I am a special education teacher and have taken classes in the area of child development but everything changes when it is your child. My three year old daughter is throwing some major tantrums that can last up to thirty mins at a time. Once she is disciplined (the big bad no word) she begins to back talk and says things such as "I don't love you, I can if I want etc." she will not stop the behavior until she is removed then the tantrum starts. She will cry and scream hit the wall and throw things for up to thirty mins. She also screams out "don't look at me" and other things during the tantrum. I have tried letting her cry it out, yelling and of course spanking which does not work. I continue to tell her she can be mad but she should not yell and say mean things. I do not want to hurt her spirt but I do think the tantrums are excessive. What can I do to lessen the tantrums so that it is not a thirty min. deal? She will scream " I want my mommy" but if I say "well come here then, she screams out " I want you to come to me etc. I am totally aware that this is a power struggle and I want to know how to get out of the struggle in a productive way. Any suggestions would save our family from nightly struggles. Thank you for your time. Valarie Casto
Dear Ms. Casto,,
Thank you for your inquiry. It sounds like you have a very definite three year old with a mind of her own. Know that that will carry her far in the future. But for now - she does have to learn the rules - or, at the very least, your expectations.
I'm sure you know that tantrums are not unusual in a 3 year old. A preschool child is sort of trapped in her mind - bright but without impulse control. This is normal. But clearly the intensity of the tantrums varies. As to what I might suggest, I would recommend being very selective about any "no's" - because once you say that magic word, you have to stick with it. Otherwise, all "no's" are at risk for becoming a "yes." Also - be prepared for lots and lots of repetition with your daughter - I tell my patients, sometimes "thousands." With regard to your daughter's back talk, screaming, and hitting the wall - do the best you can to ignore her when she acts this way - no secondary gain. Remember she is only three - and once she has crossed her tantrum threshold, she has lost all control. Control and calm are supposed to be our virtues, not the child's. Thirty minutes is a long time to scream - and care wear the best of us down. I would suggest separating yourself from her - providing she is safe - not asnwering her screams or pleas in the heat of battle. Rather, as you are doing - wait for the cool down and talk then about feelings and appropriate behavior when calm has been restored. I'm afraid there is not much you can do once the tantrum has started, except to let it run its course - even if that is for 30 minutes. No hitting or spanking - please. Just maintain your position - with love and consistency.
I always remind myself and my patients - make sure your child is kept at her best, i.e., fed and rested. I know my children tend to fly off the handle when they're tired. Also - listen to your heartbeat - because if you feel these tantrums are truly excessive, I would advise you to seek counseling - even for the short term. Perhaps your child is processing more than she can handle - and a fresh look could be very helpful. Perhaps there are identifiable triggers which you might want to avoid.
One final thought - when it comes to transitions - like bed time, do give your child fair warning, like one - then follow through. Keep the house quiet. Keep it simple - no long explanations.
Hope this helps. Good luck, Dr. EV.
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