Are your 3 year old’s temper tantrums getting worse? If so, you’re not alone. Many parents find that their child’s tantrums become more frequent and intense as they get older. But don’t worry, we’re here to help! Let’s talk about the causes of tantrums, how to avoid them, and what you can do in the moment to help your child (and yourself) calm down.
Causes of tantrums
There could be many reasons your 3 year old is having a temper tantrum. They may be tired, hungry, or overstimulated. Or they may be experiencing some big emotions like frustration, fear, or anger. It’s important to remember that tantrums are a normal part of child development and don’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong. Here are some common reasons your child might be having a tantrum:
Understanding normal 3 year old behavior
Tantrums are a normal part of child development. All children have tantrums from time to time, but they usually happen more often during the toddler and preschool years. That’s because kids this age are still learning how to express themselves verbally and emotionally. They may not yet have the words to explain how they’re feeling, so they lash out instead.
How to avoid a tantrum
There are a few things you can do to try to avoid tantrums before they happen. First, make sure your child is getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, and having regular opportunities to move their bodies. You might also want to try to provide them with some structure and routine throughout the day. And finally, be sure to give them plenty of time and attention. If you can, try to avoid situations that you know are likely to trigger a tantrum.
When to worry
All parents worry when their child is having a temper tantrum. Tantrums might be child behavior, but worrying is parent behavior. However, if your child is having tantrums that are particularly intense, frequent, or lasting longer than usual, it might be a good idea to speak to your pediatrician. They can rule out any possible medical causes and offer you some guidance on how to best deal with your child’s tantrums.
Teaching self-regulation to your 3 year old
One of the best things you can do for your child is to teach them how to self-regulate. This means teaching them how to manage their emotions and cope with stress in a healthy way. There are a few different ways you can do this.
Model self-regulation yourself
When you’re feeling angry or frustrated, show your child how you take a deep breath and count to ten. This will help them see that it’s okay to have big emotions, but that there are ways to deal with them in a healthy way. As you regulate yourself and your emotions, it’ll be easier for your child to do the same.
Be responsive and warm (even during a tantrum)
It’s tempting to just walk away when your child is having a full-blown meltdown. But when your child is having a tantrum, try to stay calm and be responsive. This will help them feel safe and secure. Offer them words of comfort and reassurance. And when they’re finally calm, be sure to praise them for their good behavior.
Create opportunities for practice
Give your child opportunities to practice self-regulation throughout the day. For example, you might ask them to take a break before they lose their temper or help them practice deep breathing when they’re feeling overwhelmed. As your practice and remind them often, they will get better at doing this unprompted.
Be intentionally positive in family life
Make sure your home is a positive and supportive environment. This means speaking kindly to each other, showing affection, and being patient with each other. It’s annoying when you are feeling upset or frustrated, but intentional positivity is good for your whole family.
Ideas for dealing with tantrums in the moment
Living through a child’s temper tantrum can feel overwhelming and exhausting. You might even want to scream or hide. But there are a few things you can do to make the situation better. Here are some ideas for dealing with temper tantrums in the moment.
If your child is having a tantrum, try to distract them with something else. This might be a toy, a book, or a game. Point out something they might enjoy. Take them to the window. This is a great solution for kids this age because they are easily distracted!
Remove them from the situation
If distraction doesn’t work, try removing your child from the situation. It’s not always easy or available, but if possible, remove your child from the situation that is triggering the tantrum. This might mean leaving the room or going outside. I’ve found with my kids that just changing the environment can make all the difference. Going outside has been especially helpful with our children when they are dealing with difficult emotions.
Give them space
Now, it’s important to note that giving your child space doesn’t mean to totally ignore your child. But sometimes, giving them a little space can help them calm down. Let your child know that you’re there for them, but give them some time to work through their emotions. Keep this time short. A few minutes tops if you can. What you don’t want to do is leave them by themselves for long periods of time while they are having a tantrum. Give it a few minutes, and then dive back in with plenty of love!
Nothing fizzles my 3 year old’s tantrums like a hug after he’s had a minute to be mad. I always try to remember that even though he’s acting like a little monster, he’s still my sweet baby. He’s learned that he can always come for a hug from me. Even if we are both feeling a little grumpy. A hug goes a long way in reminding him (and me) of that.
Stay calm and positive
It’s really hard to keep your calm, but if you don’t keep the calm, no on will. Try to take some deep breaths and remind yourself that this too shall pass. It might help to think of a happy memory or place to keep you calm. And when your child finally calms down, be sure to praise them for their good behavior.
Don’t try to reason when they are upset
There will be other times to try to reason with your child. During a tantrum is not one of them. Younger children (like 3 year old’s) just don’t have the executive functioning to reason with them when they’re upset. It will only make the tantrum worse.
Watch for triggers
There are usually triggers that set off a tantrum. These can include:
- New situations
- Going from one place to another (transitions)
- Needing attention
- Not getting what they want
- Being unable to communicate needs/wants
- Nervous or scared
Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but if you can try to avoid these triggers.
Give them tools to communicate
Sometimes, tantrums are a way for kids to communicate their needs. If you can provide them with some other tools to communicate, it might help reduce the number of tantrums. This might be sign language, picture cards, or even just some words to use.
Don’t get angry
It’s hard not to get angry when your child is throwing a tantrum. But getting angry will only make the situation worse. It will escalate the tantrum and make it harder for your child to calm down. If you start to feel yourself getting angry, take some deep breaths and try to remove yourself from the situation if possible.
Need ideas for staying calm? Read: How to stop yelling at your kids
Punishing your child will only make them feel worse and could make the tantrum worse. If you need to, remove yourself and your child from the situation. But don’t try to punish them or shame them for their behavior. That will only make things worse in the long run. Not to mention, it would be incredibly frustrating as an adult if someone punished you every time you were angry.
Don’t give in or bribe
Giving in to your child’s demands will only reinforce the tantrum behavior. And bribery is just a short-term fix that won’t solve the problem. If you give in now, they’ll just throw a tantrum next time they want something. It’s better to teach them how to cope with their emotions in a healthy way.
Keep Record of tantrums
If you’re concerned about the frequency or severity of your child’s tantrums, it might be helpful to start tracking them. Write down when they happen, how long they last, what triggered them, and how you handled it. This will help you see if there are any patterns and will give you a way to track your progress. Having this information can be helpful if you feel you need to discuss this behavior with your child’s doctor.
Parenting a toddler is difficult. 3 year old temper tantrums getting worse can even make you feel crazy and frustrated. But there are things you can do to manage them. By understanding the causes and triggers of tantrums, you can start to avoid them. And when they do happen, there are ways to help your child calm down and cope in a healthy way.
Do you have any tips for managing tantrums? Share them in the comments below!