What could be worse than being out in public and your 3-year-old throws a tantrum?
I clearly remember a time when my daughter’s behavior was out of control in a shopping center and she decided to lay down on the escalator to scream her lungs out. I was so embarrassed and felt like the whole shopping center had their eyes on me and were making judgements about my parenting. Now this may have certainly been the case, but there may have also been some kind and caring people who shared my pain. I hope so!
Around the age of 3 is where you are likely to see a lot of unacceptable and inappropriate behavior, both within your home and when you are out in public.
Is there anything you can do?
Although you may be frazzled and think that you must be a bad parent, you need to know that you are not alone. You are most likely doing and saying all of the right things, your child is just not responding how you would have expected.
Maybe there are a few things that you need to tweak in your immediate approach when your child is misbehaving for no apparent, or logical, reason. Perhaps you need to look at building a base of calming vocabulary or phrases to use when speaking to your child during a tantrum.
Think about what you are currently doing when your child is in the throes of a tantrum. Are you feeling stressed and anxious? Your child will be tuning into this and it could be making the situation worse. The best thing to do is always remain as calm as possible. It is certainly a hard thing to do but it will be so worth it in the long run.
Many parents will give in to their child if they are throwing a tantrum about not getting a particular treat at the shops, or not being able to have their favorite toy. Children will work out quite quickly how to push your buttons to get what they want.
Do not give in!
If you have made the decision that they will not be getting a treat because they need to eat their dinner soon, then stick to the decision you have made. Stick to it regardless of the reaction you are getting. This step can be very hard for everyone involved.
If your 3-year-old’s behavior is out of control, you might have noticed some of these reactions:
- Hitting and kicking
- Screaming uncontrollably
- Whining and winging
- Resisting meals
- Resisting bedtime.
Here are some strategies you can implement to try and get the behavior under control:
- Choose your battles wisely
- Remain consistent at all times
- Discuss the specific behavior with your child
- Model and reward appropriate behavior
- Remain firm but provide love and safety
- Set goals that can be easily achieved
- Use some distraction techniques.
Here are further details.
Decide what are the most important battles
You will not want to work on all of the issues at the same time. Some may seem more important than others, so start with them. If your little one is refusing to eat a meal you have cooked and picks up the bowl to throw that food on the floor, then this would be an example of an important behavior issue to start with. Whining and crying because you are not going to read them a second bedtime story may not be as important right now. You may even find that once you have a few of the more serious behaviors under control, some of the lighter tantrums may start to cease as well.
Consistency is key
If you have made a rule or behavior expectation that has a consequence, follow through on what you have said. Children need to learn that actions have consequences. The earlier they learn this, the better. The consequences may be positive or negative. Good behavior means you are able to provide many positive consequences, so always remember to do this when you see something that you would like to be repeated.
Create some consistent expectations. You could even make a list of them in order to keep them at the top of your mind. Consistently address these expectations when you see them and try and stay positive! Read up on some ways to be consistent and set boundaries. There are many educational books out there for parents that will provide you with some parenting tools to assist you as your child grows and develops.
Address the specific behavior rather than the child
Constantly “picking” on your child will not be great for their self-esteem as they grow. After all, it is the behavior you want to change, not your child’s emotions and feelings about themselves as a developing little human being. When your child is having a tantrum, be firm and discuss the behavior.
You might want to consider reading some stories at bedtime that relate to behaviors and emotions. There are many great stories for children that are also educational and specifically address some of the early behaviors that you might be seeing in your child. These texts successfully deal with anger, honesty, sharing, speaking, and listening to name a few. Reading a new story each night will address a variety of issues over time and will also provide some quality bonding time with your child.
Reward the behavior you expect to see
If you have seen your child behave well in a particular situation, ensure you provide them with praise. Rewards do not have to be monetary. They will be seeking your approval and verbal praise, along with a hug, and this can do wonders for their confidence. If they know they have done the right thing and you noticed, then they will be more likely to repeat that behavior.
If you make the reward a visual display, your child will “see” when they have done the right thing and it will help them repeat that good behavior because they have a positive experience to refer to.
Model the behavior you would like to see
You could participate in role-play with your child. Act out scenarios that involve turn-taking and sharing of toys for example. Provide your child with examples of the correct behaviors and language that is required. Role-play at a time when your child is happy and agreeable. Role-playing during, or just after a tantrum, will most likely not turn out how you were hoping.
A great idea is to use picture cues that model appropriate behavior, turn-taking, sharing and playing nicely with others. Using pictures provide children with a great visual stimulus that they can easily identify and engage with. It also helps you, as the parent, with some ideas for your role-playing.
Discipline with firmness and love
It is important to be firm when speaking with your child about their behavior. They will spot your weaknesses! Let them know that you mean business right from the start. You also need to ensure they feel safe and loved. This is important for their developing self-esteem. Once the immediate behavior issue is under control, play a game or do something fun. This will provide positive experiences and memories for your child as they grow. The last thing you want is for them to remember how they were always in trouble when they were growing up.
Set achievable goals
Expecting your 3-year-old to clean their entire room by themselves would not be an achievable goal. Even I would probably throw a temper tantrum at that request! If they are choosing not to eat their dinner, you could ask that they eat a smaller portion. Little baby steps at a time that can easily be achieved will lead to greater success in the long run.
Provide your toddler with some responsibilities as well. Toddlers can actually do more around the house than we give them credit for. It helps build routines and can really improve their character, resilience and sense of responsibility as they grow.
The younger you start them with some small responsibilities, the better. There are many fabulous responsibility charts that can help you decide on, and record, the types of jobs suitable for your toddler. Saying please and thank you is a simple act of responsibility that you could start rewarding.
If you feel your child’s behavior is related to something deeper, such as anxiety or the inability to regulate emotions, then one idea to try is providing them with some small distraction toys. These are often referred to as fidget toys. These toys can be useful to take their mind off the tantrum they are having and help them to calm down. Many of the toys provide sensory stimulus, so it helps them to focus and calm down. Fidget and sensory toys are also widely used for children experiencing early signs of autism.
You know your child best!
Choose some of the strategies that you think you can experience some success with. Your confidence will build with each little win you have in the ongoing battle against out-of-control behaviors in your toddler.