3-year-old girl wears an expression of tearful sadness on her face. Tantrums are normal part of the toddler phase and must be managed properly in order to develop emotional regulation in your child.

Managing Tantrums in Your 3-Year-Old

Being a toddler isn't easy! They're learning to navigate a big world with growing independence and feelings of frustration and disappointment are bound to come up. Often, these big feelings can be too much for them to process and tantruming can occur. But don't worry! At this age, these occasional outbursts are normal. Learning how to properly manage tantrums can make all the difference in this being just a "phase" instead of something they fall back on everytime they don't get their way. Educate yourself on why they happen, have a plan, stay consistent, and in no time your child's blow ups will be a thing of the past.

Why Do Tantrums Happen?

A tantrum is a sudden and intense outburst of emotion, which can be triggered by frustration, exhaustion, hunger, or a need for attention, among other things. They happen when a child's feelings become too intense for them to manage. Remember, at the age of 3, your child's self-regulation skills are limited. They aren't trying to stress you out. They're simply expressing themselves. For example, a child can suddenly burst into a fit of tears because they're trying to dress themselves but can't seem to get their buttons to cooperate. They feel disappointed and frustrated. Similar feelings can occur when they're looking forward to something but can't have it, such as a favorite snack at the grocery store. As a parent, it's important to view these intense emotions with compassion instead of annoyance.

How to Manage Tantrums

  1. Identify the trigger: Understanding the cause of the tantrum can help you to properly address it. For example, if your child is having an outburst while playing with blocks you may come to realize that they're expressing frustration over their inability to build a tower the way they want it. Sympathize with them and offer a helping hand.
  2. Stay calm: It can be challenging to stay calm when your child is having a tantrum, but it is essential to remain calm to avoid escalating the situation. Take deep breaths and try to remain patient.
  3. Validate their feelings: Let your child know that you understand how they are feeling. Say things like, "I know you're frustrated right now" or "I can see that you're upset." This can help them feel heard and understood.
  4. Use distraction: Sometimes, a change of scenery or activity can help to distract your child and calm them down. Suggest a new game or activity, or take them outside for some fresh air.
  5. Set boundaries: It's essential to set boundaries for your child's behavior. Let them know what is acceptable and what is not. Stick to your rules consistently, so your child knows what to expect.
  6. Offer choices on the little things: Giving your child choices can help them feel more in control and can distract them from being upset. For example, if they're having an outburst over leaving the playground, offer them a choice of an activity to do when you get home. Say, "When we get home do you want me to read you a book or color?" 
  7. Use positive reinforcement: Praise your child for good behavior and try to catch them being good. For example, say, "I'm so proud of you for using your words instead of screaming" or "Great job sharing your toys with your friend."
  8. Stay consistent: Consistency is essential in managing tantrums. Try to establish a routine and stick to it as much as possible. This can help your child feel more secure and reduce the likelihood of future tantrums.
  9. Take care of yourself: It's essential to take care of yourself as a parent. Make sure you're getting enough sleep, eating well, and taking time for yourself. If you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it can be more challenging to manage your child's tantrums.
  10. Seek help if needed: If you're struggling to manage your child's tantrums, don't be afraid to seek help. Talk to your pediatrician or a mental health professional for advice and support.

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