How to discipline a 3-year-old during a temper tantrum?
Sometimes figuring out how to parent and discipline children can seem daunting. The closer we got to a 3-year-old milestone with our youngest, the more he began to resemble a wild and very determined little dictator. One temper tantrum after another and this seemed to go on all day every day.
While we sailed through the terrible twos, they were nothing compared to the terrible threes. At first, we were really surprised, then we felt lost, then we started to slowly figure it out.
Our biggest problem was finding a way to respond correctly when our child was not doing what we asked and launched into a screaming tantrum. We knew that certain behaviors were unacceptable, but the more we seemed to fight the behaviors, the more he fought us. And the three-year-old was winning.
3-Year-Old Tyrant or Just an Overly Persistent Child?
You would think that since this was our second, we should have been well-versed in toddler tantrums. Truthfully, however, our oldest never really did that. Terrible threes? We haven’t heard of them.
Up till now, we have never had to leave a restaurant or a grocery store because of him, he never dropped to the floor kicking and screaming, and he never screeched at the top his lungs sending a shock through my body. He certainly got upset and was difficult at times, but I could always find a way to reason with him or discipline him without too much difficulty.
This…this was entirely out of our realm of experience so far. I finally developed sympathy for other parents blessed with similar strong-willed children. To help us deal, I gathered advice from friends and family, sought techniques from popular blogs, questioned our pediatrician, and read recommended books. Scroll down to the bottom for a list of my favorite resources.
What is a Temper Tantrum?
How do you define a temper tantrum?
There is a pretty good chance that if you are dealing with any of these symptoms already, you do not need help in this department. However, if you are new to the world of rowdy toddlers, let me give you a preview.
Screaming, kicking, biting, undressing demonstratively, throwing objects, banging on doors, and even peeing all over the house are all fair game. The great news is that this is all completely normal! The not so great news is that you may need to practice patience for a little while.
There was a time when toddler tantrums became such an ingrained part of our daily routine, that if we did not hit at least five full-on meltdowns every day, I would start wondering if something was amiss. This is true.
What are the common causes of a temper tantrum?
Emotional outburst and temper tantrums are a normal part of development in young children. While each child may have slightly different triggers, they all share commonalities. At this age, most arguments occur when a child feels out of control. Power struggles are a completely natural part of toddler development.
Tantrums can intensify when you are dealing with children who are also tired or hungry. Toddlers also lack fully developed language skills, which can lead to additional frustrations. In addition, throwing a fit and other negative behavior may be an attention-seeking strategy for many young children. Perhaps because they have to be away from their parents for large parts of the day. Perhaps there are other stresses in their environment or family life.
How to handle a 2-year-old or 3-year-old tantrum incident?
I have to say that I am actually quite proud of the way we have been dealing with the outbursts so far. At some point, I realized that instinctively I sort of knew what felt right and what did not. I didn’t always do the right thing, but deep down I knew.
Below I summarize the most effective strategies we have found for dealing with our kids to prevent tantrums and to limit or stop them when they do occur.
In my opinion, it is crucial to understand why these methods work and what they do for your child. If you can understand why something works, you can implement it in a way that makes sense for your particular situation. Because, let’s face it, children are all very different.
Seven Strategies for Preventing and Stopping Temper Tantrums
1. Keep your cool
This one is first for a reason. And it’s a tough one. Thresholds go down after a long and stressful day at work or when you are running late. But keeping your cool is essential and will help you think through the situation instead of reacting. The minute you lose it, you literally have just lost (pun intended). I often find that walking away helps to gather your composure. Take a deep breath before reacting if at all possible. Your goal is to teach your child how to deal with strong emotions. It’s hard to expect reasonable behavior from a toddler when the adults in his or her life are not setting the right example.
2. Pick your battles
I find that at this age it is all about control. So be ready to let go of some. This does not mean that
3. Choose the right time
It would seem common sense that you cannot communicate anything to anyone unless they are paying attention and are ready to receive your message. I find that instinctively we know when our children are simply “not hearing” us. So before you try to push an agenda, ensure that your child is calm and is ready to listen and process what you are saying.
If all else fails, just let you kiddo scream and have a tantrum. Make certain they are safe and are not hurting others, of course, but give them some time to experience the emotions of anger and frustrations. Speaking or reasoning at these times will likely fall on deaf ears anyways, so you might want to give it some time. That brings me to the next one.
4. Provide warnings
Children at this age have a lot of difficulties switching from one activity to another. So in order to avoid them throwing a tantrum or hold off bad behavior, it is important to provide warnings. For instance, “…when the timer goes off in 5 minutes, we all come to the dinner table” or “…If you do not stop this behavior, you will earn yourself a time-out”.
It helps if your kids tell you they agree to the conditions when that makes sense or is possible. Just make sure to always follow through on the stated consequences. Children learn quickly when you do not truly mean it. It should go without saying that you should only ever threaten something you are actually prepared to do.
5. Get down to their level
This is a very powerful technique that really works. Most of the time. It works because you are giving your child a sense of control and of being heard. So what should you do?
In order to stop or prevent a temper tantrum, try to get down to your child’s eye level and repeat back to her what she wants calmly. You are signaling to your toddler that you heard her and you understand what she wants.
Typically this stops the crying and the yelling enough for you to put a word in and hopefully turn this ship around. Perhaps you can come to a compromise here that works for both of you.
6. Hug and Distract
There have been so many moments when just giving my child an understanding hug and letting him cry it out in my arms melted away all the anger. And once you are there, it is easy to move the conversation away from whatever caused the outburst.
Distractions can also be very helpful. By the time your toddler turns three though, they can be wise to your tactics. It’s important to distract
7. Be Consistent
None of the above will matter if your children don’t know what is expected of them. If you get nothing else from this post, you need to remember this. Something can’t be okay one day, but not okay the next, because that is a sure-fire way to confuse a child.
If one person in the household says it’s okay to play with a toy and another says that it isn’t, your child loses confidence not only in themselves but in his parents as well. Needless to say, this is a recipe for a meltdown.
Some Additional Resources I Found Helpful
Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy by Louise Bates Ames
These seven strategies to avoid or even stop a toddler temper tantrum have saved us so many times. I no longer fear outings to stores and restaurants. I feel in control of the situation. The yelling and frustration have subsided considerably on both sides.
Sure our children still misbehave, but at the end of the day, they are learning how to handle their emotions in a healthy way.
If you have strategies and tips of your own you want to share, please leave a comment. I love hearing feedback and learning from others. That is the whole point of having the power of community at our fingertips. As always, thanks for reading.