My daughter (age 3) has horrible tantrums! What do I do? I really only want her to be happy!


As for the “happy is the only acceptable emotion”, well, it’s just not. Nor should it be. You can’t set a boundary and make her happy about it. She needs to see that you aren’t afraid of her feelings. You aren’t a failure if she’s unhappy or has a tantrum. In fact, in children under 5 I don’t even consider them tantrums, rather meltdowns and frustration explosions. Tantrums implies that the child is attempting to manipulate you with their display, if your response to meltdowns is to instantly give in then you will teach your child to tantrum, otherwise, you can simply respond appropriately to the meltdown and teach them this is not how we get what we want.

When she has a meltdown how does she like you to respond? Does she want to be held or given space? Do this. If you’re in a place where you can’t give her space (out in public sometimes) then take her to a place where it’s safe (the car or home). I would carry my child to the car so that toys aren’t even an option. Fly them like a plane or a fairy if they resist. And it’s just okay for them to be unhappy about going to the car.

When my kids tantrum I do a few different things depending on the child–with my extrovert I clearly state my boundaries and/or expectations after reflecting his feelings “You are (frustrated, angry, etc). You may be . . . but you may not (hurt me, scream, call names, etc).” and then I hug him tight. With my introvert I state any expectations if needed and then give her space. As she starts to calm down I reflect her feelings and when she is calm I correct and teach.

If a *tantrum* is really a frustration explosion I try to respect the feelings behind it. I’d work on teaching better ways when the moment has passed. “You just had very big feelings. Next time (hit a pillow, do a dance, run to me for a hug, etc).”

Sometimes we have to find a way to enforce the boundary while still meeting very real needs and when children are melting down this often is the case. if you can’t find the balance it’s better to step away and regroup rather than stay and escalate things, but staying and keeping the boundary is often better.

I can only explain it with the idea of “tune her out”. Really–keep your physical presence so she doesn’t feel abandoned but shut out the abuse. As long as she’s not physically attacking you (which I would stop immediately and definately separate from) try to assume a positive intent (she doesn’t realize how loud she’s being and that it hurts your ears–even if you’ve told her) and ignore her attempts to get your attention until she behaves in an appropriate way.

Chances are she’ll keep trying different things to see what reaction you get and when she starts doing that you can suggest what would be appropriate and get your attention. “When you’re ready to speak calmly I will listen again.” The key is waiting until she’s able and willing to listen to that instruction before offering it–where it will fall on deaf ears.

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