3-year-old temper tantrum
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Are you dealing with 3-year-old temper tantrums?

If you have ever spent some time with toddlers, you know they are prone to temper tantrums. This could happen at any time and anywhere. The violent outburst of emotions and tears can seem like a volcanic eruption that was triggered by anything. So, what is the meaning of a temper tantrum? How do you prevent and handle it?

What is the meaning of a Temper Tantrum?

Put simply, a temper tantrum is a sudden and unplanned outburst of anger or frustration. Tantrums can be emotional, physical and verbal. They can happen at regular intervals during the day and can last for a few seconds to up to 2 hours.

Temper tantrums are common in children, particularly in toddlers, and they are a normal part of children’s early childhood development.

My Happy Baby - Margo Morrison
My Happy Baby: Margo Morrison

So, while it might be a bit embarrassing and frustrating when your child has a meltdown in public, know that the tantrums won’t last. Your 3-year-old child is having an emotional moment that he/she can’t articulate and the tantrum is a natural course in their development.

What causes a Temper Tantrum?

Tantrums occur because generally, children do not yet possess the language skills to express their feelings and wants. Children act out what they cannot express or articulate in words. As children grow older, they become more aware of their environments, their likes and dislike, and their sense of autonomy. As such, there is a gap between how children feel and what they can express during this stage of their development.  

Often, it can seem like a battle of wills between you and your child if they want to do something that they are not allowed to do. Particularly, if they are allowed to do or have something at the moment that they want. They may also become frustrated while trying to complete a task with skills that they have not yet mastered. Either way, there are plenty of causes for a tantrum. 

When are Tantrums Most Likely to Occur?

There are certainly some situations that are more likely to trigger a tantrum. As parents and carers, we need to pay attention to these and reduce them as much as possible. Children are most like to throw a tantrum when they are tired or are still upset about an earlier incident or event.

Common Triggers for a Temper Tantrum

At home, in public or at school, a tantrum can be triggered by any or all of the following:

  1. Bedtime
  2. Mealtime/snack time
  3. Bath time
  4. When parents’ attention is diverted to another person or object
  5. Children wanting to but not being allowed to play
  6. Transitions from one task or activity to another

How to Prevent 3-year-old Temper Tantrums

  1. Understanding your Child

Whilst tantrums are a natural part of children’s development, it is also possible to reduce their frequency. Having a better understanding of your child is a good place to start. You know your child better than anyone else. So, you know what situations are likely to make them feel uncomfortable and their time limit for certain activities. Taking careful note of these situations and reducing them can be a great help in reducing your child’s tantrums.

2. Create Routines

Another practical strategy for preventing temper tantrums is to provide schedules and routines for children to follow. Children are more likely to cooperate when they know what changes to expect in their environment. Having routines give children a sense of control over their environment.

3. Communicate Changes and Transitions

You can prevent meltdowns by alerting children to changes in their activities by using prompts and communicating during transitions. Before an activity changes, communicate this to the children by letting them know which activity will be starting next and how much time they will need to finish their current activity. By doing so, you are preparing your child for what comes next and reducing their frustration and the likelihood of a tantrum.

How to Handle Temper Tantrums?

Having a better understanding of what causes your 3-year-old’s temper tantrum and finding ways to prevent it will not eliminate the tantrums. Your child will still have the occasional meltdown. Luckily, with time and maturity, these meltdowns will be fewer and fewer. Until then, when your child has a tantrum here are the do’s and don’ts of handling it.


Find a distraction – if you notice a temper coming on, you can find a distraction to divert your child’s attention from the source of frustration. Find something attractive, a fun activity or songs that will catch your child’s attention.

Ignore the behaviour – before you do this, if your child is at home, ensure that they are in a safe place within eye view and not in danger of hurting themselves. If you are in public, take them somewhere quiet and safe while you continue to ignore their behaviour.

Stay Calm – if you are calm during your child’s tantrum, this will help you to de-escalate the situation and give your child the space they need in this highly emotional state. In this situation, you are also modelling effective emotional regulation for your children.


Leave your child unattended or out of sight – while you are ignoring the behaviour be sure that your child is in plain view and they are not doing anything or in danger of hurting themselves.

Reason with your child during a tantrum – it can be fruitless to try and reason with a child who is in a heightened state of emotion. You could be prolonging the tantrum.

Give in to their demands to stop the tantrum – if you give in to your child’s demands because they throw a tantrum, they will learn that their behaviour is an appropriate way of getting what they want.

When to Seek Help?

Your child’s temper tantrums will become fewer as they mature emotionally and develop their language skills. However, if their tantrums become worse, more frequent and more intense after 4-years-old, you should speak to your child’s healthcare provider.


Temper Tantrums PDF Poster

3-year-old Temper Tantrums PDF Poster
Photo credit: Margo Morrison


T. Steuart Watson; T. Watson; S. Gebhardt. (2010). Temper Tantrums: Guidelines for Parents and Teachers.

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