how to deal with tantrums and put an end to it?

Erika - posted on 12/21/2011 ( 28 moms have responded )

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my son is now 3 1/2 years old. and his tantrums are unbearable, timeouts dont work, he hits, kicks, bites, yells, throws things and i have tried everything i can think of, if i go to soothe him, he flips out more, but when i walk away, it gets even worse!! i cant seem to win and i dont know what to do :( i have another child who is only 6 months old and i worry one day hel take it out on him., i need a way to snip this in the bud and get things back on track... any ideas ??

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I'm of the school of "ignore". My son is 4 and for about the past year, we've been struggling with horrible tantrums. It's gotten MUCH better and I don't know if it's better because it was a phase or because he can communicate better since starting pre-K. Either way, we always just made sure he was safe and let him have at it. Then, walk away. Go do something else. Now, the ignore thing is only something I'd do if he was in full on melt down mode. I've learned how to catch him in the begining and, like Krista said, verbalize FOR him. I didn't know there was a book about it, by the way lol! If I see him winding up, I'll say, "Jacob, come sit with me for a minute. Let's talk. I see you're starting to get upset. Would you like to tell me why?" Even when he can't communicate to me what the problem is, which is rare these days, I can usually figure it out. I think what's helping also is that he is being acknowledged. The fact that he is unhappy is being acknowledged. His opinion is being acknowledged. "What's wrong Jacob?" "I want cookies for dinner but you said no!" "Well, cookies for dinner would be nice but I made chicken just for you!!! How about cookies after dinner? How does that sound?" Nine times out of ten he'll say, "Sounds like a plan man."

What I'm learning as I go is that everything passes. Unless there's some sort of emotional or other issue going on, everything passes and everything is a stage or phase. Some phases come and go and come back again, like the tantrums. A friend of mine is struggling with her 5 year old with this same issue and she's all upset because the tantrums went away for awhile and now they're back. I keep trying to tell her to talk to her daughter, but she just expects obedience without question and, sorry but that's not gonna happen lol

Elfrieda - posted on 12/21/2011

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Maybe he's grieving the loss of undivided attention from you and your husband, now that there is a new baby. If you think that's the reason, maybe regular "dates" with each of you where you have one-on-one time, plus some major gushing over what a big boy he is and how much he can do and help will ease the transition.

Krista - posted on 12/21/2011

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It sounds like he can't cope with not having things exactly the way he wants them. I wonder if this would be a good time to try some modeling. Basically, let him see you and your husband encounter a situation where things don't go your way, and then verbally express your displeasure in a constructive manner.

When you're little, you feel like you're powerless a lot of the time. So it can help to a) sometimes let him "win", by letting him have his way on a matter that doesn't mean a ton to you, and letting him know clearly, but graciously, that he won and you lost, and b) by showing him that sometimes mommies and daddies don't get their way, and how they deal with it.

Sara - posted on 12/21/2011

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Ignore them, don't give him the power. When my daughter does that, I make her go to her room. There's no way to stop them, just make sure they're safe, you (and your other children) are safe and let 'em go at it. Their brains simply aren't mature enough not to go through the tantrums, they just have to work it out for themselves.

Katie - posted on 12/23/2011

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That sounds severe enough to me that you might consider having him evaluated by a child psychologist. Ask the pediatrician about it. 3&1/2 seems awful young to get that mad about anything...however, I may just be one of the lucky ones. Or mean ones, depending on who you ask.

My older daughter was about 15 months old when she decided that she didn't like me telling her no. Hit me in the face. I popped her on her well-padded bottom, (she was in cloth diapers,) AND scolded her fiercely AND put her in time out, all at once. Not only did she stop the unacceptable behavior, (stayed out of the dog crates from then on, ) but she never hit me again, either.

I know that a lot of parents are anti-spanking, and believe that it just teaches kids that hitting is a solution...well, I have to ask; what do you think? You've plainly never spanked your child, and yet he's beating you up and acting out violently with objects around him as well. Do you wonder now if you should have given him a swat on the bottom and fierce tone immediately upon the first incident of him hitting you? Because it does sound to me like, barring the possibility of his having unforeseen and unpreventable special needs, he thinks hitting, kicking, biting, and throwing things is a fine solution, simply by virtue of the fact that he's more or less gotten away with it for so long already.

.... Sorry, maybe not so helpful...but I really do feel terrible for your situation, and suspect strongly that the only reason you're in it is because too many people told you that spanking and a fierce, attention-getting tone equal "abuse" and are not options for the "good' parent.

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Markita - posted on 12/25/2011

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Sounds like "normal" 3 year old behavior to me. Giaconda posted a great link that can explain the behavior for you. I say pick your battles, evaluate if you really need to intervene in the tantrum or if your expectations in the situation are reasonable for a 3 year old. Ignoring the tantrum works real well.

Simone - posted on 12/25/2011

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how long have the tantrums been happening??? did they start when you fell pregnant with you second??? also other factors to take into account....just because you have baby now....you both need to take special time for him!!!

Melissa - posted on 12/24/2011

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First you need to figure out why he's having the tantrums. With his behavior on the border of self destructive, you need to physically restrain him. Sit on the floor and wraps your legs around and over his legs and give him a firm bear hug. Let him know that you will let him up once he can give you a hug. It will be hard at first. But they will go down in frequency and in duration. Make a simple statement when you hold him like, "I'm trying to help you control yourself, when you can give me a hug, I'll let you go" Don't keep talking to him, it can overstimulate him and make the episode worse and last much longer.
Once you figure out what is causing his tantrums, you can remove them from his life. It could be transition between activities or just him not being able to voice his feelings about the baby. Have him draw or tell a story about what's going on.

Laura - posted on 12/23/2011

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I ignore it no matter how bad it is, its all to get your attention, and get what he wants.... I send my daughter to her room and tell her that I will only come in when she calms down... and then get on with what I was doing you are giving him way too much power...

Judy - posted on 12/23/2011

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I had a child who did that many years ago. I tried everything I could think of to make him stop no avail. My doctor told me that the next time he throws a temper tantrum get a glass of cold water and throw it in his face. You'll see, he told me, it will work like magic. And that worked so well he never had another one. So the next time your child had one of those be very calm, although inside you may be shaking, throw a glass of cold water in his/her face and watch what happens. Tell him/her that this is what will happen every time so he/she better be good!!

Terry - posted on 12/23/2011

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Children, no matter what age, get angry for a reason. Make sure he knows his feelings are cared about and find out why he's angry. If its for a rule or a place where he has no choice...then show him how to express his anger appropriately. Then you both can go on.

Don't give in to it. Be consistent with your instructions. There is nothing wrong with being angry, noone can help how they feel at any age, just how to express it.

If his close time with you is envisioned by him as a time of respect and care, u can take his feelings into expression control. He wants to express something but doesn't khow how, so he's loosing it. This happens at every age. Even at a very young age u can help him.

Be consistent with your requirements and need filling and just keep showing him that you love him. And always show him how to express himself.

You can do that in a million ways, but basics are example, communication and positive reward for the "good behavior" occasions.

God's Blessings!

Darla - posted on 12/23/2011

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ignore ignore ignore
i recently had a child in my sunday school class who was throwing major temper tantrums when he didn't get his way- about 5 yrs old. now you might think this is crazy - but it actually worked! and i only had him 1 hour a week on sunday. within 3 weeks there were no more tantrums. I cut some colored construction paper into 10 squares, one of them much larger than the other. Every 10 minutes that he did not throw a tantrum, he was allowed to stick one of the squares on our door. By the end of class, if there were no tantrums he was allowed to stick the large square on the door with much praise - not only from me, but from the other children as well. Hard to believe - but I truly think the positive reinforcement worked better than anything. He had a goal to work for - and he set his mind to achieve it. But to do this - you not only have to stick to your guns, but must remember to give the rewards how ever often you decide would work for your little one.

Becky - posted on 12/23/2011

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I didn't read all the posts but would your son have any development delays. Often times children with delays will hit and throw a fit because they can not verbalize what is bothering them. Contact your school corporation for advice on speech therapists,etc. They can help even if they are not school age.

Gisselle - posted on 12/23/2011

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Wow, this is exactly what I've been going through with my 3 1/2 year old son. I even went as far as taking him to a child therapist. The therapist says he is fine and it is just a behavorial problem. I have started taking away everything when he does this. We took away the Wii for two weeks and he has been a perfect angel. On Wed, my brother gave it back to him and sure enough, I picked him up from daycare only to hear how he was hitting and pushing the other kids. One thing I noticed is that he was starting to imitate what he was watching or playing. boxing for instance, that is where most of the hitting stemmed from. So we took away the Wii Sports game. He has gotten better and is starting to understand the consequences, however, he still has his tantrums. An interesting thing the therapist said was that kids go through changes on their birthday half marks. So for example,when they turn 3 and then 3.5, they go through these changes which can sometimes result in this behavior. Kinda makes sense since it started at 3.5 yrs. Just know you are not alone! I have cried myself to sleep many nights over this. I would suggest taking him to a therapist just to rule out things. They have also helped me with disciplining him. I also get to vent and it helps me out too!

Alesha - posted on 12/22/2011

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I have a 3 year old boy as well. We started putting his toys in time out when he misbehaves. We just got a bag and marked it toy time out. 24 hours and we pick the toy. Works beautifully.

Bonnie - posted on 12/22/2011

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My 3 year old often sends himself to his own room when he gets like that.

Bonnie - posted on 12/22/2011

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Honestly, 3 is worse than 2. People always say, "oh, the terrible twos." But really, it's the terrible threes. I don't ever think there will be a way to put an end to the tantrums at these ages, but if you ever find out, let me know.

KIMBERLY - posted on 12/22/2011

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Im a mother of 4 kids from 16 to 6 and ive learned that tanrums has to be stopped from the very first time. Basically if time outs dont work, spank him and tell him why and I will bet that the tantrums will stop if not, take him to a pediatrician to be evaluated.

Kathy - posted on 12/22/2011

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Get a copy of 1-2-3 Magic. Ignore the tantrum. Put the child in a safe place and walk away or if you must leave the room and lock yourself in the bathroom. But ignoring them is really the only thing that works.

Pamela - posted on 12/22/2011

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Obviously you do not have a FIRM expression of energy and the fact that you have allowed tantrums to occur more than once or twice attests to such.

Why don't time outs work? What do you call a "time out"? A true "time out" is when you FIRMLY tell a child that their actions are unacceptable. You REMOVE then from the presence of others and tell them to think about what they did and tell you why they did it when the "time out" is up. Your child is old enough to start thinking about his actions and start becoming responsible for them.

Sounds to me that you have not physically separated him from you and others when he displays this kind of behavior.

If he has his own room, remove the toys and place him there for a true "time out" with the door closed. It doesn't matter what he does while he is there as long as there is no way for him to hurt himself, but you must DEMAND that he gives you a reason for his actions. And by demand I don't mean yelling, but insisting that he give you a reason. Doing this consistently until he is able to tell you why he is acting out is a means of making him draw his own attention to his own actions....which ultimately is the only way he will change them.

Gretchen - posted on 12/22/2011

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Talk to your pedatrician if they are someone you trust. They can be really helpful. Good luck!!

Dana - posted on 12/22/2011

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read: Love and Logic. It was a total game changer for me. Works like a charm and my kid is a way more grounded and better kid because of it. www.loveandlogic.com/

Sylvia - posted on 12/22/2011

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I found 3 was a REALLY HARD age. I can imagine that adding a new baby to the mix would make it waaaaay harder.

I agree with what Krista said about heading them off before they start. With DD I found that although the trigger for a meltdown could be anything (literally anything -- on one famous occasion, I had to remove us from a subway car and wait on the platform until she calmed down because she was completely losing her sh!t over *the wrong colour of string cheese* -- I didn't know whether to laugh or cry LOL), 90% of them happened when she was hungry, overtired, or just plain stressed out. If any of the above applied to me, too, well, that was just a really bad scene. You can't always avoid those situations, obviously, but you can avoid a lot of them. Like, don't grocery shop when everybody's tired and hungry.

If he freaks out when things aren't just how he expected or wanted (which a lot of kids do at this age because they are basically powerless, and nobody likes feeling powerless), you might find that giving him more control over his life -- even in totally unimportant ways, like choosing this or that cup or plate at dinner or choosing this or that outfit in the morning -- helps. I agree with Elfrieda on making sure he gets one-on-one time with you, even if it's a few minutes while the baby's napping or something. My sister, whose two younger kids are 4 years apart, used to read to DD#2 while DD#3 was nursing, and after a while DD#2 started telling her the baby need "nackies" whenever she wanted a story ;)

If both comforting him and walking away seem to make things worse, can you stand to stay with him but go on with what you're doing?

Kellie - posted on 12/21/2011

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LOL Joy! I don't even obey without question and I'm 33 in January! To expect obedience form anyone let alone a 5 year old is just asking for trouble lol

Erika - posted on 12/21/2011

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simply not getting what he wants triggers tantrums. or saying something hwe doesnt like, it honestly seems loke everything little thing we do sets him off. than he starts hittting and yelling and i cant bring him back down. i put him in his room for a time out or a designated timeout area and he just walks away or out of his room saying no, he doesnt want one. i keep putting him back hoping it will sink in, or when he starts to calm down he says hes done and wants mommy or daddy than when we go see him he starts yelling that he doesnt want us... its like a big game...

Krista - posted on 12/21/2011

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What usually leads up to the tantrums? Is he hungry, overtired, overstimulated? A big key to fighting tantrums is to try to avoid the triggers that set them off in the first place.

With that being said, if he looks like he's starting to melt down, sometimes it helps to verbalize what you think they're feeling. "You don't want to go to bed. You're mad, mad, MAD! You say, 'No, Mommy! I want to stay up!'"

When a kid's brain goes into "TILT!" mode like an old pinball machine, they actually LOSE verbal capability. So sometimes, verbalizing FOR them can actually nip things in the bud, because they know you "get it".

A good resource that I've found is "The Happiest Toddler on the Block" by Dr. Harvey Karp. Your toddler is a bit older -- more of a preschooler, really. But some of those techniques will still likely work.

Good luck!!!

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