changed there as well. This will settle down soon. Keep your routines as much as you can; this will help.


answers from Los Angeles on

Make sure he's geting enough sleep and nutrition. Talk to his pediatrician and work with his teachers. He's going through a rough transition. See if you can spend more time with him.



answers from Los Angeles on

I know it may be hard for you to find time to read, but if you could get to the book store, I would suggest you buy "Bringing up Boys" by Dr. James Dobson and also "Dare to Discipline also by Dr. James Dobson. They may have it on CD. Good Luck, oh and Pray alot! And enjoy! We only live once and we only have one chance at it. Before you know it they are little men 6 ft. tall. lol... =.)

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