February 12, 2013

She is sitting beside me on the couch and she is screaming, screaming as loudly as she can, sometimes pointing her finger in her mouth and sometimes bouncing with frustration, turning the deepest crimson I have ever seen on her face, screaming MOMMA! MOMMA! and making high-pitched shrieks that don’t resemble words at all.  Then she jumps off the couch and starts kicking the coffee table and stamping her feet.  She opens her mouth and yells as loudly as she can for as long as she can, over and over and over again.

When the tantrum started, she wanted my milk.  She walked up to me and demanded milk and I told her NO, in this family we ask people for things nicely, go ahead and try that one again.  But it’s been nearly forty minutes of screaming, crying, shrieking, kicking, and it no longer has anything to do with milk or wants or asking people for things nicely.  Now we’re fighting a war, the two of us.

She skipped her nap, so I know she’s exhausted.  She turned up her nose at the food I served for snack and lunch, so I know she’s hungry.

She took off her underwear earlier and sat bare-bottom on the coffee table.  I made her stand up.  She wanted to put pennies in the living room outlet because the slots remind her of a piggy bank.  I confiscated the pennies.  She wanted to watch a movie.  I insisted we play outside instead and she fell and scraped her knee.  She wanted to draw with markers, but we packed the markers away last week after she kept drawing on her body and the walls.

So I know she’s having a rough day.  I know that she feels like all I’m doing is telling her NO.  I know she thinks she doesn’t have any input.  I know she doesn’t feel 100%.  I know that she expects me to respond to her cries because that is what I have always done.  I know that it is important for me to empathize with her.  I know that she needs me to help her regulate her emotions and model healthy ways of dealing with situations that do not conform to our desires.

But, frankly, I. Am. Done.

Right now, I am breathing in and breathing out and trying desperately to keep my cool.  The urge to slap her, to spank her into silence and obedience and at least the farce of respect is hard to resist.  I wonder: if I threaten to spank her, will she shut up with the screaming already?

Then I realize she probably doesn’t know what, exactly, spanking is.  She’ll probably keep screaming.

And right now, I feel resentful and a little pissed off.  All of her unnecessary screaming woke the baby who, obviously frightened, started screaming too.  My ears are ringing and I am furious with her for doing this to her sister.  The last time she did this, the baby was hoarse the next day.

Soon enough this storm will pass.  She cannot scream forever.  Eventually she will calm down and she will either sleep or she will use her words to communicate.  I know this.

But right now I am looking at her and wondering where inside this beast my sweet, charming girl is.  Because this savage is someone I don’t know, someone I can’t manage, someone I don’t feel empathy for, someone I am not particularly fond of.  I so dread unleashing this aspect of parenthood that when I know I am going to have to act in a disciplinary fashion, I want to crumble under the weight of dread.

Nothing has humbled me or challenged me more than living with a three-year-old.  I have never lost my temper so quickly or so frequently.  At the end of the day, I often doubt my convictions as a parent.  I live in fear that she is behaving this way because I took a wrong turn somewhere.  The worst of it is knowing that any peace we draw is temporary; in a few days, we will repeat this tantrum.  The catalyst may differ, but the tantrum is the same.

Nobody told me that parenting a three-year-old would be easy.

But nobody told me that parenting a three-year-old would be this hard.

** Charlotte is three years and six months old.  Evie is three months old.

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  1. By Lynda M O on February 12, 2013

    Oh boy, that’s an awful situation, Sarah, I am so sorry. My heart reaches out to you but the damn thing has nothing to offer in way of help but simpatico. The urge to use corporal punishment must be flipping overwhelming at times. I have so much respect for you for not resorting to “might makes right” as so very many parents and care providers do when faced with this type of behavior.

  2. By on February 13, 2013

    Thank you so much for this,Sarah. Just…thank you.

  3. By on February 13, 2013

    I know how you feel. I, too, have a three-year-old (and a two-year-old, and a tiny baby, and an eleven-year old).
    I am frequently shocked by my own impulses and thoughts towards my little girl - I want to slap her and shake her just to make her STOP THE DAMN SCREAMING. I don’t, which takes a heroic effort sometimes. It’s not your fault, or mine, that they act this way.
    I think it’s, if you try to put a positive perspective on it, part of a process of separation: the child learning to control her emotioms with us being mere bystanders a lot of the time, and us realising that there are parts of our children we don’t like or want to be around… like those awful clothes/lovers/friends/life choices they will inevitably confront us with one day.

  4. By on February 13, 2013

    Thank you. I felt just like this at the weekend. It’s so so so hard. So so so wonderful but so so so hard. It helps when People talk about it

    Hang in there!!! X

  5. By on February 13, 2013

    Thank you. Thank you! To know I am not alone in this is the greatest gift. xxx

  6. By on February 13, 2013

    I needed this so badly. I am not alone. Where has my sweet, kind, and gentle son gone?! Three has taken it’s toll on me. I too wondered where I went wrong. Knowing I am not alone has helped and knowing it will pass is a reminder I need DAILY.
    Thank you.

  7. By Katy on February 13, 2013

    Oh how I feel your pain! I too have a feral three year old and a baby who is, I think, perhaps a week or so younger than Evelyn. People talk about the ‘Terrible Twos’ but I think it should really be the ‘Terrible Threes’. My son can be the sweetest, most loving boy one minute and a screaming, kicking mess the next. And it’s fair to say that having a new baby brother has not brought out the best in him.
    I know this will pass (dammit, it had better!). And I do want my boy to know his own mind and show some spirit - many years from now when he is faced with the choice of getting into a car with a drunk driver I want him to show the same determined resistance as he is currently showing me!

    But right now it is HARD WORK - as you say, much harder than anyone said it would be.

  8. By on February 13, 2013

    I have had good luck telling my three year old that if he wants to throw a tantrum, he can do it in his room where the rest of us don’t have to suffer from it. It is good to emphasize with the emotions they are having, but also good to teach children that they don’t get to control other people with their anger/tantrums. I walk him into his room, and tell him he can come out and see us when the screaming has stopped. If it gets louder, I will shut his door. Usually, he throws his stuff around and yells and eventually comes out. We hug and talk about it. It works really well. He knows the tantrum will not get him any attention, but that his appropriately expressed emotions will.

  9. By Sarah Macon on February 13, 2013

    You took the words right out of my mouth.  Sometimes I get so pissed I want to punch her in the forehead, but I don’t.  I walk away, sit, breathe, and muster enough energy to try to calm her.

  10. By on February 13, 2013


    With a son only a couple months older than C, been there… Going through that. Blood boiling, I want to throw something across the room, how can I contain my rage type of feelings towards the tantrums. And then 5 minutes, 15 minutes, a half an hour later, he screams himself out, calms down and curls up on my lap and I hold him close and everything is as it was before.

    Yesterday it was over him wanting Mac and cheese for breakfast.

  11. By on February 13, 2013

    I’m not a parent and I haven’t had to face this, so I cannot imagine what it must be like. Having said that, it seems like the overwhelming concensus here is that allowing the tantrum to continue for the duration is the ‘right way’ to handle it (if there is one). I have to admit that I don’t understand that. For one, it’s not acceptable behavior in real life as an adult or an older child, so why would you let a younger child do it? Also, don’t you worry about the possibility of the child hurting themselves (or the baby….throwing things etc)?

    Like I said, I don’t have kids, so I don’t know what it’s like and I am SOOO not judging, just asking the question. Carrie’s suggestion sounds reasonable to me because I understand that yes, you need to be able to expel your emotions (and even I do that as an adult sometimes when I am alone), but I don’t subject others to it, and it seems like the child should be taught that the rest of the family will not have to suffer because one child is losing control.

  12. By on February 13, 2013

    Oh Sarah, I’m sorry it’s rough. 

    This is how I dealt with tantrums:
    In my personal situation, I found the use of “time outs” extremely effective for tantrums.  The first time C—- threw a tantrum, I picked him up, carried him into his room and left him to continue screaming on the other side of the door.  The moment he stopped screaming, I opened the door and asked if he was done with his tantrum- he started screaming again.  This happened a few times until he understood that I wasn’t going to hang out and listen to his tantrum.  When he agreed that he was done with his tantrum, I hugged him and we went on with our day.  Now every time he starts kicking off, I say “you look like you’re getting upset, would you like to take a time out”?  and it really helps him calm himself down because he knows the screaming will just land him back in his room by himself and I don’t even need to give him a time out.

    I don’t use it as a punishment, it’s more like just taking a break to calm down- like a time out in a sporting event.  And it gives him the space to make a choice to end the tantrum and come back and be with me.  I think of it as rewarding the good behavior of being socially appropriate with my company Vs punishing the bad behavior with a time out.  (I hope that makes sense?)  It really worked for me.  Best wishes through your tough time.  My heart goes out to you. 

    Another Sarah- I agree, although I think I missed where other people said they supported allowing a tantrum to continue.  Is there a “right way”?  Who knows.  For my family, there are definitely some wrong ways.  I wouldn’t feel right not correcting an inappropriate behavior.  I think kids HATE throwing tantrums.  They always look miserable while they’re doing it.  Giving them discipline to prevent tantrums is actually a kindness for kids (IMHO).

  13. By on February 13, 2013

    **** Edit for clarity:
    I opened the door and asked if he was done with his tantrum- he started screaming again.  [ So I closed the door again and waited] This happened a few…

  14. By on February 13, 2013

    I too have been there and this storm too shall pass. I have a very soon (like 2 weeks away) to be 4 year old and an 17 month old…

    A book that really helped with my daughter who seemed to develop a whole new level of tantrum once her brother came along…was The Happiest Toddler on the Block - it really opened my eyes to communicating with someone who really doesn’t know all the tools to effective communication..definitely gave me a new perspective. :)  smooches!

  15. By Lauren on February 13, 2013

    We’ve had quite a few of these Sarah, so I sympathize - and I can’t imagine how must harder it must be with another little one to worry about!

    Two things that work well for us - number one is distraction. If I can bring up something else that is interesting enough to snap her mind out of tantrum mode, it’s like a switch flips and she goes from a screaming snotty mess to a smiling sweet talking little girl in an instant.

    It doesn’t always work, so in that case I tend to remove myself from the space. It’s too difficult to move her when she’s like that, so I walk away and ignore her. When she discovers that her tantrum isn’t having the effect on me that she wants, she will sometimes snap out of it. I can’t say either work 100% of the time, but they do help quite a bit. Good luck to you!

  16. By on February 13, 2013

    Just de-lurking to say that you are not the only one. My 3year old did the same thing last week three days in a row. It was lovely (insert sarcasm here). We were over 20 minutes late for school because we wouldn’t brush our teeth or go to the bathroom. It was an off day for everyone. The baby is almost 1 and was terrified when she was screaming and yelling at me.

    But this too shall pass. Hang in there!

  17. By on February 13, 2013

    I’m with the other posters who said they put the child in his/her room or left the area until the child calms herself. She is not allowed to hold the rest of the family hostage and calming your own self is something everyone needs to learn.

    My Charlotte is a few months older than yours and I’m here to tell you that this stage WILL end. 2.5 months before her 4th birthday my Charlotte has suddenly turned into a delightful, cooperative child (she still has her moments, but they are few) so hang In there, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

    Another Sarah: what do you expect someone with a tantruming child to do to force them to quit? Other than leaving the room (which doesn’t end the tantrum, just keeps you from having to listen to it as much) or putting a gag in their mouth, how does one “make” a child quit screaming?

  18. By on February 13, 2013

    Oh Sarah.  I am so sorry. This may be Charlotte’s frustrating attempt to get your attention now that Evie is in the picture.  Her whole world was altered after her sister’s birth.  Above all, KEEP YOUR COOL.  It’s very hard, I know, but keep your cool and if necessary turn your back and walk away. 

    Hang in there.  It takes time for a child to adjust to another baby in the house but I guarantee that this too shall pass.

    Best luck

  19. By on February 13, 2013

    I sympathize, I also have a 3 year old. Someone once jokingly told me “3 year olds are assholes, and the 4’s are the fvcking fours.“  and then in the next turn said “the days are long, years are short.“ On many occassion I have made sure that he is physically safe from harm and walked away, Pictured he sweet smiling face to remind myself of the sweet and compassionate boy he is the majority of the time.  It’s the only way I’ve kept my cool.

  20. By on February 13, 2013

    We handled tantrums like Julien did. If you were going to scream and carry on, that was fine, you just had to do it in your room. It’s also a good time to teach responsibility outside of self - “look how this screaming is affecting the baby and I am feeling frustrated and upset listening to it”. Not in a harsh and shameful way but just to give a little nudge in the direction that they are not the only ones in the house. Writing it out it sounds kind of harsh but subjecting the entire house to continuous tantrams is harsh too.

    Deep breaths. You are in the trenches of motherhood - a 3 year old and a new baby. It’s hard. My friends and I always joke that we should start an “it gets better” project for moms. Because it does! Soon.

  21. By on February 13, 2013

    Julien - you are right, no one actually said that. I know a few people that go the ignoring route, and that is what I don’t quite get.

    Jessica, I didnt say anything about making them quit screaming, but as far as kicking, throwing things, or other destructive behavior I certainly think you can physically stop those, and probably should. Crying is normal and is often the only way that young children can express their emotions. The rest of the ‘tantrum’ behavior I think, should not be allowed, whether that is through time out, or a spank, or a loss of a privilege or whatever it is you choose to use.

    Like I said, I don’t have kids and I don’t know what you’re feeling or going through and I’m not judging. I’m just asking questions. I can imagine that this probably makes you so exhausted that you sometimes don’t even follow your own personal values/convictions as a parent….nevermind whatever everyone else thinks you *should* be doing.

  22. By Stephanie @ The Good Stuff on February 13, 2013

    Just wanted to chime in as yet another momma who can totally relate to this.  I feel like I could have written this post (albeit it not quite as eloquently).  Thanks for sharing to let all of us know we’re not alone!

  23. By gretchen from lifenut on February 13, 2013

    I’ve had seven 3-year-olds and it is one tough age. For real. Hang in there, mama. It’s worth the rollercoaster.

    It gets better. I will be telling myself the same thing in about 6 months. They are baffling, irrational, supremely cute. It’s the murky borderlands between babyhood and childhood.

    4 is so much easier, but that is the whiniest age.

  24. By on February 13, 2013

    Another Sarah - I remember before I had kids being out at a grocery store, or whatever, and a child screaming or throwing or being irate and thinking “woman! Get your child under control!“ even after having my first, I would look at other kids throwing a fit or otherwise not being respectable and thinking “no way in hell my child would ever get away with that”

    Then a couple months after my second was born, we went to a doctor’s appointment/check up. Everything was fine… And then out of no where my oldest started freaking out in the lobby on the way out. My OB is in the same building and has a bowl of lollipops waiting by the exit for the kids… He thought being in that building entitled him to a lollipop…. Not to mention for one of the first times we went to his pediatrician he was basically snubbed… And it was all about “the baby”. I was wearing my youngest… Carrying a diaper bag and had a screaming three year old collapsing on the ground insisting on a lollipop. I was mortified. It was just befor elunch time, the nursing staff from my pediatricians office was walking by…. It’s a busy complex with people of all ages going in and out, and here I was with a three year old on the ground refusing to stand up or listen to my hushed voice that should calm him down, doing exactly what I had always assumed I would “never let my child get away with!“. I had multiple strangers stop and ask if I needed help. All I needed was to get both kids to the car, but he wouldn’t comply. It was awful. I know you said you aren’t judging, just asking questions, so I’m not trying to be the “when you have kids, you’ll nderstand” person either (I used to hate hearing that), but being in the situation is totally different. I haven’t judged another mother or stuck my nose up at ill behaved kids since. It could just be a bad day… And then society doesn’t want you to hit your kids and they don’t want you to stand by idle either… So your caught at a crossroads, I mean what is the proper way to respond? Restrain them?

    I agree with the others that the behavior is not acceptable, but in the midst of a tantrum, I don’t think that’s the best time to explain that the behavior is poor… It’s like talking through any issues with your spouse in the middle of an argument… Bad idea. Wait until things have settled down and talk about the best way to express your emotions. Usually I try get hi to use words and get to the root of the problem. Then, like I said, he’ll calm down, and we’ll talk and I’ll explain how he needs to handle himself next time…

    And judging from the Responses above… This is totally normal behavior, yet the majority of adults don’t seem to handle themselves this way, so one can assume that kids outgrow it… And with some gentle words after the fact and a little direction, they’ll eventually have the communication skills to accurately communicate with us the way that we have been coaching them,

    And besides… If I intervened when he’s at the peak of a tantrum…. I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t be parenting the way I would want to. It’s best for both of us if I let him get through it.

    And I’m not necessarily a fan of telling him to go to his room until its through… I don’t want hi. To be ashamed of his emotions… Just to be able to handle them more appropriately.

  25. By on February 13, 2013

    Oh my my!! You poor thing! So awful to go through, been through it too at least once a week (maybe more) with my 2 year old and I hear “3 is worse”...guess we’ll deal with that when it comes, we’ll have a newborn like you also. 

    I hope your day gets better soon!!

  26. By Sarah@CrazyLoveGambleStyle on February 13, 2013

    How maddening!  I’m sorry you are going through this. 

    We got a lot of this around here & I found the best way to deal with it (like many above) was to as calmly as possible pick her up, set her in her room, say “we don’t behave this way, once you are calm you may come back out”, close the door and walk away.  Ava was always able to EVENTUALLY calm herself down, come out and apologize for her behavior.  That didn’t mean it didn’t happen again because she learned some grand lesson, just that she knew what to expect when she acted that way.  I think it did teach her to “pull it together” quicker though.  Now if anyone was to go in and interfere with this process in the middle of the fit (read husband or me in a moment of guilt) it would set her off even more & not work at all.  The key was to make her stay in there until she was done. 

    Good luck!!

  27. By on February 13, 2013

    Oh they’re awful right? My little one had a similar stage, probably when her little sister was about 2 months old. It was rough. I wondered where my child had gone.

    We persisted in setting the appropriate boundaries without excessive discipline. It passed.

    I know you know this will pass as well. It’s like they have a hiccup in their cycle of development where you go toe to toe. They realise they’re not totally in charge and settle down .... but it erupts again at a later point. It’s times like that where I find myself agreeing with the premise of the Bible: we’re all broken, born that way. We don’t need to be taught to behave badly ... we need to be taught to behave well. A tough one, especially when they’re just so cute.

    Thinking of you as you navigate this season.

  28. By on February 13, 2013

    Another Sarah: Thank you for asking your question. I am the mother of 4 children. Sometimes ignoring is the best we can do. Sometimes we have tried stopping the behavior and it creates more stress for the child, or for us. I have been pushed very close to my breaking point, and occasionally I have to step away from the situation so I don’t lose my cool. Obviously if my child is causing themselves real harm, or if they could harm someone else I step in. That being said - If my child flips out and the rest of us can deal with it by leaving the room or ignoring the child then that is what we will do. I don’t believe my children want to throw tantrums, and they also don’t want to be ignored. When I ignore them I am giving them a choice without saying anything. I don’t think this would be appropriate in a public setting, as I would never want them to think that I would leave them somewhere. I did have to remove my child from a store during a tantrum…I left my cart, apologized to the nearest employee and we sat in the car. I sat quietly and ignored my child until the screaming stopped. I could have been in the car for 2 minutes or 2 hours I really have no idea. Once he was settled down we talked quietly and calmly (mostly I talked) I explained how I felt sad and embarrassed. I explained how throwing a tantrum would only result in us leaving. I explained that I hoped next time he would use his words instead so I could still take him shopping with me. He fell asleep. I wasn’t sure he understood, but it never happened again.

  29. By on February 13, 2013

    Sarah, you certainly didn’t take a wrong turn. I’m sure you know this deep down. Charlotte’s behavior is normal and age-appropriate. I don’t know where people got the idea that kids are cardboard cutouts - they are small humans with BIG emotions. IMHO, tantrums are the rule, not the exception in the 2s, 3s, 4s, maybe even older depending on your child and his/her emotional needs. Every parent deals with it in so many different ways. Feeling angry, not liking your child, resisting the urge to shout/yell/speak angrily or even smack is very normal, again, in my opinion. It’s great to read all the helpful ideas here. I used three or four different techniques (taking my son to his room to continue his tantrum and I mean sometimes just physically picking him as he flailed and thrashed on the floor) or sitting him out in a designated area in the house or ignoring him (unless we were out in public where I would just remove him from the shop/area) and the thing is, sometimes the methods worked and sometimes they didn’t. I just kept trying them out and resorting to alternatives if I could not get through the moment. I know it doesn’t help you when I, like many of your readers here, say that the tantrum phase passed and so too shall Charlotte’s. Not when you also have a newborn. But it will. In the meantime, just keep on keeping on with what you are doing and apply any of the excellent methods your readers have shared and see if it helps any.

  30. By on February 13, 2013

    One thing I forgot to add - there were times I lost my cool. For me, that meant giving into the urge to get angry and raise my voice (I’m not keen on smacking even though I was smacked as a child). They were not my finest moments and certainly I wasn’t proud of myself. But the truth was, I did not and could not manage some of the more trying tantrums. I had to learn to forgive myself and just keep going forward.

  31. By Rebecca Hahn on February 13, 2013


    Found this link tonight. Might help you find more ideas and help. I’ve got a feisty 3.5 year old too and I was super happy to come across this parenting website tonight.

  32. By Sarah Christensen on February 13, 2013

    Another Sarah - I understand completely where you’re coming from on this, but I think the way parents handle tantrums vary widely depending on their circumstances.  When the tantrums first started to sneak up on us, I was pregnant and the obvious decision seemed to be to explain to her that she was welcome to tantrum in the bedroom, but not to make the rest of us miserable.

    In our case, it made the tantruming much worse.  It was like Charlotte did not know how to regulate her emotions without us?  Or something?  Anyway, she would tantrum and then fall asleep and then wake up and tantrum some more and a tantrum she had on Monday could easily set our entire family out of whack until Thursday just because of the effect on her sleep patterns.

    So we went back to the drawing board.  When Donald and I argue, we try to make sure that we stay in physical contact.  It’s an idea we stumbled upon years ago in an old psych textbook - the suggestion was basically that when people touch, they start to release happy hormones that make them more forgiving and less angry, even in the midst of a heated disagreement.  I don’t know how much of that is true, but we figured it couldn’t hurt.  Anyway, our next tactic (which we’ve modified slightly but are still working with right now) was to wait the tantrum out in physical contact with Charlotte.

    This worked relatively well, but the baby has thrown an additional wrench into our best-laid plans in that we cannot approach a physically aggressive Charlotte while holding Evelyn.  The baby invariably suffers a blow from one of Charlotte’s flailing limbs, which hardly seems fair.

    Right now we’ve been sticking with physical contact (for the most part it really does seem to work - eye contact and hand holding are much more effective for us than anything else we’ve tried when we need to drive a point home to Charlotte) and we’re hoping that over time we’ll be able to transition her into finding alternatives to tantruming that are more palatable to all of us.  The thing is that Charlotte doesn’t really tantrum in public or even around other people.  We’ve had two or three incidences where her behavior was inappropriate so I picked her up and removed her from the situation, but she seems to have figured out rather quickly that those behaviors were not tolerated out of the home so now she reserves the really crappy stuff for home.

    I haven’t figured out how to communicate to her that it’s really not a desirable behavior at home either yet.  We keep talking to her - we even discuss emotions, reactions, and expectations BEFORE triggers come up - but it’s like it goes in one ear and out the other.  At this juncture, I suspect we’ll just keep trying to keep our head above water until something magically works.  Then we’re jumping all over that something like butter on bread.

  33. By Sarah Christensen on February 13, 2013

    (I forgot to clarify that we do actually engage Charlotte when she starts acting aggressive, it’s just very difficult.  For example, in yesterday’s tantrum, I set the baby down in the cradle.  She instantly took up crying again, but I didn’t really feel that I had a choice.  I turned to Charlotte and picked her up and told her that kicking was unacceptable.  She could go outside and kick the dirt in the yard or she could stay inside with us and continue her tantrum, but no kicking.  If she wasn’t able to do either then I was just going to have to restrain her myself.

    She refused to stop kicking, so I held her until she was so sick of it that she would do anything to be out of my arms.  So then I set her back down and the screaming continued sans kicking and I was able to pick the baby back up and comfort her.  I don’t know how long it lasted, but in my opinion it was entirely too long a period of time.  Ugh.)

  34. By on February 13, 2013

    Oh Sarah,

    The update makes it sound even worse.

    Here’s a trick that my parents used and it “cured” my sister, they video taped her tantrum, showed it to her afterwards and asked her what she thought about it.  She was so horrified, she never did it again. 

    Honestly, if I were in your shoes, I would use the super nanny “naughty spot” technique.  Or ask one of your parents to come over and do it with you.

    And you said something really interesting: “but she seems to have figured out rather quickly that those behaviors were not tolerated out of the home so now she reserves the really crappy stuff for home” 

    Why?  Why is it tolerated at home when it isn’t outside of the home? Why would she get that idea?  Has this really been going on for months?  You might want to see a doctor just to rule out anything.

    Best wishes Sarah.  I’m very sorry things are so hard.

  35. By Sarah Christensen on February 13, 2013

    Julien - I wouldn’t say it’s tolerated any more IN the home than it is OUT of the home - but when we’re out of the home I can take her out of the situation, which she does not like or want, and when we’re in the home there isn’t any place to go.  We’re already here.  I can remove her to the room, but then we have more trouble because the room is no longer a calming spot.  Since it’s gone over so poorly, I try to only do that if I’m pushed to the very edge of my breaking point.  Otherwise, I just ignore it and wait it out.  So I think she’s under the impression that it’s something she can get away with because the consequences when she does it at home are not as negative as those she experiences when she does it out and about…but I’m not positive how to rectify that without it being punitive.  I want to find a way to set limits respectfully…I just feel like somehow we’re missing the mark.  This may be normal behavior, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve our response in some way.

    Sadly, the tactic that seems to have made the most headway is lying to her.  I told her that all of the screaming from one of the tantrums hurt my ears and that now I cannot hear her when she screams like that.  But I can tell if she’s hurt and I can hear whispers (whispering when she’s upset helps alot because she wants to hear what’s going on) and I can hear her talking to me calmly, etc.

    I can’t believe I told her the truth about Santa Claus and then turned around and lied to her about whether or not I can hear her screaming bloody murder because I put the napkin on the wrong side of her plate, but there you have it.  I like the video idea; that seems much more reasonable.

  36. By on February 14, 2013

    This is such a blast from the past for me. I’m here to tell you that with my son (who just turned 5) everything about his behavior got easier from Charlotte’s age, up. I think I know how you feel… For me, even though I knew it was just a stage that he’d outgrow, it’s stressful because you’re not so much concerned with ‘fixing’ the behavior as you are concerned that in the midst of such high emotion, you’ll compromise your parenting philosophies… or like, emotionally damage them somehow because it’s just so hard to think rationally.

    I don’t have any sage advice, I really think he just outgrew the need to let so much out at once.

    This year has been the hardest of all my years as a parent (the line you wrote about never losing your cool so intensely and so often totally pulled me in), but it’s more to do with my oldest who’s officially menstruating with me! (We’re homeschooling this year and all four of us cooped up in the house together this very looooong winter has been maddening.) What makes these behavior challenges hardest on me, is feeling like she’s at such a critical age for me to parent her ‘right’. Like, if I mess up this learning opportunity now, she’ll be a tyrant the rest of her life.

    I realize that’s probably how I felt when Matthew was working through his behavior issues, too. It all feels so important. I feel you. :-/

  37. By Alicia on February 14, 2013

    I will say, one thing that cracks me up even in the midst of some really enraging behavior, is that siblings seem to have this code. I wonder if any other parent of multiple children can relate..

    I never have more than one child acting out at once.

    If one child is really acting up, the others will fall back. I’ve even pointed it out to them, it’s the oddest thing! When one child has been just putting me through the ringer all day, but then a different child crosses over to my bad side, the first child will suddenly start cozying up to me like a happy little lap cat. It’s amazing how quickly they can turn off the attitude or the demanding behavior, when there’s suddenly an open opportunity to be ‘the good one’ for a little while. Now, there are definitely times all three of them are being a CHALLENGE at once, but behavior-wise, only one of them will act up at a time.

    I swear they’re tag-teaming me! :-) I don’t even mind though, because sometimes all I really need is a break from battling that one child.

  38. By on February 14, 2013

    When I put my son in his room to calm down it would just intensify.  What I started doing was giving him something to do in his room that would help him calm himself.  So he separated and stacked his books, however he chose to do it that day- library books in one stack, his books in another; or make stacks of similar colors or similar topics.  Usually after 5-10 minutes of that he was calmed down enough to talk with me about what happened.

  39. By Sarah Christensen on February 14, 2013

    Alicia - How interesting!  I wonder if I’ll see that when Charlotte and Evie are a little older…?

    Kyla - OMG, brilliant!  I had started giving her the writing books we made because those were her favorite thing, and it worked like a charm but then she kept writing all over her body instead of the paper with the markers because I wasn’t watching her.  I didn’t even think about trying to replace it with another activity, I just took the markers away.  I’ll try that!

  40. By Sarah Christensen on February 14, 2013

    Another Sarah - I agonized all night about how rude my comment was.  I just wanted to say that I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to be rude.  I do value your input and I agree with your perspective, I just don’t always know how to enact it!

  41. By Megan on February 14, 2013

    In my experience, 3 is the worst age.  They are old to express themselves, but not really.  I have an 8 year old son who, seriously, was the devil at 3.  You would never know this looking and interacting with him now.  He’s so sweet, kind, gently, and loving.  It’s still mind blowing to me how he was at 3.  Every child is different and requires something different.  What works for one may not work for the other.  What worked for my 10 year old didn’t work for my 8.  And I’m sure that we will have to come up with new things for the baby when he’s 3.  I read a book called One, Two, Three Magic.  It was life changing for our little guy.  Really common sense things, but still great.  It gets better :)

  42. By on February 14, 2013

    I had a friend recently share an article (should try to find it) about how the crying/whining/tantrum behavior is completely normal and on some level a sign of growing maturity for your child. I’ve always associated the terrible two’s to the idea that your child is becoming independent and perhaps not yet vocal enough to effectively communicate those emotions. We never really had much in the way of terrible twos, its been the threes and according to the article it was that your child is now capable of communicating, but when they’re so emotionally upset, (tired, hungry, attention, ticked off by some orher lesser offense like putting markers away) tht line of communication gets cut off in the brain, making it harder and harder to communicate… And like others have said, kids don’t LIKE throwing tantrums.. They are clearly not in a good place when it happens. Which could explain the theory above by saying they’re upset because they know how to communicate, but are so upset they can’t remember how. Not sure I explained it properly. I should try to find the article again.

    I’m fairly certain this isn’t a ‘call the doctor and discuss your looney 3 year old’ problem… I mean sure, talk it over in your next check up, but I don’t think anything you’ve said about her is abnormal.

  43. By on February 14, 2013

    god bless you for posting this.

  44. By Kaly Erwin on February 14, 2013

    my DD is 22 months old and this is just starting. Every single thing is a struggle in the mornings. She resists everything I try to get her to do (put on clothes, change diaper, put on jacket). It has to be some sort of independence power struggle thing. I just keep reminding myself that I am the parent and the mature one. And that I CANNOT LET HER WIN :). Kidding, sort of.

    But then there are times that I realize how crazy it all is and that there are times when I am at work and if I really pay attention, I feel on the inside how she feels when she’s throwing a tantrum, I just learned to reign in back in over the years. Eventually we learn this.

    There are also times when she is being so looney that the only thing I can do is laugh. Trust me on this: laughing at a hysterical toddler does NOT help diffuse the situation. We both learned something that day.

    You are not alone and from what I can tell, there’s no “right” way to handle this as long as you come from a place of love and compassion, for yourself and your child. Thanks for sharing.

  45. By Lindsey on February 14, 2013

    “When Donald and I argue, we try to make sure that we stay in physical contact”.

    My husband and I do that too! It TOTALLY helps soften any angry feelings I have so that I can communicate them without being irrational or lashing out. Plus, I’m upset and want to be comforted and even if he is the one I am upset with he is also the one I want to be comforted by. It’s unusual but I actually kind of love it.

    I think I understood what Another Sarah was saying. As someone who doesn’t yet have children but wants to someday, I am genuinely curious as to the whys/hows of other people’s parenting strategies. If I see someone parenting a certain way and I don’t understand it, my asking why is really me wanting to learn, not me judging.

    I also didn’t think your (Sarah S-C) response was at all rude?

    I had never heard the video idea and I think that’s a really interesting and great one to try.

  46. By on February 14, 2013

    Oh my gosh…no, I didn’t think your response was rude at all. I am sorry if my questions seemed veiled with criticism. I didn’t really know how to ask the questions without sounding judgy and I really hate that, so I hope it didn’t come across that way. I definitely agree that every child is different and has different needs and things that work, so even if I KNEW something that worked for every kid I know, I wouldn’t assume it would necessarily work with Charlotte or anyone else’s kid. I really like the physical contact idea though, it sounds like a really loving way to let her know that you are there going through it with her, in a sense.

    Alicia K - I don’t have kids, but I have a lot of contact with them, and I am definitely not naive enough to think that I have some sort of parenting magic that would avoid tantrums! All I feel for parents when I see that going on is sympathy really, and (if I’m being honest) a little relief that I can just walk away.

    Thanks for all of your responses, I know it’s a touchy parenting topic. Someone asking questions who doesn’t have kids can come across as holier-than-thou, and I appreciate that you all didn’t see me that way.

    Sarah I love your blog and I think you are an awesome mother, and I like to sock all these conversations and ideas away for myself for somewhere down the line when I need them.

  47. By Sarah Christensen on February 14, 2013

    Another Sarah - I didn’t feel like your question was critical or holier-than-thou, no worries! =)  Like you, before I became a parent (and, if I’m honest, I still do this to some extent), I liked to ask questions about parenting thoughts and behaviors I encountered.  I figured that if nobody trusts you to learn how to drive a car on the fly, it probably wouldn’t hurt to learn about kids before becoming a parent too.

    That said, Charlotte just woke up from her nap and is screaming about…???...I think maybe her sippy is empty or something? so I’m going to have to come back to this topic later!

  48. By Alicia on February 14, 2013

    Julien—I have considered doing that so many times with my older child during her preteen temper tantrums! I gave her fair warning once at the start of the day, that if she threw any fits, that’s the tactic I was trying next. I even told her that I’d post it to facebook, which would have really been a riot because her friends all immediately ‘friended’ me as soon as I got one - so they’d all see it. That’s all it took!

    Never. Happened. Again!

  49. By on February 14, 2013

    I love your blog; our parenting styles are similar and I have a little one born within days of Charlotte and a 1 year old. Just a couple thoughts: 1- totally normal stuff here :) 2- have you tried spending a couple of days reinforcing positives only? I always tell parents (I’m a counselor) and myself, daily, lol, that attending to a fit is a reward for a fit. I try to ignore or distract with a “coping skill” and during my 3 year old’s terrible phases we ignore as much as possible and praise/reward/reinforce fit free behavior as often as every five minutes. Exhausting but it’s a pretty quick fix. You could also go for the big guns and create some sort of feelings chart where she can use faces to identify how she’s feeling and choose a favorite way to cope and she’s rewarded for implementing it.
    As for the lying, yeah…. I’ve not exactly gone that route, but I have been guilty of convincing my 3 year old that she has devastated her baby brother and he’s scared and worried about her. Sometimes that’s true?!
    Hang in there!

  50. By on February 15, 2013

    Sarah, I am thinking that with my daughter, your method would work better. She is 2 and more social, more interested in affection/connection with us. So going into the room would probably really upset her. With my son, it does the opposite. Suddenly, there is no one there to make a “show” for so he stops. I usually hear him calling to me that, “I stopped now” within a few minutes. It will be interesting to see if my daughter reacts more like Charlotte. Or maybe something totally different…

  51. By on February 15, 2013

    A few weeks ago, Jude pitched a fit over which toothbrush we were going to use. He screamed and he cried and I finally gave up trying to reason with him and instead brought him upstairs and sat with him while he tried to get a handle on things. When he stopped, we went down and did toothbrushing take 2 without incident.

    What was interesting, though, was that during our usual bedtime chat about any and all things, he said “Mommy, what was I crying about?“ so, I gave it to him straight: “A toothbrush, believe it or not!“ He was silent a few moments, and then he started to laugh. “I’m silly, Mommy. Why was I crying over a toothbrush?? I don’t know why I did that!“ And ever since then, not a single tantrum. He is still an obstinate, coniving little monkey butt on occasion, but I think he embarrassed himself a little.

    I actually felt sorry for him when he was mid fit. I could tell that things had simply gotten away from him and he didn’t know what else to do. I once calmly asked him to stop crying, and he said (with such anguish in his voice) “I can’t, Mommy. I don’t know why I can’t.“ Was a real eye opener for me.

    I hope this stage passes for you soon. Sending good thoughts your way.

  52. By kreints on February 15, 2013

    oh yes. Three and I did not get a long very well—either time. It as by far the hardest age. BY FAR.  Hang on—it only lasts a year ;)

  53. By on February 17, 2013

    oh thank you, thank you for posting this. 3 is my nemesis. i don’t have the energy to respond at the moment, but just reading what everyone says is sooo helpful. sometimes i do feel like i’m going to lose my mind and that i’m not cut out for this gig and that i’m the most horrific human/mama/woman in the world and worst of all, that i’m alone in all of that. so very very glad to hear i’m in good company.

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