Q: How do you stop tantrums in a 3-year-old? My daughter never went through the “terrible twos” but began throwing wild tantrums shortly after her third birthday. This coincided with the birth of a sibling — a boy — but she’s very affectionate and helpful toward him, so I don’t know if there’s any connection. I’ve tried everything I can think of to prevent and stop the tantrums — things I’ve seen recommended in various places — but nothing has worked. She throws one whenever she doesn’t get her way. Help!
A: Tantrums are fairly common in toddlers and, even if properly handled, can persist well into the fourth year of life. Furthermore, they occur with or without the birth of new siblings, so one can never know whether or not your second child was the trigger. In your case, given that your daughter shows no jealousy otherwise, I rather doubt that her younger brother has anything to do with her meltdowns.
In my estimation and experience, the standard advice given concerning tantrums is not generally helpful. One website offers six different methods, including what they call the "Yuk It Up" method in which the parent begins doing silly things like dancing around and singing loudly. Yes indeed, that may be enough of a distraction to stop a particular tantrum, but it will not solve the problem. The same website also lists whispering, ignoring, repeating the rule over and over again (e.g. “You must hold my hand in a parking lot, you must hold my hand in a parking lot. …”), trying to engage the child in a game, and picking him up and holding him close. The question becomes: Which of the six recommended methods should a parent use at any given time? And how long does one try a method before going to another?
To be brutally honest, having raised two kids who threw tantrums as toddlers and having counseled many, many parents of tantrum-tossers, I give these six recommendations a rating of “fairly worthless.”
When my daughter Amy was three, she began throwing tantrums. They began as protests over green things on her plate and quickly expanded from there to include anything and everything she didn’t like. After floundering around for several weeks, my wife and I identified the downstairs half-bathroom (aka powder room) as Amy’s “tantrum place” and told her that she could only throw tantrums there.
“These tantrums you’re having,” I said to her, “are very special things, Amy, so you need a special place in which to have them. We’ve decided that this bathroom is going to be that special place. See? If you scream so loud that you have to use the potty, there’s one right here! And there’s a rug you can roll around on! And you can even get a drink of water!”
From that point on, whenever she launched into a fit, we simply directed her (or took her) to the bathroom. “Come out when you’re done!” we’d say, closing the door. Immediately, the tantrum would stop. Then, a minute or so later, the door would open and Amy would appear, scowling. To be honest, it was hard to keep from laughing.
Her tantrums stopped in no time at all. On to back-talk! It never ends, does it?
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions at his website, www.parentguru.com.