Raising a toddler is like a walk in the park. The Jurassic Park. With all that crying and screaming, you would think that they actually did see a dinosaur. But jokes aside, a 3-year-old’s tantrum can be trying for even the most seasoned parents. On bad days, like when your kid is lying on the floor kicking and screaming, you can’t help but feel helpless and overwhelmed. However, keep in mind that the secret to becoming a successful parent is never to mold your toddlers into perfect little angels – because that’s unrealistic and impossible. Believe it or not, tantrums are an important part of your child’s emotional development. As parents, we should learn to be calmer and more realistic in the face these behaviors.

However, before we can try to manage them, we should first understand why temper tantrums occur:

Your child may be experiencing physiological stress

Simply put, your toddler may just be tired, hungry or overstimulated. Fatigue and hunger can reduce anyone’s ability to cope, much less a 3-year-old’s. Hence, even the most well-behaved toddler may irrationally throw a tantrum as a coping mechanism for his discomfort.

Children often lack the vocabulary to express big emotions

Typically, children only begin to develop their language skills during the second year of their life. It can be frustrating to not have the right words to appropriately express how you feel. As such, temper tantrums are (more often than not) an outlet that toddlers use to express their frustration. Thankfully, as their language skills improve, your 3-year-old’s tantrums are likely to reduce overtime as well.

Your child may be experiencing a fear of separation

For most toddlers, saying goodbye can be hard because they cannot grasp the concept of time. Whenever you leave, the uncertainty of how long it would take before you return often cause toddlers to feel uneasy. The feeling of anxiety tends to make toddlers whine, cry and cling on to you. Try establishing a daily routine with your 3-year-old to help your child establish the concept of time and ease them into being independent.

Your child is just starting to develop their social and emotional skills

Temper tantrums are reportedly the most common behavioral problem among children between the ages of 18 months to 4 years – and understandably so! The first 3 years of life are critical for a toddler’s brain development. Most toddlers develop their emotional competences (like how to better comprehend and regulate what they’re feeling) during this impressionable and sensitive period. Therefore, parents play a vital role in guiding and facilitating their children’s development in all aspects. It is important to establish rewards for good behavior while disciplining the bad behavior, to encourage positive emotional development.

Here are some tips that could help with your 3-year-old’s tantrum:

  • Stay calm
  • It takes time for change to happen, so be realistic about their behavior. Remember that you cannot directly control your child’s actions and emotions.
  • Know child’s limits and personality. Tune in to your child’s feelings so that you can adjust your replies accordingly.
  • Always try to talk about emotions. Encourage him to name and identify his feelings and tell you what caused them.
  • Be patient and answer the tedious “why?”. Explain to your child why he has to follow rules and how he should go about doing it by establishing and enforcing consequences.
  • Stick to a schedule and develop a routine. Always try to plan ahead. If a big event is coming up, remember – a tantrum at home would mean less chance of it happening again later.
  • Take no in stride. Never avoid disciplining your child just because you want to avoid an emotional fallout. It is important that you don’t accidentally reward tantrums.
  • If possible, offer choices for your child. This gives them a sense of control over the situation and encourages them to be independent.
  • Don’t completely shut tantrums out because your 3-year-old’s tantrum is a form of emotional expression. It’s sometimes better to let it all out than keep it bottled in.

Just remember: “when little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it is our job to share our calm not join their chaos” – L.R. Knost 


Daniels E, Mandleco B and Luthy K E. (24 OCT 2012). Assessment, management, and prevention of childhood temper tantrums. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 24(10):569-73. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23006014

Potegal M and Davidson R. (01 JUN 2003). Temper tantrums in Young Children: 1. Behavioral Composition. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 24(3):140-147. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12806225

Green J A, Whitney P G and Potegal M. (01 OCT 2012). Screaming, Yelling, Whining and Crying: Categorical and intensity differences in Vocal Expressions of Anger and Sadness in Children’s Tantrums. Emotion, 11(5):1124-1133. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12806225