Long story short, my three year old threw an epic tantrum at bed time. There were several attempts to address the situation before I was finally able to mollify her. I felt there needed to be repercussions for her behavior but I did not want to reignite the situation so rather than disciplining her on the spot I explained that I was glad she felt better but that I was unhappy with her behavior, that we would discuss it in the morning, and that there would be consequences (not sure what - I'm thinking take away a new toy for the remainder of the week).

If I have this conversation with her in the morning (well after the incident) and if I discipline her in some fashion is it going to help her understand that her behavior was inappropriate or is it going to confuse her?

5 Answers 5


Yes, but no.

You cannot use abstract disciplining on such young children the following day. Taking away the toy for a week would not achieve much, because there is no connection between her tantrum and the toy. Why does the toy go away because she threw a tantrum?

You can however use direct consequences. Was she not going to sleep because she was playing with a toy? Then the toy goes into a box before night time. Did she break something with her bad behaviour? Then that thing is unavailable for good or until repaired. When the child asks about the toy, you can reiterate that the toy caused such such issue yesterday that it is not available for the night. But if the child can demonstrate proper behaviour, it can be praised and rewarded with the toy again.

If you change your behaviour towards her the following day (i.e. not letting her have her usual treat, or not allowing her to see TV as usual), is it disciplining her, or are you holding a grudge? Personally, I would however hold back on special treats.

Remember that with every disciplinary action, you risk that the punishment appears arbitrary where the child resents you for putting the child in such torment. If you want to have disciplinary punishment, you can put down rules beforehand, where certain behaviours, in your home, will lead to time out or removal of certain privileges.


Short follow up for those that are interested.

We did discuss her behavior with her the next morning. I will not go so far as to say she seemed remorseful but I think she understood that her behavior was not appropriate. We decided not to follow up with any punishment; we really could not think of something that would not seem arbitrary.

What we did do was was implement a positive reward system that same day. Every night she goes to bed without incident she gets a sticker and a gummy bear the next morning. After X stickers she gets Y reward (we are still working out that part of the system). We are only two days into this experiment (not long enough to make any real conclusion) but so far the results have been dramatic. We have had two of the most peaceful nights we have had in a while.

  • 4
    Thanks for this followup! I am interested in hearing your experiences when she fails to get the gummy bear the next morning. From my personal experience, reward systems work fine, but they require a lot of effort to keep in place for longer durations.
    – MrGumble
    Oct 6, 2017 at 9:22

As you rightly have said, it's better to have immediate consequences for bad behavior but at age 3, she should be able to connect a delayed punishment with last night's events if you explain it to her.

Younger children can from early on find ways to manipulate you and not being consistent with your word makes it even easier but also makes the child lose trust in you.

In this case I believe you should follow through with whatever consequences you feel appropriate. It's important to be consistent!


The rewards system is a great idea! I'm interested to hear how it goes. That being said, just a quick word about dealing with tantrums in the moment...

This is what me and my wife do, you can take it or leave it since every parent and every child is different. We usually don't discipline our kids for throwing tantrums. Because they are being so emotional in the moment I don't think they'll understand why they are being punished. They're acting irrationally, the best thing to do is give them time to work it out. Send them to their room, or let them pitch a fit on the floor. Tell them when they are ready to talk you are ready to listen and leave them there. Asking them to be coherent in this way will help them to start practicing regulating their emotions. Even if they continue their fit, it will give them something else to think about.

They also need to see that their parents are cool tempered and rational in everyday life. Often times, after a tantrum, my son will apologize for his outburst (he's only 4). He lost control, realized it afterwards, then apologized. Kids have anger management issues. They depend on us to teach them how to deal with these difficult emotions. They will look to us as an example.


I would say three years is borderline. Some kids will get it, some won't. At four years, you should be fine. An example that has been seriously checked in child developmental psychology is this: "Put your coat on before leaving the house, because it is cold outside". Children apparently start understanding the reasoning around the age of three. Punishment delayed by a day would be a bit harder to understand.

  • Not sure why this answer is down-voted...
    – MAA
    Oct 10, 2017 at 18:26

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