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Dealing with Tantrums 3 year olds

Updated on September 15, 2010

How to deal with tantrums in 3 year olds?

Since my son has turned 3, I have noticed he is more likely to have temper tantrums and over the most bizarre things. For example, the other day he had a tantrum after I bought a pack of four drinks. I gave one to him and had one for myself, only for my son to start getting very upset leading to a tantrum and lying down in the street. I couldn't understand why he was so upset. Eventually I worked out that he had thought he was going to have all four drinks to himself and he didn't like the fact that I'd had one.

I have done a lot of reading of parenting books and developed quite a few strategies for dealing with my 3 year olds temper tantrums which I've tried and tested. I now feel confident that I can deal with any temper tantrum my son throws due to having techniques to use. Also, the amount of tantrums he has is decreasing and they're becoming less intense.

This article may also present some views on temper tantrums that you haven't heard before. Read on for my techniques and strategies for dealing with temper tantrums in 3 year olds.

Understanding temper tantrums

The first step to dealing with tantrums in 3 year olds is to understand them. One of the myths about temper tantrums is that its your childs attempt to manipulate you to get what they want. Another common myth is when your child has a tantrum ignore them, go and do something else while they're screaming and leave them to it. What many parents will notice when they do this is that the temper tantrums do not end or get better until the child has exhausted themselves crying.

When 3 year olds are having a tantrum, they aren't trying to manipulate you. Yes, they are upset because they haven't got what they want or things are not going as they planned. But the tantrum is an expression of their frustration. They are dealing with feelings that are not able to control or cope with. They feel out of control and this is what they are expressing. The worst thing you can do is ignore them at this point. Just imagine, if you were really angry and upset about something and you were crying and expressing these feelings to a friend or partner. How would you feel if they suddenly said, this is not acceptable behaviour, I am going to go into another room until you can calm yourself down and can control yourself.

Tantrums often occur when children are tired or hungry and this is because (like the rest of us) at these times it is harder to control our emotions, behaviour and feelings.

Tantrums - What to do During a Tantrum with a 3 Year Old

As many parents know tantrums normally occur because a child wants something and he/she is not granted his wish. There are things to do and not to do when tantrums arise because of this situation.

Don't Rush To Stop the Tantrum with Compensation

Its important to realise that parents shouldn't just rush to stop the tantrum. It important not to rush to give the child what they want, try to change reality or give some other compenstation. By doing this a 3 year old will learn that tantrums and crying are a valid way to gets things and the tantrums will increase.

Understand, Listen and Acknowledge

Secondly - Its important to let the child know that you understand their frustration/pain at not getting what they want. Listen to and acknowlege their feelings. Repeat to them what you understand and then let them know that you understand their need to cry and will be with them as much as they need.

Don't feel scared of tantrums

Its okay to let tantrums in 3 year olds run their course instead of rushing to stop them. As long as your child is safe let its okay for him/her to express their feelings and let them know that you are there when they need you.

More Tips on How to Deal with Temper Tantrums

Here are some more points on how to deal with temper tantrums?

Attention, Love and Affection

Don't withdraw your love and affection because they need it now more than ever. This doesn't mean that you give them what they want but you stay with them, let them know you are there and help them work through their frustration.

When my son lay on the floor crying in the street the other week, I picked him up when and sat on a nearby bench with him on my lap until he calmed down. I let him cry, its okay for them to cry but he knew I was there.

Ignore Logic

Its no good reasoning with them while they are having a tantrum. They will not see logic. For example, in the scenario above with my son, it would have been no good to explain why he couldn't have four drinks all to himself at that point. All he can see is he wants four drinks and Mommy had one. One technique you can use is to put the drinks away and take away the source of frustration or take the child away from the frustration.

Tantrums are not a good time to teach children lessons. This can wait until they are calm, can properly listen, understand and take on board what you're saying. Its also worth remembering that this point of view about having all the drinks for him is age related. He will learn gradually as he gets older and is taught about the value of sharing.


As your child calms, distraction is a good way to move on from the source of frustration. Show them something exciting to look at. If you're at home, maybe suggest reading a book and spending some time with them for a few minutes.

Moving On

Just as quickly as a tantrum starts your child will suddenly stop and move on as if nothing as happens and completely forget about what they got upset about.

No More Meltdowns: Positive Strategies for Managing and Preventing Out-Of-Control Behavior
No More Meltdowns: Positive Strategies for Managing and Preventing Out-Of-Control Behavior

This is the perfect book to get if you're dealing with lots of tempter tantrums. It gives various strategies for dealing with tantrums includingan easy-to-follow, 4-step model that will improve your everyday relationships with the children in your life: 1) Managing your own emotions by adjusting your expectations, 2) Learning strategies to calm a meltdown in the moment, 3) Understanding why a meltdown occurs, and 4) Creating plans to prevent future meltdowns.


Underlying Cause of Tantrums

The underlying cause of tantrums is often not what it appears. For example, my 3 year old had a tantrum once because I said he could have some chocolate. However he wanted to buy big bag of chocolates which I didn't want him to have as there would be too many to have at once. Instead I suggested three smaller bags, so he could eat one now and save the rest for later.

My son was upset but the underlying reason was not so much about the bag of chocolate but more because he lacked control and autonomy in the situation. He had lost control to choose exactly what he wanted and felt frustrated and angry about this, which ultimately led to a tantrum.

Issues such as this can be discussed with your child after the tantrum has finished. Then your logic can be explained and a suggestion can be made as to what may happen next time. A decision can be decided together.

More Top Tips for Dealing With Tantrums

There are actually lots of different ways and techniques for dealing with tantrums. Each parent, child and situation is different and requires different actions each time. Here are some more top tips:

Keep Calm

Kids learn so much more through example than by what you say to them. So if you shout at them a lot, then its more likely their reaction will be shouting. The only person's reactions you can control when your 3 year old is having a tantrum are your own. If you keep calm, your child is more likely to feed of this energy. If you loose control, you are no longer in charge of the situation or your reactions and you will have a harder time dealing effectively with the situation.

Tantrums in public places

Tantrums in public places can be embarrassing. The best thing to do is move your child away from the situation to a private place where your actions aren't affected by other people looking at you to see what you do. If you can't do this, you have to block out other people. They can cope with a screaming child for a few minutes. Sit with your child and comfort them.  

Making things fun.

One technique that really works to prevent tantrums is making things they don't want to do into a game or fun. So for example if my son is getting upset because he doesn't want a bath. I'll say, what toys would you like to bring in the bath with you and let him choose a suitable toy that he can play with in the water. Or, I'll say I'll race you to the bathroom and see who gets there first. (Races are good for all kinds of things). Songs, games and any kind of fun is good for warding of tantrums at an early stage.

Education about Tantrums and Parenting

 Like everybody else, I find parenting hard at times. Its helped me to read parenting books and get different opinions, techniques and strategies to use when parenting my son. I strongly believe in educating yourself to be a better parent by reading, questionning and trying what's out there. Also I follow my own instinct. If something doesn't feel right to me, I don't do it

Parenting books are a good tool. Read what has worked for others and see if it works for you. Different parents have different strengths and techniques. No parenting book has all the answers and there may be a lot you disagree with in them. However they give you new ideas and a different outlook.

Smart Love
Smart Love

This book has great influenced the way I parent my son. I bought it when he was still a baby as I wanted an alternative to discipline techniques than the traditional techniques such as time outs and it certainly delivered. It talks about loving regulation rather than permissive parenting or authoratative parenting. I don't agree with everything in this book and it may not be for everyone but its given me a whole new perspective on discipling a child.


Comments on Tantrums 3 Year Olds

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    • Sturgeonl profile image

      Sturgeonl 5 years ago

      Your personal insight and examples offer a great deal of useful information for parents. Voted up and useful!

    • AustralianNappies profile image

      AustralianNappies 6 years ago from Australia

      Great tips, my daughter is not yet one, but I think reading this will come in handy for the future! Thanks!

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      Great tips - I remember those days - I found the best was not to give in but show understanding and love - what you can't let a 3 year old run you and Is ee that so often.