Isn’t it funny how kids just sense when you’re about to talk about a parenting topic, and change their behavior?
I first wrote this post when Hailey was just about two weeks shy of her fourth birthday. Whatever the opposite of mercury in retrograde is happened at my house by some amazing happenstance. Pleases, thank yous, yes ma’ams, how can I help yous and gentle hands were in full swing and I knew it had to be because I was planning on writing about my experience with my threenager here on the blog!
See, we got pretty lucky with the twos. When everyone complained about the terrible twos, I held my breath and waited for the terribleness that never came. Sure we had a doozy here or there, but overall there wasn’t anything shockingly tough. People said just wait, if you don’t get the twos, you get the threes (shudder).
People were right.
Ok, a little drama for effect, because at almost-four, Hailey was mostly an incredible sweet, thoughtful and kind girl (says her mom). However, the tail-end of her three year old year came with some challenges I wasn’t expecting to face until she was 14.
Back talk, eye rolls, throwing and crying tantrums occasionally had me wondering WHO IS THIS CHILD AND WHERE DID I GO WRONG?!
At home, I usually handled these no problem, but when she was rude in the presence of others, I could feel my eyes sting with frustration and embarrassment. I put a lot of effort into trying to teach her to be kind, considerate and respectful, so when those traits that she often embodies disappeared into this air, it could be hard to swallow.
Over time (isn’t parenting a never-ending-learning process?), I learned how to best handle these situations and have found a system that is providing the results I am after (no yelling, learning from mistakes, making up). Here’s my system.
7 Steps to Taming the Tantrum
Cue tantrum/arms flailing/voice yelling/etc
Step 1: I send her to her room.
We don’t really do time out around here anymore because it was a struggle trying to keep her on the stairs. Since I see the purpose of time out as a time to let us both chill out and collect ourselves, the stairs weren’t serving their purpose. Instead, I calmly but firmly say GO. TO. YOUR. ROOM. and don’t leave until I come in there. She doesn’t skip off willingly most of the time, but she goes, screaming along the way. If she resists, I will explain if she isn’t in her room by the time I count to three, there will be a consequence. That usually gets her moving.
Step 2: Wait for the crying to subside.
Luckily she makes this easy to gauge, as her tears aren’t soft sniffles. Sometimes she is quiet within a few minutes, other times it can take 15-20. I’ve learned that going in while she is still upset gets us nowhere, so I wait.
Step 3: I go in calmly and sit next to her.
Usually I get a sniffle in response to me presence.
Step 4: “What choice did you make? Was it the right one?”
I think the wording of this is pretty important. I never want her to feel that she is inherently bad, I’ve read enough child/parenting self help articles to know that, so I’m very purposeful on asking her which behavior was the wrong choice. Then I wait. Usually she will tell me through sniffles (I hit you, I yelled at Kaitlyn, I threw my toy, etc). If she says she doesn’t know, I tell her that the bad choice was XYZ, then I ask her again so she can repeat it to me.
Step 5: “What were you feeling?”
Ah, you know I love talking about feelings with her. I help her put a name to her frustration, anger, sadness, tiredness, jealousy, etc. Often a breakthrough comes at this point and she may cry again and hug me.
Step 6: “What choice should you make next time?”
I have her tell me an alternative action she can take next time she is feeling that same emotion. Instead of snatching a toy from her sister she can ask to trade or wait for her turn. Instead yelling at me while I am on the phone she can come over and put her hand on my leg, and wait until I acknowledge her, etc.
Step 7: Big hug, I love you and put it behind us.
Sometimes I think the hardest part of parenting is moving on from an incident. Sometimes she really gets me going and I feel incredibly frustrated/annoyed at her behavior, but I know I have to be the adult, so after our talk, I always give her a big hug, tell her how much I love her, then we leave it there. My tone changes back to jovial and we hop up to go back to playing.
[Tweet “7 steps to taming the tantrum (do you ask these questions?)”]
Do I handle things in ways I’m proud of every single time? No, I’ve tried to hold her in time out before and might have let my voice get too loud one or twice when I’ve sent her to her room, but I get the best results when I follow the steps above, so I strive for those.
Understandably tantrums occur more often when she’s had too much stimulation or not enough sleep. Now that she doesn’t nap (she still has 2 hours of quiet time), the evenings are hit or miss behavior wise as she adjusts to making it all day with no nap. But by using this process, I see definite improvements in behavior and less frequency of tantrums, which is good for everyone.
Parents, how do you handle tantrums?
Were the terribles twos or threenager years more challenging for you?
Your system for dealing with tantrums sounds really sensible! We still have a while till the 2s, so I’m definitely bookmarking this for future reference… 🙂
Do you have any tips for tantrums when you’re out and about, since sending Hailey to her room is not an option then?
Brittany Dixon says
Grin and bear it? 😉 Only half kidding. If I avoid heavy meltdown times then she doesn’t often have tantrums in public, but when she does I try to remove us from the situation ASAP. I’ve gotten trapped before (and had employees at Whole Foods open boxes of juice boxes to try and calm her down for me). If I see a tantrum brewing, I usually just try to use distraction and get us out of there and into the car as soon as I can.
We went through the terrible twos relatively unscathed as well, but MAN is three a different story! I have never sent my daughter to her room, for fear that she will have negative connotations to that space. Bedtime can be a struggle as is! But I think having her leave the room would be best for everyone, especially me. I will try this in the future! Now if I could only find a way to curb tantrums at the park. She wants to do EVERYTHING the bigger kids do, and gets terribly frustrated when she can’t. Note to self: never tell a three year old she’s not big enough to do something. ;). T minus 8 days until preschool starts up again…not that I’m counting or anything.
This article is so great. It makes me wish I was able to stay home with my daughter to work through some of these tantrum issues in a kind and logical way. But I plan on at least trying this on the weekends – thanks for sharing with us!
Morgan @ Morgan Manages Mommyhood says
I love this. I’ve heard a few times that two’s aren’t too bad, but three is rough. I can only imagine how tantrums progress as they get more words and opinions! Ryan’s already started mini tantrums. For the most part, I just ignore them and they fizzle in a few minutes. These tips will definitely come in handy! Also, I never remember being in time out. I DO remember being forced into my room though. And a few times when I was a little older and had fun toys in my room I was sent to my parents room hahaha
We’ve been blessed with both the tenacious (read: TERRIBLE) twos and threenager. Transitions (i.e. stop playing to leave for daycare) are what usually sets her off. We definitely have a spirited girl! Every emotion is colossal. I’ve read/skimmed Happiest Toddler on the Block, Spirited child, Simplicity parenting and How to talk so Kids will Listen. How to Talk is the best I’ve read but I still find myself saying almost daily what are we doing wrong. *Sigh*
Thanks for sharing what’s worked for you.
Brittany Dixon says
Hugs for you Cas! I hope you know you aren’t the only one who has moments of wondering “am I doing it all wrong?!” …then chugs wine… oh wait, just me? 😉
And though I’m sure it’s exhausting now, I think have a strong willed girl will serve her well in the future. <3
John J. says
Perfect way to handle such challenging situations. Way to go, Mom!
I LOVE your system! Daily/nightly I have issues with my 4 1/2 year old and my 16 month old and it usually ends the same…I yell and he learns nothing and I feel guilty. Now my 16 month old is finding her own opinion. I will say I remember the 3’s is when the tantrums began but by 4 he got more physical with them. How we usually handled them was total restraint….literally! He is like a cat coming at you and you have to defend yourself and my husband can be VERY protective of me at times. Once he calms down and is in full blown sweat, he reverts back to the sweet little baby I love so much. We try and talk about it but I swear it’s like he has no memory of it. But he’s learning now that hitting and biting won’t get him what he wants and I try and help him identify what he’s feeling. It’s a constant, wonderful, struggle isn’t it?! I pray a lot for patience!!!! I come home with the most calm demeanor and best intentions of a great night and it’s usually those nights that everyone ends up crying. 🙁 So today when I get home I’m going channel my inner patience and try this system (we have a lot of taking of toys and then screeching from the non verbal 16 month old that enough to cut glass).
Thank you so much for you post. As usually I love it!
Brittany Dixon says
Oh Jennifer, come over and share a glass of wine with me! I’m entering a very similar phase where Kaitlyn is getting more demanding and Hailey, as described above, can hold her own with tantrums too. Some days they are both so sweet and it’s awesome, but other days are incredibly challenging to juggle. Good luck and know that you aren’t alone!
Well, let me assure you that the 4’s and 5’s are significantly better…at least in my experience. I never had the terrbile twos but I knew from the first round (my now 5.5 yr old) that the threes are just a doozey. My daughter just hit 3.5 and boy has it been a ride. I follow a similar plan to yours. First is go to your room. If we are in public, she will sit out somewhere and I will stand beside her. Then we talk about it. More often than not, when I send her to her room, she falls asleep before I go in. Most of her tantrums stem from tiredness so we just move on when she wakes up. I will briefly go over why she ended up in bed but I don’t dwell either. Only 5 more months until the glorious 4’s roll around 😀
Brittany Dixon says
Thank you so much for the positive prediction! 🙂 Hailey will be 4 this month, so I’m hopeful we will start trending that direction!
Thank you for sharing! I hope to remember and reference this when we hit these years! (he’s 9 months now) One question, when you mention consequences, what things would that be if Hailey does not go to her room? Just looking for examples I can use. Thank you!
Brittany Dixon says
Some things I use are taking away a TV token, taking away the favorite toy of the moment (I’ve put minnie mouse on top of the fridge until she can earn her back later), take away a book at bedtime or anything else that she gives value to! I hate doing it, but it is effective.
Your method sounds great. I’m wondering though – what about with Kaitlyn? My daughter is only 1.5, but she’s thrown a massive fit a couple times, and I’d love to know how you handle your little one and at what age you started the approach above?
Brittany Dixon says
Hey Liz! I think that 18 monthish is one of the most challenging ages because they KNOW what they want but can’t always verbalize it effectively. I remember saying a lot of ‘show me what you want’ and distraction tactics when Hailey was that age, plus just removing her from the situation at hand. We are just getting there with Kaitlyn (15 months) so when we find ourselves there I will report back! Good luck 🙂
Thank you, I really like this article! My little guy is 19 months and I am finding this age pretty tough because he knows when he is being naughty, but how can I discipline him? I couldn’t put him in a time out or send him to his room because he is too little to be alone behind closed doors still (except if he is sleeping!) He would just get into more trouble. 🙂
Although I don’t have experience with an older child yet, I think the older ones might be easier just because you can more easily reason with them.
Brittany Dixon says
There isn’t much you can do to discipline at that age (if I remember correctly, which who knows if I do ;)). I remember using a lot of distraction techniques or just a simple no, followed by a brief explanation of why ‘No, you will get a big boo boo.’ We are just getting there with Kaitlyn though so stay tuned and I’ll share the craziness of that age too!
sarah (SHU) says
i love this list. the only problem we have is that GETTING to #1 (ie, getting her to go to her room to calm down) isn’t so easy. i am actually sort of at a loss about what to do when she will just refuse no matter what is said. i have contemplated a lock on her door (not to USE really but just to suggest that we MIGHT use it!?) but it just seems so harsh. still, there are times when she seems to be in this terrible cycle and needs to escape! she’s so great 90% of the time. the other 10% – omg!
Brittany Dixon says
Does she have any place she prefers to be? We use her room because H will crawl into bed and actually calm down, but I have a friend who has a corner reading nook that she uses instead because it’s her daughter’s calm place. But I know what you mean about that 10%… they sure know how to push every button!
Three has been worse for me so far. I’m going to try your tips. Thanks!
Your approach sounds good. I don’t know if I could send my daughter to her room though. Having said that she’s just over two and we haven’t hit full on tantrums yet (it will probably start today now I’ve said that!!). We get lots of boundary pushing though and I really struggle to respond well especially when I’m tired. Will keep your ideas in mind. Thankyou 🙂
Sarah (a mother of 6) at http://www.memoriesoncloverlane.com is writing a short series on toddlers. She has some great tips as well!
Marjorie @APinchOfHealthy says
This is a great list! I do send mine to his room when he gets like that. I think we are going to have to move away from time out and just send him to his room like you say, and for similar reasons that you mentioned (he won’t stay in the spot). We got the tantrums from 18 months, and they still happen now too (turns 3 on Saturday). I am pinning this b/c I think this is extremely helpful!
I removed the child from being the center of attention and moved on without giving him/her special attention until he/she settled. Every age from birth through adulthood brought special problems to be dealt with.
I remember thinking “Pshhh! Those terrible twos everyone talks about…? My daughter skipped right over those bad boys! She’s an angel!” And then THREEs smacked me upside the head! Good Lord. Well, she’s almost 16 now, & all I’ve got to say is, “Watch out for Jr. High Years!” Holy Hell!
Brittany Dixon says
Oh man, I know I was such a brat in junior high… not looking forward to that. How is 16? Has she come back around? I’m just sad she can’t stay my sweet little baby forever…
Thank you for sharing thus! My daughter, who is 22 months, has started exhibiting many “symptoms” of the terrible twos for the past few weeks. It has left me tired, frustrated, grouchy, and in need of a nightly glass of wine (or two!). I am trying to handle it respectful and with grace, but I fear that I lose my temper far too often.
Kate @KateMovingForward says
Thanks so much for sharing your process! I love that you are then both calm when you talk to her. My daughter is just 18 months, but has still had a few complete freak out moments. Most of those seem to stem from tiredness or hunger, especially in the “witching hour” from 5-6 which is generally when I’m busy trying to get dinner around. 😛 Ahhh…it’s crazy but she’s such a funny little sweetie most of the time.
great post! I need to print out your steps! I feel like I’ve been failing my 4.5 year old daughter lately. 2 was a breeze compared to her behavior now. And I have an older child and he never did half the things she does. It’s exhausting. Thanks for your tips!
These is an excellent plan! I may have to try these next time. Thankfully my oldest is nearing 4 and slowly but surely growing out of the tantrums. However, I have a one year old boy who is nearing that stage. I’m going to remember your method for any inevitable future incidents. 🙂