Dealing with 3 year old tantrums every day is exhausting. Learn what’s normal for kids, as well as what to do if tantrums are getting worse.
Apparently, it was “opposite day” for my 3 year old. When we went outside, he wanted to go inside (only to change his mind once I obliged). Later, he wanted to go for a walk, but complained that he was tired, leaving me to carry him the rest of the way home.
And when we were finally indoors for good, he threw a fit because he wanted to leave the door open. Never mind that all the while, I was trying to take his shoes and jacket off.
For many moms, some tantrums erupt over familiar reasons, like refusing to put on clothes or their kids are scared to take a bath.
Other times, the reasons seemed ludicrous: A cracker broke in half, so of course your child lost his marbles. He doesn’t want to wash his hands, but then gets mad when you do it for him. You swear you did the worst thing ever when you told him that no, he actually can’t press all the buttons in the elevator.
And of course, no matter how much advance notice you give or play time you offer, he still has a complete meltdown when you tell him it’s time to sleep.
No wonder you’re dealing with epic tantrums every day. It isn’t easy seeing him throw himself on the floor, screaming and crying. And despite all your efforts, he still has many, intense tantrums.
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How to respond when your 3 year old tantrums every day
I was one of those parents who Googled “how many tantrums are normal.” I felt like I was arguing with my son all day, that every issue was a fight to the death. The daily tantrums were so frustrating, testing my patience like I’d never seen.
I was especially mortified when friends visited us from out of town. Rather than spending time with them, I had to deal with his epic tantrum—for an entire hour. (I still wonder if I scared my friends a bit about having kids!)
Dealing with tantrums every day and learning about parenting is an ongoing process. We try a few techniques based on our kids’ temperaments, and see what works and what doesn’t. I used many of those moments to better communicate with my kids and improve myself as a parent.
And over the years, the tantrums grew less frequent and intense, even with three kids. Below are the key lessons I learned that helped tremendously:
1. Don’t give in to your 3 year old’s irrational demands
After enough “opposite days,” I learned the impossibility of meeting irrational demands in the middle of a meltdown. Kids can’t make sense of anything logical when they’re in that state—imagine yourself in the middle of road rage and you know what I’m talking about.
Instead, hold your ground, in a kind and compassionate way. If your child doesn’t want what you served for dinner, refuse to whip him up one of his favorite meals. If he makes unreasonable demands during bedtime, let him know he can walk himself to his room and go straight to bed.
The longer you relent and give him what he wants, the more he learns to flip-flop during tantrums. Instead, your word must be solid as a rock. No, it’s not easy or fun, but he does learn that he can’t keep changing his mind all the time.
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2. Don’t bite the bait
Do you find yourself mulling over everything your 3 year old fusses about? Do you engage in her antics, or continue to give it more attention than it needs?
More than likely, you can avoid the whole situation by refusing to bite the bait.
In other words, it’s okay to shrug it off and move on. Ask yourself if you really need to respond to the situation, or if you can treat it as “no biggie.”
She wants to use the blue sippy cup, not the red one? Oh well, I guess she has to learn to deal with drinking from the blue one. She insists on going to the bathroom yet again before bedtime? Go ahead, but that means she has to walk herself to her room.
Convey a sense that “you’ve got this,” and that you’re not willing to slip down a rabbit hole that won’t go anywhere productive.
Because contrary to what it might feel like, not everything has to be a fight with her. And one of the best ways to avoid drawn-out tantrums every day is to shrug them off and avoid biting the bait.
3. Connect to calm down
Tempted as you might be to engage in your 3 year old’s antics—don’t. Instead, focus on helping her calm down, all by connecting with her.
Again, she’s in a state where she can’t process anything logical, but she’s geared up for a fight. Calm her down by connecting with her using non-verbal communication. You might rock her side to side, change your facial express to one of understanding, or soothe her with simple words.
She’s overwhelmed and agitated. What she needs is something as simple as a hug, a change in your posture—anything to communicate that you’re not here to fight. Calm her down out of her “red zone” and back into a more reasonable state.
As I say in my book, Parenting with Purpose:
“Connection prevents tantrums, builds your relationship with your child, and lessens conflict. Connection happens both during peaceful days as well as right when you’re in the thick of another struggle. In fact, connection is even more important during your child’s tantrums and standoffs.”
The best part? You’re modeling for her—without using words—how to regulate her emotions. She’ll learn how to stay calm and manage her emotions, all in a healthy way.
4. Explain how you feel
One technique when talking to others is to state things from your perspective, rather than criticizing what the other person does.
By explaining how you feel, you’re less likely to raise your child’s defenses than if you were to point out mistakes he made. You’re also labeling emotions, showing him how to identify his own. And you’re encouraging empathy by giving him a peek into how others feel, especially as a result of his behavior.
For instance, you could say, “I feel frustrated when I ask you to put your shoes on, but I’m ignored.” Or you could even say, “I need to take a quick one-minute break right now because I feel mad.”
5. Find creative ways to prevent tantrums
We can prevent many of the tantrums we face by finding creative ways to avoid them. Let’s say your 3 year old throws a fit over getting dressed in the morning. As annoying as it is—especially over something that should be automatic by now—you can outmaneuver the tantrums in several ways.
For instance, let her sleep in the next day’s outfit so she’s already dressed when she wakes up. Play a game of “wear the warm clothes,” where you iron her clothes and she has to put them on while it’s still warm.
You could hang a checklist of the clothes she needs to put on, so that upon completion, she gets to decide what to play before you leave the house. And you should make sure she’s getting enough sleep, either by letting her sleep in or moving bedtime earlier, so she’s less likely to be grumpy.
Depending on her personality, find simple ways to prevent common tantrums from happening in the first place.
6. Praise your child’s positive behavior
Even if it seems your 3 year old throws tantrums every day, I promise that you can still find little pockets of appropriate behavior. Don’t overlook these choices and gestures, no matter how small they seem. Instead, praise him for making good choices to encourage him to do more of them.
For instance, you might say, “Thank you for brushing your teeth! Now we can read books before bed.” Or “You were very gentle with the dog—that was great!” Or even “Look at you, drinking from your cup like a big kid!”
Don’t worry—you won’t have to praise him for every little thing over time. But these moments—when it feels like nothing he does is ever right—are the best opportunities to find the times he does.
Dealing with 3 year old tantrums every day is no easy task.
As moms, we’re constantly learning how to respond to our children’s behavior, including tantrums every day. I’ve learned so much with each one, along with the mistakes I’ve made in the past. There’s no guarantee against future tantrums, but now you have concrete ways to handle them when they happen.
Avoid giving into irrational demands or biting the bait. Both will draw you further into the tantrum instead of using it as an opportunity for him to learn how to behave. Instead, focus on calming him down, not telling him what to do or not do.
Later, once you’re both calm, explain how you feel, and how his choices affect others and the circumstances around him.
Then, long before the tantrums even happen, find creative ways to prevent them in the first place. That could include praising his positive behavior, however small it may be, to encourage him to do more of the same.
Even as my son yelled because he wanted the door open, I knew better than to accommodate his requests. Instead, I sat on the floor a few feet away, giving him a look that said, “I’m sorry you’re feeling upset.” Within a few minutes, his yelling dwindled down to small whimpers and hiccups.
“Want to open the closet door instead?” I suggested. His face lit up and he ran to the closet to open and close it.
Get more tips:
- When Your 3 Year Old’s Behavior Is Out of Control
- 5 Unusual Ways to Deal with a Defiant 3 Year Old
- Consequences for Kids That Actually Work
- When Your Child Seems to Ruin Everyone’s Day
- 6 Things You Need to Do to Handle Your Threenager
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