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Facts and advice about managing temper tantrums. Written by pediatricians, for parents. I really do not like the term ‘defiance’. Probably because I myself am very happy and proud of my defiance that I appreciate the quality in children. You understand what I mean, right? I’m talking about children around the age of three. It’s got many names: three-year-old defiance, toddlar defiance, temper tantrums, hissy fit etc. They are mental breakdowns and outbursts of anger for usually negligible reasons.
Start with yourself – make sure you do not end up in a tantrum yourself!
When your child has reached this developmental stage, higher demands are temporarily placed on you as a parent. You should not have as many, nor as long, outbursts as the child. And especially not at the child. If you manage to lure the child into eating food, getting to preschool and getting the child to sleep for a reasonable amount of time, despite three-year defiance, you shuold applaud yourself.
So start with yourself, make sure you have the strength. Just like you would – eat properly, go to bed in the evenings, exercise and make sure you occassionally meet friends. If you are very tired when you pick up your two-year-old from kindergarten, take a break at a café. Or have a coffee and a banana, or bun, or smoothie and unwind for 20 minutes before going to preschool. If you do not have time, have a snack on the commuter train.
Never forget the snack!
It does not always help, but if you have a child who is close to bursting with anger, then make sure the child gets food every three hours. Hunger is your worst enemy when your child is having a tantrum. Bring a fruit or a packet of raisins to eat in the stroller on your way home from kindergarten.
Sleep for a three-year-old defiant child
Much easier said than done. Try to maximize the child’s chances for a good night’s sleep by making sure the bed is comfortable, the room is dark and reasonably cool.
And the same laying time and routine every night. Conflicts over bedtime are usually worth taking, I believe. In my family, it is an important principle that the parent decides when it is time to go to bed. If the children protest, I stay with them and remind them of this. If they get up, I put them back in bed.
Choose your battles!
As I said, I choose the bedtime battle. However, not the dispute about which bed they should sleep in; which stuffed animals they should have; what on the table they should eat; or what they should wear. My two-year-old decided which raincoat, sun hat, backpack and rubber boots they wore and when we went out in the sun or ate ice cream. Why not? They were happy and I was happy. I myself had a short-sleeved shirt. Cute, matched pajamas may not be the most important thing during the age of defiance.
Ipad, mobile and other screens then, can it help or is it a battle to choose?
Confirm the child’s feeling!
This is my second favorite. “Wow, you are angry and sad” is something my kids usually like to hear when they are angry. Sometimes they say “Yes! Stupid mom, stupid dad, stupid big brother!”. Then you can try to respond “It feels that way. It must feel very lonely for you if mom is stupid, dad is stupid and big brother is stupid. What about your favorite teddy bear? Is he also stupid?” Try it! It often has a redemptive effect on a child.
Do not argue against them
To say “you got the wrong colored socks on. It is not so important but the pink socks are as nice as the red ones” has never helped. And WILL never help. Find a way around the situation and the tantrums will pass more easily.
Remind the child of the structure of the situation
It may seem close to arguing, but it is not the same thing. As an adult, you determine the framework of the child’s everyday life. When it’s time to go to bed. When it’s time to eat. What should be on the table. When it’s time to go on the potty / change diapers. When movie is turned on and off. That you must not fight. During the age of defiance, the child questions the routine. It is wise to stick to the framework and structure of the day as an adult.
If necessary: remind them of the current frames. “You can be angry, you can say I’m stupid, but you must not bite! Stop!” or “I hear you want to build Lego, but now it’s dinner time. I’ll take you to the table.”
Prepare for the next activity
If the child’s outbursts often occur when the child has to change activities, such as stopping a movie and start eating, or stop being out and about, etc, prepare the child to do one or the other soon. Not infrequently the child can then say “Yes, I’ll just finish building the sand castle first” or “yes, when I have finished watching Bob the Builder” or so. In my experiences, waiting those few minutes results in everything going more smoothly afterwards.
When you cannot cope
When you can no longer cope with the child, take a break. Let the child be with someone else, and feel free to read this post on the topic:
Also feel free to read the nice guest blog post of a mother with borderline personality disorder and a broken childhood, who had to struggle extra hard to learn to be a good mother.
A book tip for you who want to get really good advice on how to best handle defiant and angry children is Explosive Children by Ross Greene.