My 3-year-old son is great, but when he is angry/frustrated with something we do, mainly when we punish him or do something he doesn't like (e.g. when we tell him he's had enough tv), he starts crying.

He expresses his frustration verbally (which is fine), but then he starts throwing things!

I am not talking about something he had in his hands; I am talking about him grabbing anything around him and throwing it to the ground.

If his baby brother is close to him, he instead goes and hits him.

Usually, when he does that I give him a 3 minute timeout, and I explain to him afterwards that it's ok to be frustrated and to express yourself, but that what he did is wrong and he can't keep throwing things. But it's not working and he continues with that behavior.

How can I approach this problem and change his behavior?

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    My son is also 3 and we have similar problems on occasion. I hope someone has a better approach, but I think you are doing it right. I hope it is just a phase that he will quickly outgrow as I struggle with being very consistent with the time-outs and calmly explaining to him that his behavior is wrong. The only solution we have found that works regularly is to give him options, ask him to make a choice between two things he likes. Usually these things are unrelated to what caused him to be angry, but it distracts him enough that he forgets he is angry (or at least stops throwing and hitting). Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 15:18
  • @DaveNelson I hope that it is a phase as well and thanks for the suggestion it makes sense and it might work. My only concern is that if he start using his anger to get his way around things. I am a graduate student and sometimes I cant tell which is more difficult dealing with a kid or doing research lol Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 16:30

3 Answers 3


This behaviour sounds within the limits of normal three year old behaviour. Not all three year old have tantrums like this, but some do. My second son had severe tantrums like this.

I always say that children don't become "human" until they're four (tongue in cheek of course). At four we are able to reason with them (they don't always respond to this though). They grasp the notion of consequences so you can say, if you do this, I will do that. When this occurs on a few occasions they start to think before they do this again.

When they are three they are at the height of maximum physical ability and least reason (although this can seem debatable when we examine the behaviour of some teenagers and even some adults).

I have found, the only effective way to handle these tantrums is to physically remove the child from the situation into a timeout or safer area. Smacking will not usually help an already enraged toddler, except perhaps a tap on the back of the hand to admonish the offending hand.

Picking the child up, saying firmly (and perhaps loudly, if they are screaming) as you do, no and just remove them, as best you can from the situation, to a place where there is less objects to throw and no one is within hitting distance. Keep repeating this (ad nauseum) until they turn four and you can start to see the progress. :7)

Personally I don't think many three year old grasp the explanations; I'd keep it really simple, and would regard this type of post mortem as an exercise in practising for when the child is more able to grasp and process consequences.

  • Thanks for the answer, he doesnt do it all the time but when he does that because of a timeout, I do what you said (pick him up and speak to him firmly while carrying him to the timeout area (chair, his room)). But its not always the case that we are close to him to prevent him from doing what he do, and if I walk towards him quickly it might scare him (I am 6.5 tall) and I dont want to incorporate fear into the process (I might be over thinking it!). I am looking forward to when he is four Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 23:57

I know I'm catching this one late, however, there is a side to this that seems to be missing in the answers I see here.

While this behavior is asolutely normal in a three year old, and Skippy is right that reasoning with a three year old has little chance of getting you very far, there are a few things you can say while doling out any chosen consequence for hitting or for throwing things. "I see you are angry" or "I see you are frustrated" are two of the most important. At this age, very few kids have a full ability to identify their feelings, let alone communicate them verbally so they go for the physical or crying etc. By "putting the words in their mouths" you do two things: teach how to communicate their emotion in an appropriate way, and you let them know you understand. As you move your child, to a safer location, I highly suggest saying, "I see you are angry, but throwing things is not okay even when you are angry." Then don't say anything else - it keeps it simple.

Most importantly though, only dealing with the symptom (the behavior itself) doesn't fully address the issue. While his behavior is normal - even expected to some degree - the problem also arises from the fact that your son is angry. If this is new behavior and the baby is also new, I'd bet the two things are related.

All three year olds get frustrated and all three year olds have tantrums in some form or another. Babies mean a lot of changes in your household and your son probably doesn't really understand why those changes have happened. It is fairly common for three year old kids to be resentful of a new younger sibling because they had no say in the matter. Developmentally, it is as if a baby dropped in and decided to stay and took over. If you want to address this problem from all angles, you need to address this too(if you haven't already).

I suggest getting some books about babies and being a big brother or sister you can read with your child, really making sure to make time for each of you to spend alone with your three year old, and giving your three year old some jobs to do (when he isn't angry) that make him feel like a big helper in caring for the baby. These jobs can be as simple as, Its your job to hand daddy the bottle when a bottle is being prepared, or handing the diaper up during diaper changes. This question might help with this part of your challenge.


Children will want to please a parent and this should be reinforced by rewarding positive behaviour (this works better than punishing "bad" behaviour).

Occasional tantrums from infants are expected as they have decided what they like doing and can't understand why they can't do it all the time.

You don't specify the kinds of things he is doing to warrant the original punishment, often this is unreasonable expectations on the part of the parent.

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