4 Ways To Control An Out-Of-Control Three Year Old (a.k.a. How To Survive Toddler Tantrums)

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Toddler tantrums are no joke…we’ve all been there! If you’re still trying to figure out how to control your out-of-control three year old, these strategies can help!

Little girl crying

We’ve all heard of the terrible twos. We know they’re coming and we can prepare. Well, as much as any mom can prepare for a totally unpredictable two year old.

What nobody every told me about was what happened when your child turns three. We’re led to believe that once they’ve hit their third birthday, they turn back into little angels…and it’s a complete lie! This is when the toddler tantrums really begin!


Both of my girls were pretty good at age two and three is when all you-know-what broke out. I was completely unprepared with my oldest but I found out pretty quickly.  Of course, most of the time she was pretty adorable (thank goodness or we’d all stop after one kid), but those toddler tantrums could be pretty extreme.

Once she hit three, she’d decided that it’s her way or the highway and if things don’t go the way she wanted, well, you heard about it. When kids get a little older, you can at least reason with them but trying to reason with a three year old is like talking to a wall…a screaming wall.

However, by the second one I had a few tricks of my sleeve. That didn’t mean that my youngest didn’t still have  tantrums too…she was even more feisty. It just meant that I had learned a thing or two about how to deal with them when they happened.

How To Survive Toddler Tantrums


Time Out

Yes, time out may be old fashioned but it works.  My daughters HATED to be in time out and usually just the threat would be enough. That wasn’t always the case though and I learned an important lesson…following through with your punishments is a must.

If you constantly threaten time-out or another punishment, and don’t follow through, your child learns very quickly that it’s an empty threat. That also means that they’ll have no motivation to change their behavior.  My children know that if mommy says you’ll go to time-out, you WILL go to time out. 

It doesn’t even matter where we are because my daughters have been in time-out everywhere from Target to Macy’s.  I like to use the tried and true method of minutes vs. age.  Whatever your child’s age, that’s the amount of time they spend in time-out.  Therefore, my three year old spends three minutes in time out. It may not sound like that long but it’s an eternity for a little one.  

You can even use this Time Tracker to help your child count down the time until they’re “free” again.


Toy Time Out

So what do you do when your child won’t stay in time out? I’ve been there too and have found that in that case, her favorite toy needs to go in time out. The difference is that the toy stays in time out all day.  I only had to do this a couple times until the fear of losing a toy (or blankie) all day outweighed the drama of sitting in time out for a few minutes.

Just Ignore It

I never expected a three year old to act like a teenager but sometimes my youngest would get so upset, she’d run to her room and slam the door.  Sometimes if I ignored her long enough, she’d start playing and then forget she was even mad to begin with. She’d finish playing and would come out as if nothing had happened.

While I don’t condone regularly letting kids run to their room slamming the door behind them, sometimes giving my girls that time alone helped ME keep my sanity!


A Crying Table

This was an idea that I actually came up with when I was a Kindergarten teacher.  I had a student that would get VERY upset when things didn’t go her way. I didn’t have my own kids yet and it it was the first time I’d dealt with real tantrums in my classroom.

After trying some things that didn’t work, I came up with the concept of a crying table.  Basically, anytime she started crying, she had to go sit at a table in the back of the room. That was her “crying table” and it was totally up to her to rejoin the class when she was ready. She just had to be finished crying.

It worked like a charm because usually sitting at the crying table meant she was missing out on something fun. After a minute or two, she’d quietly get up and join us.  I tried this with other children over the years and it was very effective.  This gives kid the freedom to work through their emotions and end the tantrum on their own. 

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a table though. You can use pretty much any area, including these Time Out Spots.

Sometimes You Just Have To Laugh

My girls would say some funny things when they were mad and sometimes it’s hard not to laugh.  These were a couple of my favorites…

“I AM REALLY MAD AT YOU!”  Poor daddy…I had to put her in time-out right before I left the house.  My husband walked into the room, not having had anything to do with it, and that’s what he got.

“I DON’T LOVE ANYBODY ANYMORE!”  This was after a meltdown at the post office that continued into the parking lot.  She refused to get into the carseat but I eventually won and she was none too happy about it.  (On a side note, I’d rather wrestle an alligator than to try putting a 3 year old into a carseat when they don’t want to go!)  Anyway, when she said this, I pretended to be hurt and she sweetly said through her tears “I DO love you mommy, I DO!!!”.  It’s amazing how quickly they can go from tantrum back to total sweetness!

The funny thing is, most of the time my girls were the cutest, most adorable things ever (probably just like yours).  Just remember that this is a stage and you will both get through it.  In the meantime, just be as patient as you can and try above all else to keep your sanity.   


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Ugh! My youngest is almost 4 and he is so much trouble!!! Love him to pieces but my other 2 were never this extreme. He hits himself, me, kicks, grabs the walls, refuses to do things etc. He also has tantrums about silly things, like dad saying we are almost home when he wanted mom to say it, or things that don’t make sense. I am at a loss! He refuses to go pee on the potty or even sit on the potty now when he previously did, and he scored poorly on his screening for preschool so now I’m worried about that…help fellow mamas! Any advice?

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