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Wednesday, 03 Apr 2019

How can I deal with my three-year-old’s tantrums?

By Private Therapy Clinic

It can be very frustrating dealing with a small child’s tantrums—it’s certainly no one’s favourite aspect of parenting! However, the way in which matters of this sort are managed can have big repercussions for how the child develops, so it is important to approach this issue with sensitivity.

This is a key developmental stage, both mentally and physically. The typical toddler has learned how to walk, is beginning to have the capacity to form meaningful friendships with others, is already talking and may even be starting to grapple with understanding difficult concepts such as death. It is a time of rapid physical growth and learning and it is not surprising in the least that children are often overwhelmed. Children of two and three often struggle because their desires to conquer the world and understand it are out of pace with their capacity to articulate their feelings.

Tantrums generally start because a child is feeling frustrated about something. Maybe another little girl or boy is playing with a toy that they want to have, or perhaps Mum or Dad is not letting them have the treat they have asked for. Their emotions swell and grow and eventually overtake them to the extent that they just can’t control themselves any more. A tantrum can look quite dramatic, as the child often sinks to the floor and lies there, screaming, kicking, and flailing.

So, how can tantrums be managed?

  • Unless your child is having a tantrum in a public place like a supermarket, there is a lot to be said for leaving them for a while. Remove anything dangerous from their immediate environment, make sure that they are not actually hurting themselves, and give them a minute or two to let it all out.
  • Never respond to a tantrum with anger or physical violence. If you slap your child, their reaction of shock might make them stop crying for a minute or two, but you are teaching them a bad lesson, which is that negative emotions will be responded to with violence. You are the adult in this situation, so keep your voice calm and modulated. Say something like, “We’ll talk about this when you calm down.”
  • Do not respond to a tantrum by offering bribes or treats. It might be tempting to tell your child that they can have a doughnut if they stop screaming, but you are setting yourself up for a lot of trouble if your child starts to associate having a tantrum with receiving a reward.
  • Above all, you can help your child to learn how to manage tantrums (and you can ultimately reduce the amount of time you spend in this phase) by helping them to acquire the vocabulary they need to talk about their emotions. One of the main reasons why toddlers have tantrums is their difficulty expressing themselves. You can model communication, and actually teach them the words they need, by waiting until they calm down and then saying something like, “I know that you were upset because Tom had the teddy and you wanted it. Next time, say, ‘Can I have a turn after you?’”

Over time, your child will learn not just how to express what they are feeling, but also how to negotiate tricky situations and how to delay gratification without getting upset.


For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.

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