My daughter is 3 years and 2 months, she doesn't speak in whole sentences, just words or set phrases.

She will scream when something goes wrong or if she's told no.

For example, if she's playing with her toys and a teddy doesn't sit right or if the iPad freezes she will begin to scream till it's fixed. We've tried to teach to her to say "Mommy help me" or "Daddy help me", which she did for a while, but then reverted back to screaming.

Another example is while on the way home from the park she wanted to go around the block, so we did, but when turning back, she decided she wanted to go another way. It took 15 minutes to get her home (200 yards) and she screamed like she was being kidnapped all the way. She's very strong and picking her up is hard. And I feared she would hurt herself if I held her to tight. She didn't want to listen to anything her mum or I had to say.

This has been going on for about 6 - 9 months now and it's very difficult to keep cool.

She doesn't care about anything we say or if we show her that we're angry, disappointed or try to distract her, etc.

I really don't know what to do.

Any tips on getting her to listen to us?

  • Has your daughter been evaluated for speech delays? I think at age three most children are using 'formed phrases' - combining words they know to make new meanings. If she isn't there yet, it would be good to bring it up to her doctor. Intense emotional response to minor setbacks, screaming and tantrums are part of normal toddler development, but they can also be made worse by frustration when a child has the mental development to know what they want to say, but lacks the ability to actually say it yet! Anger is common in late talkers, whether actually delayed or just 'taking their time'.
    – Meg
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 18:51

3 Answers 3


I agree wtih @albrecht-hugli, you cannot reward bad behavior with attention and expect the behavior to change. My son had a temper tantrum - once. We were in a Kmart and he was suddenly down on the floor, kicked his legs, arms flying around, screaming at the top of his lungs. I stepped over his body and walked away. He was so alarmed that I was leaving him, he immediately stopped. He got up and rushed over to me, never saying a word. And he never did it again!

The next time your daughter screams at the iPad: remove it and place it out of her reach (iPad's can break, easily, if her anger escalates). If her Teddy won't sit right, oh well, tough beans. "Fixing" all of the things that go wrong in your child's day isn't helping her.

It's imperative that she learns:

  1. How to deal with frustration and disappointment.
  2. How to solve her own problems.
  3. How to articulate sentences so that she can express herself with words.
  4. How to ask for help when she needs it.

You might be thinking, "but she's only 3...". The problem is that if she doesn't learn this now, will she still be frustrated and angry and unable to deal with problems as a teenager? As an adult? Her life will be much more successful if her biggest issue is making the teddy bear sit up in the chair. Teach her how to do it, don't do it for her.

  • 1
    Upvote: your 4 imperatives! Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 7:17

You know the cartoon of a psychologist’s experiment conditioning rats? Each time when a rat is pressing the right lever it gets some food. The psychologist says: You see how I’m conditioning the rats? by reinforcing it learns the correct behaviour! - And what is the rat saying to its peers: “Look how im conditioning the psychologist: Each time a press the lever he gives me food!”

Reinforcement: Skinner showed how positive reinforcement worked by placing a hungry rat in his Skinner box. The box contained a lever on the side, and as the rat moved about the box, it would accidentally knock the lever. Immediately it did so a food pellet would drop into a container next to the lever. The rats quickly learned to go straight to the lever after a few times of being put in the box. The consequence of receiving food if they pressed the lever ensured that they would repeat the action again and again.


It’s up to you to educate your child not to her to terrorize you.

Your child is conditioning you.

  • You don’t have to punish her. Reinforcement of the desired behaving will benefit.

  • Each time when she is screaming you pay attention and you are reinforcing her missbehaving.

What to do in this situation?

  • First, pay attention when she is well behaving. A three years old child doesn’t need an iPad, she needs a mom or a daddy who plays and laughs and sings with her.

  • A good thing are role plays that reflect or mirror him her behaving. When the teddy falls down or doesn’t sit right let the teddy make loud screaming! Until she says to the teddy: Have you finished now?

  • When your child is missbehaving ignore her and continue your work or start an new occupation. Don’t wait for her just go ahead keeping an eye on her.

It is quite normal that children in this age try to test the patience of their parents and find ways to trick them out.

I always admire parents in the supermarket who keep cool when their child gets a screaming attack as he doesn’t get what he wants and he lays down on the floor and hits with the head on the heard bottom as if he had been brought to the butcher! But the mother or the father just going with their commissions and wait ten meters later - and wait till he has stopped crying and ask quite cool:

well, are you finished now?

  • 1
    Spot on - If you can hold out long enough for them to blow themselves out, they learn that it achieves nothing, especially if you can demonstrate to them that when they communicate calmly they are much more likely to get what they want.
    – Smock
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 14:49
  • @Smock I think what sometimes causes a lot of stress for a child, is that often they simply can't have what they want, whether they ask nicely or not. It's a hard lesson for a child to learn, that getting less of what they want will help them to grow up to be better people. Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 7:34

Is it possible you've responded more quickly to screaming than to polite requests? It's hard not to.

The problem of course is that the child learns that screaming is the most effective way to get the attention they want.

No amount of showing anger or chastising the bad behaviour will make any difference. The child will do what most effectively gets her parents attention (positive or negative).

The solution may be to pretend you can only hear polite requests, and ignore everything else.

  • I think the problem that many parents are giving up in public as the supermarket e.g.when the children are screaming for an ice cream, because the parents are afraid to be blamed by their child making a scene in front of everybody. So they resign to be not compromized. Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 13:20
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    @AlbrechtHügli True, and those doing the blaming are usually non-parents, who paradoxically consider themselves to be the worlds leading experts on children. I myself thought I knew a great deal about how to manage children, until I actually had children of my own. One thing I have discovered, is that children are most likely to misbehave, when misbehaving will cause the greatest amount of distress to their parents. Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 7:27
  • Yes, and also parents with older children that don‘t remember how their child has been are „experts“ or parents with a younger child who have no idea what trouble is waiting to them :) But another point: parents are seeing the (miss)behaving of the child different when in public and seem to be more stressed. Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 8:37

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