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My daughter has not really had many full-blown tantrums when she was younger, ever. But now at 3.5 years old, almost 4 years old (on 8/27). She has been having the worst tantrums ever. First, she used to just cry, then cry loudly with a few jumping up and down, but now she cries, then screams (pierce your ear screams), jumps, fall on the floor kicking, swinging arms and screaming. It's chaotic!

This is what I have done: give a warning for time out, which is her going to another room, sitting her safely on the floor, (if it's dark turning the light on) and closing the door. I let her scream it out in there and keep track of time to 3 minutes. Then open the door, if she's still screaming, I calmly tell her that she needs to be quiet first (if she can hear me over the crying), if she's still on blown tantrum, I close the door again for another 3 minutes. Usually by the second time around she's probably tired herself out, I ask her if she is calm now, she whimpers yes, and agrees to be quiet. I bend down to her level and tell her that what she is doing is a big no no and she must use her words. I explain it is okay to cry, but not to scream and throw herself on the floor etc. Give her a hug and tell her I love her and we walk out together, she's back to herself like nothing happened.

I can say this has become increasingly difficult to deal with in the last 2-3 months. It was few... maybe once a week, now seems to be happening more frequently, 2-3 times per week or more some weeks.

Honestly I even have cried myself over how frustrating this is. Her tantrums are even worse in public. Yes, I do practice leaving the scenes, but that's not always feasible to do. The "professional" advice I've read online seems unrealistic to our situation. I've followed professional advice and it's not working. Just getting worse.

Today for example, I took her to Chuck E Cheese's and she had a blast. We cashed our tickets in, she got her toy and we were about to leave. We've been there many times and she knows the routine: when we cash our game tickets in for a prize, we're leaving. But this time, she says "Nooo, I want pizza now". I told her we could have pizza for dinner but not here at Chuck e Cheese's and that it was time to go. We had already been there 2 hours and she didn't want pizza when it was offered earlier. She started crying, saying nooo she wants to stay, I held her hand and we exited out of the building, now she starts screaming and pulling back while trying to walk to car. I actually now have to pick her up because a car was waiting for us to cross (I'm already embarrassed by now too). I try to put her in her car seat but she is literally resisting and she's strong. She rigids up her body to where I can't even sit her in the seat, falls on the floor of the car, now I am struggling to pick her back up to get her in her seat. I had to push her down with all of my force (without trying not to physically hurt her, she's very strong) to get in the car seat enough to strap her in, by this time she's kicking and actually starts hitting me on my chest. I finally get her in her seat buckled and she's still full-blown, now even kicking the back of the passenger seat where my 10-year-old son is sitting. Screaming to the top of her lungs.
This makes me want to cry just typing this up. This was the worst one so far. I feel so lost on what to do. It's only getting worse.

And I've never spanked her, although I was raised that way and everyone else in my family, so I can't go to them for advice because their only answer is to spank her. And I don't agree with that at all. Never hit her, I don't believe it will help but probably just make things worse. Family now believes she's getting worse because she doesn't get spankings. I don't agree.

There has to be a better way to deal with this, if possible de-escalate or even avoid. I understand tantrums are a natural part of developing control of emotions and all of that. But hers seem more aggressive and also she's getting older to be having tantrums like this.

Please help me with suggestions, ideas, your previous experiences or what worked for you.

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It sounds like you're taking the right approach here. She's going through a phase right now where she's starting to have strong opinions on things, that she probably didn't have before, and she's learning how to navigate that. As a kid it's very hard to understand that if you don't get your way right now that you ever will, or you ever will get whatever it is you want. It's also hard to understand anything outside of the right now - so at Chuck E. Cheese she earlier wanted to play and later wanted to eat, and that's all fine; but she didn't know how to explain that to you earlier OR later, and she doesn't have the emotional tools yet to handle the delayed gratification nor the change from what she was expecting.

All that's to say, the tantrums are normal, and nothing you describe is any different from any other kid I've had or known. That doesn't make them easy to deal with, and doesn't make you feel any better while she's doing them. But it sounds like you're handling them more or less how I'd have, anyway.

The key is time. Time outs are not about punishment, they're about letting her calm down - which is what you're doing, and that's excellent. I probably would've not tried to get her into the carseat, but just shut the door and waited for her to calm down; but that might have been infeasible at the time, and you did what you needed to. Spanking certainly won't help; you're definitely right to push back against your family there. It might stop the tantrum eventually but it won't help her learn how to handle her emotions or grow as a person - it will just make her afraid of you and bottle up her emotions.

This phase usually lasts for several months, and comes back once or twice more, but it will end. She'll learn to process her emotions, especially if you talk with her about things, and help her learn perspective. She won't fully learn that perspective for years, but she'll learn some, and it will help.

If you can't find people to talk to, I recommend reading some parenting books that coincide with your parenting philosophy. I don't know exactly what yours is, but you can find a lot of different books in answers here, particularly under the tag. I'm not a big fan of 1-2-3 Magic, but that's a common recommendation, and it's certainly a good book for that approach and might match yours.

You can also try children's books that teach emotional control; there are quite a few, for example this list. They're not an instant fix, but something that will help her in the long run.

  • I am, as you know, a big fan of 1-2-3 Magic, which is not to take away from this great answer! :) – anongoodnurse Jun 9 '18 at 17:52
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TL:DR: I think you're doing a great job. Also, buy (and read to the end before using) 1-2-3 Magic.

Probably every parent alive has questioned their parenting beliefs over tantrums. My kids are adults now, and I still feel the most stressful events were the tantrums. The fact that you need to make a decision while witnessing what is already a stressful event makes tantrums especially difficult. It helps to let go of the guilt (manifested by embarrassment, etc.), find a method you believe in philosophically and morally, and stick to it. The tantrum is your child's choice, not due to your parenting deficiencies. And there are ways to deal with them.

No one who has lived through their child's "Terrible twos" doubts that children of this age engage in, and induce, conflict. Parents have told us that around this age their children seek to augment conflict and anger; they become deliberately contrary and insist on doing things they know are forbidden.

Tantrums are, as Joe stated, a result of a child's inability to express and control the emotions associated with not getting what they want or think they need. So they are more common in younger children with limited ability to perceive their emotions correctly of to deal with them appropriately.

Tantrums in 3‐ to 4‐year‐olds may indicate the children have not learned how to cope with frustration (Schonbeck, 2006). As children grow older they learn to identify feelings, communicate these feelings to others, and act appropriately, rather than having a temper tantrum (Murphy & Berry, 2009). Consequently, most temper tantrums decrease in severity, frequency, and duration as the child ages (McCurdy et al., 2006).

It might help you to know what "normal" temper tantrums are, and that your daughter is having "normal" tantrums.

Normal vs. abnormal temper tantrums
Age: 12 months up to age 4
Behavior: Crying, flailing arms/legs, falling to floor, pushing, pulling, or biting
Duration: Up to 15 min
Frequency Less than five times a day
Mood: Should return to normal between tantrums
Age: Continuing past age 4
Behavior: Injury to themselves or others during the tantrum, or if property is destroyed.
Duration: Lasting longer than 15 min
Frequency: More than five times a day
Mood: Persistent negative mood between tantrums

Tantrums have been studied from the behavior of the children experiencing them, which is different from parental reporting.

One set of researchers found that sadness and anger occur simultaneously in tantrums, and that the key to handling tantrums was to get the child past the peaks of anger by doing nothing:

The trick in getting a tantrum to end as soon as possible... The quickest way past the anger, the scientists said, was to do nothing. Of course, that isn't easy for parents or caregivers to do.

Asking questions or commenting while the child is not in control of themselves often escalates the conflict. This is one reason for my support of 1-2-3 Magic. I don't usually advocate methods that require a purchase, but this used to be given to new parents for free by pediatricians across the country when it was new, and it was incredibly effective for us. It is a way of (dis)engaging with an argumentative/demanding/othernegativebehavior child and giving them time to regain control of themselves or to have a place to contemplate their behavior away from you (i.e. in their room, etc.) No fuss, no muss, no explaining, no strong emotions, no arguing. Just count and if they don't stop, they get a time out. Then discuss.

This is what I used in our house, and it worked like, well, magic. My kids learned to control themselves very quickly and didn't argue or plead with me when I refused them something. When I started to count, they stopped what they were doing immediately, not because something terrible was about to happen, but because they knew my "no" was rock-solid and they were not going to change my mind. In light of that, I also tried to be wise with my "nos". I always told them why I was refusing them something as part of the process of giving/threatening time outs. One of my children has a child of their own and another on the way. They plan on using 1-2-3 Magic as well, because they remember how effective it was.

My belief about tantrums is that they are preventable by teaching a child a rich emotional vocabulary ("feeling words"), by respecting (which means actually considering, not giving in to) their feelings when expressed, by looking for patterns (fatigue, etc.), and dealing with instigating factors before they occur. Once a tantrum starts, don't interact with the child verbally. When the tantrum is over, discuss the events leading to the tantrum using feeling words. Use feeling words throughout the day, both positive and negative, and aim slightly higher than the age appropriate feeling word lists you can find online. It might feel funny to hear a five year old describing her mood as "serene", but wouldn't that be a joy?

Assessment, management, and prevention of childhood temper tantrums
Temper Tantrums in Young Children
What's Behind A Temper Tantrum? Scientists Deconstruct The Screams

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