My 3-year-old son, Will, recently started throwing tantrums. He hits things, screams, throws himself on the floor, cries, thrashes around, even hits me. I have tried talking to him in a calm voice, threatening specific punishments, physically restraining him, but nothing works to make him stop. I am getting nervous to take him anywhere now. Why did this start and what can I do to stop it??
Answer by: Kristina Miller
You ask why the tantrums recently started, and that is a complicated question! At the age of 3, your child's brain is increasing in capabilities on an almost daily basis. Your child now has MORE synapses than you do - capable of picking up and retaining more information than you can imagine. Imagine how boring - how torturously boring - a trip to the fabric store or waiting in the dentist's office is for a budding genius like your child??
Nonetheless, now that this behavior has developed, your son needs to learn that tantrums are not actually the fastest and most effective way to get what he wants. The fastest way to end tantrums is to make sure - no matter what - that they do NOT result in whatever it is that your child is seeking at the moment. Whether he's freaking out over a toy or cereal box at the store, or if he just wants to leave and get out of there, or if he's horribly bored, he needs to learn that A) Tantrums don't get me what I want, and B) What is the faster way to get what I want?
Sometime soon, when he's in a good mood, talk to Will about how disruptive tantrums are to everyone around him. His behavior makes other people sad when they hear him crying and yelling, it makes Mommy upset and makes the trip to the store take longer, it stops everyone else from being able to do what they are doing. Three is the age when kids can start looking outside of themselves and really, truly beginning to understand the feelings of others. And Will doesn't want them to be sad!
Ask him if he understands why tantrums are bad. Then ask what he thinks should be the consequence if he has another tantrum? Set up a consequence. (He's much more likely to accept a punishment, or not need it, if he helps make it up and understands its importance.)
Then, when you're out, stick to the consequences. Yes, you will still have to deal with tantrums - they never disappear immediately. But the consequences should be consistent and predictable. And, you must NEVER EVER (no matter how inconvenient, expensive or embarrassing it is) give in to a tantrum. You should tell him (and stick to it) that whatever he whines or cries for, he doesn't get - even if you WERE going to give it to him before. And, if he freaks out in public and his goal is to get you to leave, you must do the hard thing: Let him wear out his tantrum right there in public, and ignore him until he's done. This is indeed embarrassing. But it WORKS! Try it.
Hitting during tantrums should be dealt with like all other violence. Whatever your rule and consequences are for violence, stick to those. Kids need to learn that violence is never the best way to express emotions - EVER. Violence as a result of emotional turmoil is even more dangerous than "experimental" violence. So do treat it with swift response.
And hang in there! This too shall pass!