3.5 year old girl and temper tantrums — The Bump
Pre-School and Daycare

3.5 year old girl and temper tantrums

Hello from the WM board :-)

My oldest D is 3.5 years old.  She throws tantrums that last anywhere from 5-30 minutes most days.  This has been going on for 6-8 months now. The littlest things can set her off.  This morning, she wanted to get up at 6:15, but was upset and started crying when H and I would not get out of bed for her.  She normally gets out of bed at 7.  I got her to calm down a bit by holding her closely to me but not otherwise interacting with her.  Once calm, she played quietly and picked out her clothes for the day for about ten minutes. Then she spiraled into a second tantrum when she couldn't close her dresser drawer easily.  

This is typical of a morning for her.  

I try to ignore her until she calms down.  H wants to reason with her.  I would prefer he ignore her too, but, despite me asking him to do so, I doubt this will happen.  It's not his nature to ignore a crying kid.  

DD also gave up her napes about  two months ago.  H lost his job about this time too.  He's consulting now and money is not an issue, but I'm sure she's picked up on the stress H (and I) bring home from work. Her tantrums could - in part at least- be her reacting to our stress.  However, I believe we're decent about leaving work problems outside of home.  

I'm wondering if any other preschool parents experience this.  H thinks she's demonstrating signs of mental illness, such as clinical depression and histrionic disorder.  He's no psychologist, but had a mentally unstable grandmother and is worried that DD is following in her great-grandmother's footsteps.  My instinct tells me she's not really showing signs of mental illness, just being a sensitive three year old.  Thoughts???

Should I consult a doctor about her behavior? 

I'd appreciate any suggestions for dealing with her behavior, notably to shorten the length of her tantrums.


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Re: 3.5 year old girl and temper tantrums

  • I hate the threes. They are no fun. I don't think a tantrum is a sign of mental illness-- more of a kid trying to figure out how much she can get away with.

    Whenever possible, I would isolate her and ignore her. I stick my son in his room and tell him he can come out when he's ready to be happy. It's pretty effective. If he's tired, overstimulated, angry, or frustrated, it gives him a chance to chill out.

    Rather than sticking her in her room, you could make her a special "time out" area (a kiddie tent filled with a blanket she likes and a couple books or small toys) and tell her when she's not freaking out that it's her timeout area to go when she needs to relax or be alone.

    It's also helpful to name and acknowledge the feelings she's having. "DD, I know you're frustrated because your drawer won't close. I get frustrated too sometimes. But it's not nice to yell at me"

    Generally, I give a little speech like this as I'm carrying DS to his timeout.

    It is important to realize that time out is not being used as a punishment here. It's a time for the child to calm down and think about what's going on. S/he can come out when s/he's ready.
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  • We're going through exactly this also. I deal with it likeyou, and H like yours, but he's learning. I do the same routine as pp, delivering him to his room so he can get it all out and join us again when he's calm. He gets it, and I especially use it when he refuses to get dressed.

    It doesn't make it easier, though, and many times, I still have to go in there to try and minimize it with a hug after its been over 5 or 6 mins, esp at night when I know he's just tired, and his sister is trying to sleep. I constantly look to Pinterest and Amazon for methods and book suggestions for learning new skills to deal with these behaviors.
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  • The threes is a hard age.  The tantrums for what seem to be minor things seems typical.  I handle them the same way as the other 2 ladies.  However, a 30 minute tantrum seems a little long.  Does this happen often?  Is there something specific that triggers a longer tantrum than others? I wouldn't run out to the doctor, but I would probably bring it up to the pedi next time I was there. 
    DD~6 years old~born June 6, 2008 (1st grade)
    DS~4 years old~born November 6, 2010 (1st year of preschool)
  • Your H's diagnosis of mental illness in your child brought a smile to my face because many is the time I've thought my kids at age 3 or 4 surely must have some serious mental disorder, right?  Surely!  Surely no normal child could be like this?*

    Even though a 3.5 year old is the top of the heap as far as toddlers go, kids that age can still display bizarre-o behaviors of toddler-hood.  True, she may be picking up on the stress and the changes in the household, but it's just as likely that this is a stage she would have gone through anyway.  

    I think your instincts are right: just be calm and ignore her shenanigans.  Keep your expectations clear and let the consequences fit the situation.  And if your H prefers to reason with her, let him.  Children can figure out that parents have different ways of interacting with them and can learn to adjust to each parent's style.  As long as you're not being inconsistent with each other (as in you say she goes back to bed and he gets up and plays with her) you're fine.

    *True story: When my son was about 3, we had some errands to run that took us near a fancy toy store.  As a treat for being good, we visited the toy store.  I watched in increasing horror as my son strolled around the store, making this weird, jerky motion with his right hand, like he was flicking something over his shoulder.  He didn't seem to be even aware that he was doing it, but he was definitely flapping his arm in a disturbing manner.  Good grief, I thought!  What now?  Is he autistic?  Does he have some weird neurological condition?  I tentatively asked, "Buddy, do you realize that you're doing something with your arm?"  "Yep," was his typically laconic reply.  We always referred to him as our man-of-few-words.  "So, uh, what are you doing with your arm?"  He turned around and looked at me with his big, innocent eyes and patiently explained, "Well, I have a pretend kitten named Bronze in a backpack and he wants to see things from the store, so I'm throwing things back there for him to see."  Oh.  A pretend kitten in a pretend backpack.  Silly me.  Carry on, son.
    High School English teacher and mom of 2 kids:

    DD, born 9/06/00 -- 12th grade
    DS, born 8/25/04 -- 7th grade
  • My 3.5 year old throws EPIC tantrums. You cut my bread wrong, I don't want THAT cookie, I wanted THAT cookie (same cookie but I picked it, not her). I am hoping this will just pass. She gets red, and grinds her little teeth, throws her hands up. It's kind of funny. It's hard not to laugh sometimes. It doesn't help that I also have a 4.5 year old that fuels her fire. For us I chalk it up to little sibling syndrome. She doesn't often get her way because big sister does. So she freaks out over everything. Can't wait til this baby is born, and she goes to middle child syndrome instead! LOL. If she were throwing 30 min tantrums, I would say she's tired or hungry. Rarely do they last more than a min or 2, unless something else is wrong, but I would hardly jump to mental issues so quickly!
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