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My 3 yr. old son throws major tantrums, how do I stop this behavior?

If he does something wrong and I get onto him, he will tell me "no, I don't want to" and then start screaming in a high pitch voice. If I swat his leg, he screams louder. If I put him into the corner, he screams louder. He does this with his grandparents as well. Any ideas? Is it a developmental stage or major concern?

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Asked by terribrae at 3:22 PM on Jun. 22, 2011 in Preschoolers (3-4)

Level 2 (7 Credits)
Answers (18)
  • depends= put him in his room and ignore his fit... if that doesn't work then a bigger punishment of maybe no toys or no "whatever his favorite toy is"

    give him a chore of folding rags if he misbehaves...

    I try to "defer" them from the situation and a spanking/swat of the leg is LAST resort for me- which works much better than if you are constantly spanking for every little infraction...

    pick your battles for everything, kwim. :)

    Answer by 2teens2LOs at 3:25 PM on Jun. 22, 2011

  • Some moms agree that "redirection" is the key of tuning down tantrums.
    Let's see if this might work:
    What's your son favorite show, or activity, or toy?
    When he won't stop yelling name in a simple phrase his favorite toy, or activity, or children's show, etc. Example: "I was going to go to the PARK (elevate your voice) but I guess we are not going" and so.

    Answer by Cafemomoftwo217 at 3:34 PM on Jun. 22, 2011

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    Answer by Anonymous at 4:36 PM on Jun. 22, 2011

  • First off, I don't think it's a major concern (it's not something wrong with your son!)
    I find I can avoid having the situation escalate, & increasing their frustration (tantrums generally are about frustration), by listening reflectively. The earlier I can do it (I routinely employ "reflective listening" in a conflict, or in response to the kid's upset, but I've recently discovered that habitually reflecting them all along can transform the way things "go"), the more possible it is to avoid the conflict over an issue entirely. This has been a revelation to me, & that is after already doing LOTS of reflective listening, empathizing, and validating in my typical parenting. So I've discovered even more that the "inevitable" upsets are evidently more avoidable than I'd realized, after all!
    But in the situation you describe (where the conflict/upset has already occurred), it would be reflecting when he says, "No, I don't want to."

    Answer by girlwithC at 6:19 AM on Jun. 23, 2011

  • (cont)
    Reflecting that is just "getting it" and sending back your acknowledgment in your own words, or else mirroring it as he said it. (In this case, "You don't want to" is pretty clear. You could elaborate to convey your understanding of him along the lines of "You didn't like that, and you don't want to do it." Or "I told you to X and you don't want to.") There is no rebuttal, no protest, no resistance of his reality. There's also no acknowledgment immediately followed by explanation or protest (rebuttal), so you wouldn't say "I know you are upset, but you need to...." There's no "but"!
    The tendency to debate, to argue, to explain is all a way of resisting, and when you reflect another person's reality, you are ALLOWING it not resisting it.
    Resistance triggers counter-resistance & protest, because a person automatically is driven to defend his validity against the suggestion that he's wrong or not valid. THIS is the stuff

    Answer by girlwithC at 6:33 AM on Jun. 23, 2011

  • (cont)
    of most conflicts with young children. (With children & people in general, actually. But toddlers & preschoolers ROUTINELY have their validity denied, and then their resulting feelings ignored, condemned, punished, silenced.)
    I think the first step is considering whether the behavior (expression of emotions) needs to be stopped. I can understand wanting to stop it (screaming is very triggering & frazzling) but our own resistance is likely to trigger MORE of the behavior, until we finally overpower & subdue them so that they repress feelings or learn they "can't" have their natural feelings. Which could make life "easier" for us but at a high cost, and if instead they escalate their behaviors, nothing "easy" comes of it anyway.
    The more I can hold onto the idea that "he can have his feelings" and that I can be present with them & validate them (validation doesn't mean "agreeing," it means recognizing that they make sense

    Answer by girlwithC at 6:38 AM on Jun. 23, 2011

  • (cont)
    in the circumstances), the less triggered I am BY the feelings. This means I am resisting less, which means he is less triggered to defend his validity, and instead he can focus on having his feelings & moving through them. RESOLUTION comes after acceptance makes space available for it, so if you can convey acceptance & understanding of his feelings in response to facing a limit, you help facilitate that resolution.
    If my kids (I have twins who will be 3 next month, plus an older child) are really upset, then I can respond by being present with them & simply reflecting. It's just acknowledging & taking them seriously, not trying to change or to stop them; it's giving them space to have their feelings & staying present, accepting. There are lots of times that they aren't THAT upset, but when they are, I can validate their feelings. It is helpful to note that tantrums aren't disloyal or wrong, and that the feelings make

    Answer by girlwithC at 6:46 AM on Jun. 23, 2011

  • (cont)
    sense (usually they are about grieving or raging over something the child was powerless to change. He shared his displeasure & it didn't matter! He protested & it still didn't change things! The process of grieving it is his way to discharge the frustration of the conflict & the disappointment, the frustration of not being able to convince you or to have his way, and sometimes the additional frustration of being made to feel that he was wrong in the first place or not valid. The defensiveness this triggers is EXTRA fuel for the fire.) Accepting this doesn't mean the situation is "wrong" (i.e., has to be changed & he has to be compensated.) It doesn't mean you shouldn't hold the limit. It just means that you ACCEPT that he has feelings about this stuff!
    This is being more oriented toward his validity, how he & his feelings make sense. (The more you can be oriented in this way when you respond to his problematic behaviors

    Answer by girlwithC at 6:50 AM on Jun. 23, 2011

  • (cont)
    too, the more constructive your responses to "misbehavior" will become. If we can correct & guide our kids with a real awareness of their validity--i.e., the needs & feelings that motivate even problematic behavior--then we can avoid sending the messages of blame & invalidation that trigger defensive resistance in the first place.)
    So...there are lots of things that can go into improving interactions & reducing tantrums overall. But even simply responding to a tantrum with acceptance, via reflective listening or "mirroring," can improve things and inspire more trust and cooperation.
    In my first post, I mentioned how "habitually" reflecting can change the way things "track" & I meant that I've noticed many conflicts that seemed unavoidable actually don't have to happen. Like last night, my son (before dinner) wanted multiple glasses of milk. (He was hungry!) We'd given him one & he was asking for refills. There are times

    Answer by girlwithC at 6:56 AM on Jun. 23, 2011

  • (cont)
    when he's had too much milk & it's left him too full to eat much dinner (which I understand), and this time I wanted to be judicious about it & hold out until dinner. This, of course, is valid on my part (I also acknowledge that dinner was late, as it has been "those other times," because of extenuating circumstances, & a snack about an hour earlier probably would have been perfect, so I sort of created a real problem for him..this was not "his fault," but also not through real "fault" of mine..just circumstances.) Many times if parents decide to hold a limit (on the milk), they sympathetically say no to the request & give their reasons, explain why they're valid to refuse. The child protests, things escalate with the parent reiterating why it "can't" or "shouldn't" happen (and how they're not wrong) which implies that the kid is wrong, the kid steps up his demands/protests/upset in defense & then he's punished with

    Answer by girlwithC at 7:04 AM on Jun. 23, 2011

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