What Kind of Tantrum Is This???

Updated on April 12, 2011
F.W. asks from Cumberland, MD
10 answers

My spirited almost 3yr. old DD tantrums over seemingly minute things, many times where the choice is all hers. Its almost like she is tantrumming about making the choice. If she is not offered that choice though she would definitely have a meltdown. I've read about manipulative tantrums vs. spill over tantrums, but I can't seem to categorize this behavior from my daughter. For example, I am pregnant and trying to get up off the floor. I ask her for help jokingly since she thinks this is fun and she says is tired. I tell her I can get up on my own (normal tone of voice not teasing) and begin to when she starts screaming she wants to help. I tell her sure and she repeats she is too tired. So I get up and tell her I can do it on my own and it is no big deal that she doesn't want to help with this because I gave her a choice. HUGE meltdown! Trying to console her made it worse and she began swatting at me (new behavior). EDIT: I have tried the immediate move to time out or a spot away from me when she starts screaming or swatting and the screaming has only seemed to worsen. When she finally stops screaming and calms down, many times it takes a couple of check ins with her when she seems calm and then rages again as soon as I go to remove her from time out or her room with the gate up. After she can state how she was feeling that caused the isse --embarrassed, jealous, nervous. Lol--I am a former teacher and daycare provider so I know consistent time outs work with most children. I'd like to know if anyone else has a child that flips out about little things like this. The stay in time out until you stop screaming method has not worked even after being consistently applied IMO and trying to not jump on the first scream and trying to reason with her about her feelings (she is very verbal for her age) doesn't seem to work either. Maybe it is a little step i'm missing but I can't help but compare how easy it is for me to deal with other children's tantrums and she is such a puzzle.

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So What Happened?

Thank ladies for making me feel like I haven't royally screwed up:) Knowing there are others with children like my daughter helps more than you know. I did ignore phase 1 of the tantrum described above, she was fine and I took her upstairs where she wanted to help me clean the bathroom. Another major meltdown ensued over something similarly ridiculous and she raged for so long ( I then placed her in her gated room to stop the swatting at me) that I was in tears--that is very rare in front of her and I'm almost always able to tough it out and ignore. I'll continue to stick to my guns and try to give her the language when she is calm to help prevent these nasty meltdowns. Thanks again ladies!

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answers from Springfield on

I don't know if I have an answer exactly, but my son went through a phase like that. It seemed to happen more often when he was tired. I can also tell you that he gave up his afternoon nap when he was about 3 1/2. That was a transition for both of us, as he had to get used to feeling more tired in the late afternoon. He is about 4 1/2 right now, and we seem to be past both of those phases.

I think I usually left him alone for 10 or 15 minutes. Not a Time Out exactly. I just tried not to make a big deal about it and found something to do in another room. He usually calmed down after a bit.

Hang in there!

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answers from Washington DC on

Give her the choice - to help or not. When she flips out, ignore her.
Get up and walk away.

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answers from Denver on

I will never forget when my girlfriend, who holds a double masters in Child Psychology and Child Development in addition to 15 years in the teaching arena and 5 in private practice, gave me advice over and over again with my first child. She had no children at the time and although I respected her input, I always had in the back of my mind, "just wait until you have your own, we will see how well those degrees works then."

One year later she had her first child, and low and behold, she was the first to admit her tactics learned over many years with children never seemed to work with her own children.

Basically, your efforts will pay off, you just cannot see it since your connection is so much deeper. In short, as mothers, we worry incessantly, and our perfect little angels, that would never do what we saw other people's children do, are doing those embarrassing things to us too.

Your daughter does not seem to be off the mark to me at all, especially since she is a girl. I have two boys and two girls and the one thing I learned real quick is emotional tantrums over little things are VERY typical with girls. I also learned recently that girls have their first hormonal surge at 2 1/2 to 3 years old. Explains a lot huh?

The situation you outlined really says to me that she loves the game and doesn't want it to stop. Seems minor to us but to her it is her whole life - she wants to play with mommy. When my 2 1/2 year old does this sort of thing, I usually just say calmly that the game is done and I move on. She may scream and cry but I give it NO energy, not even time out. You will be amazed how quickly they quit. As you know, your attention is what she is after, so any sort of response is destine to encourage the behavior.

Good luck!

P.S. Forgot to tell you, just wait for the fun tantrums you get to experience when the new baby takes some of the spotlight. = )

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answers from Kansas City on

Well first off, it's way easier to handle other children's tantrums precisely b/c they aren't your own! It's easier to not take it personally or have it pull at your heart strings, so i think that's a normal feeling. I would say I think most of that is fairly normal 3 y/o behavior. My 3.5 year old does stuff like that sometimes. I give my kid choices all the time and sometimes they just don't like either one and they want to be mad about it...normal, but sucky for you. ;) I too agree that time outs work for most children (and just a note that they are not punishment, a time out is a way diffusing and disciplining, just wanted to add that) I would say that mostly this is a phase she will grow out of and until then continue doing what you're doing. Sometimes it takes my daughter a long time to calm down after a tantrum or time out or something and it's hard but you just gotta keep at it. Remember that you're pregnant and that will certainly shorten your patience and energy level!

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answers from San Diego on

My son used to do this when he was younger. Awful tantrums over nothing at all. Even now (he is almost 4 1/2), we deal with crying more often than most. Some kids are just more emotional. Also, you mentioned you are pregnant. I'm sure that has something to do with it.

We saw a behavioral therapist during the worst of the tantrumming. She pretty much recommended ignoring him and letting him scream until he stopped for a minute before going to him. It's called the extinction method. She modified it for us so that I had to be in the room while he was screaming (UGH), but I've since learned that that is not necessarily required. So if you can leave the room, I'd recommend that so you can teach her she's not going to get any attention for her tantrums. At the very least, it gives YOU a break from hearing the screaming.

The book "The Explosive Child" also recommends taking note of when tantrums are more likely to happen and then having a conversation with your child during an emotionally neutral time. The author has a script that basically says, "I notice you have a hard time when x happens. What's up?" and let the child explain why s/he doesn't like x. Then you say, "I understand, but it's important to me that y happens." And you have a dialog about what a mutually acceptable outcome/behavior is.

Other kids' tantrums are easier to deal with than your own, precisely because they're not your kids. At least that's been my experience.

Good luck.

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answers from Washington DC on

when my daughter was about the same age she did the exact same thing. all of a sudden she could understand the ramifications of making a choice and it was just too much for her. when these would happen we would go home and do something quiet. then we would talk about making choices. she still (5 yo) has times when she doesn't want to choose but most of the time she's as bossy as ever. the good news is that the phase passed. good luck!

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answers from Chicago on

I don't think it matters what type of tantrum it is, the way you deal with it remains the same -- ignore. It really is hard to ignore our own kids because we want them to stop and behave. But really that's the only solution to tantrums. It does work. It just takes a lot of ignoring. But you can do it!

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answers from Washington DC on

Both of my kids went through phases (my son may not quite be through it yet) where I swore they had multiple personalities! I would give them a choice, they'd say what they wanted and then cry when they got it. I swore I was losing my mind after a while! :)

My daughter (now 5.5) is also VERY spirited. Tantrums over what seems like nothing and she could tantrum like nobody's business! Some lasted as long as 45 minutes. Talk about staying power. I think the advice you've heard about sticking with your time outs and being consistent about it (and ignoring tantrums) is probably best. I know with my daughter it was hard to stick with it and be consistent because I wouldn't see much in the way of results for quite some time, so I'd question if I was doing the right thing. But with her (I think because she is so spirited), it took longer to see results. Hang in there and continue what you're doing (some days easier said than done, I know). I think consistent reaction over a long period is key.

Also, I found with my kids when they were in the "I can't make up my mind phase," it helped to MAKE them stick to a choice. If they got a choice and chose something, then cried about it, when possible, I would make them stick to their choice, even if they then changed their minds. I think it helped them learn to think thru a little bit before answering and understanding what making a choice means. Just a thought.

Good luck and congrats on #2!

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answers from Monroe on

There are some great tips to deal with temper tantrums at http://www.toddlerbedandmore.com look under toddler tips for parents. Good luck!

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answers from San Francisco on

My 4.5yo son had a meltdown at the airport yesterday because the wheel broke off of his Cars "pack pack." (it's had this affectionate nickname since he was 2, although the backpack is relatively new) He also couldn't stop crying because he didn't want to go; he wanted to stay with Grandma & Pap Pap.

Most often, these tantrums happen when he hasn't had a good night's sleep or not enough sleep. His usual length is 11 hours, and if he gets any less, it's a rough day for all. Have you noticed any changes or inconsistencies with her sleeping? Is she still napping? Or just one block of sleep at night? Sometimes this is all it takes!

Being pregnant probably doesn't help because she's old enough to understand that something is going to change but still young enough to not quite grasp the concept that the baby will be an addition, not a substitute. When I was pregnant with #2, my son was 2, and we involved him in EVERYthing... ultrasounds, midwife appointments, childbirth classes, I even found a cool website that showed what the baby looked like each day. It was one of his favorite things. After breakfast, he would ask me what "baby sister" looked like that day! (after we found out it was a girl)

Lastly, I agree with being able to handle other kids above our own. You have more patience, and you're removed from the situation, so you're able to see something going on that you might not see (or be denying) with your own :)

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