Dealing With a Temper Tantrum – One Solution

I have this beautiful, spunky, 3 year old wild one wonder who keeps me humble and on my toes.

She is sweet and funny, but she can throw a tantrum like nobody’s business. Just the other day we were in the living room and she asked for something. I told her no and offered other solutions, but she was set on what she wanted. When she couldn’t have the object of her desire, she flew herself on the floor and proceeded to cry and whine and roll around. I tried to comfort her, talk to her, reason with her, but she just kept saying…err…yelling, “I don’t want you!” What a punch to a mama heart to hear those words, over and over and over again.

I don’t want you.

That’s her way, when she doesn’t get what she wants, she goes for the kill.

I don’t want you.

I try and calm her, I try ignoring her (which makes her more crazy…and loud), I threaten discipline, and am prepared to deal it out, but as nothing is working I try something else.

I look at her as stern as possible and I say, “If you don’t stop fussing, I’m going to eat your toes.”

I say this in all seriousness.

She doesn’t know quite how to react. I can see the threat rolling over in her mind. She fusses some more, and I lean down and I say, “that’s it, those toes are mine.”

I begin to nibble on her toes. I exaggerate how good there are.

She giggles, but tries to fuss.

The giggling wins.

We laugh and I tickle her and chase her around, I swing her and then I play “This little piggy” on her toes and all of a sudden she forgot her fuss.

After a few minutes of giggling and play, we go on with our day. All is well.

My solution for dealing with a temper tantrum with my wild one (when it isn’t an issue of tiredness or hunger)? Play, chase, nibble, giggle, tickle.

I realize this solution might not work for every child because every child is different, but if you have a bit of a spunky tantrum-flinging babe, give this a try. It sure beats anger and exasperation. Instead of a punishment or action that would leave us all in tears, we end up in ball of laughter.

I like this, and I’ll take it.

Plus, her toes are pretty yummy!

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Love, SM

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  • http://twitter.com/StephKandray Housewife Mama

    I have a 3 year old spunkstress too. Thanks for sharing!

  • Rosann

    Sarah, I can so relate to this. My firstborn (now 7) used to throw out of control fits of rage that would go on an on. She would even kick and hit me in the heat of the tantrum. When I was about 8 months pregnant with her baby sister, she got into a fit of rage over something and was kicking and hitting at my pregnant tummy. I was home alone with her and was a hormonal emotional wreck myself. It was all I could do not to turn around and hit back. So instead, I escaped to our giant master walk-in closet, locked the door, and sunk down to the floor in tears. While my wild child stood outside the closet door banging on it and screaming for me to let her in, I prayed for God to give me peace and patience and for Him to calm her spirited rage. Within minutes she quieted down and I calmed down and nobody was hurt. I was able to come out of the closet and sit down with her to talk out our feelings in a way where we both were heard and we both apologized. My walking into the closet and leaving her on the other side of the door distracted her because it wasn’t something I had ever done before and it sent her little mind spinning in wonder. I’ve also done the tickling method and the hugging tightly method and those worked as well. It just depends on the circumstances. The good news is they do grow out of those tantrums, but she is definitely still a very sensitive 7 year old who easily gets her feelings hurt so I have to be very aware of that in our day to day conversations and actions. I suppose the good news is my 4 year old hasn’t been able to break me with her tantrums yet because her sister gave me good training. Lol!

  • OneBlessedLady

    I. Love. This. As a new mama, I was so convinced that being a dictator with my kids was the way to get them to obey every time, all the time. As the Lord has matured me and given me more kids (and more and more), I realize that so many times, smiling and playing in the midst of something like you just described is the way to preserve their hearts… and mine. Yes, I’m still a dictator, but a very benevolent one. Thanks for sharing with us!

  • http://www.amylearns.com/ Amy Tilson

    Throwing them off their game really does seem to be the key. My little guy has discovered pouting. I tell him it is impossible to stick that bottom lip out while he’s giggling, so I tickle him under his chin and ears. We get a couple more just to test it out, but generally changes his whole mood. These strong-willed babes make me flex my creative muscles in ways design never has.

    • TraciMLittle

      amen :-)

  • Erin

    I love to ‘eat’ my toddlers’ toes, and earlobes, and neck nibbles, don’t even get me started on the area underneath her arms, up and down the sides of her tummy. I think she may just pass out from the uncontrollable giggles that come with all this yumminess.

    But to do it when she is throwing a tantrum? Something does not resonate well in my soul with this. What is discipline? Definitely not an outlet for our own frustration, anger or dictatorship desires. Not to get our children to ‘behave’ correctly, not to bully them, not to instill fear in them of us. No, none of these things are productive by any means. What is it? What is the purpose of it? As always, let’s go the Bible….to train them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (admonition: authoritative counsel or warning). I understand that not every single incident of our lives with our children is going to be spiritual training 101, homework due later. Yet, a tantrum is a serious thing…because it is an overflow of the heart.

    It is not a thing to be taken lightly, we are loving our children in the utmost when we do not allow them to act in a way that is not pleasing to the Lord. Your precious wild wonder was not trained, she was distracted. Jesus did not get what He asked for (‘let this cup pass from Me’), and He was able to act in a self controlled way, submitting to the position of authority that God had over Him, and obeyed without getting what He asked for.

    Will your daughter be given everything she wants in life after she is out of your care? Will she throw (an adult version of) a tantrum at her work, in her marriage, at her church if she hears the word no? And will someone come running after her to ‘eat her toes’ so that she is made ‘happy’ once again? Of course not, and she has not been taught the right response to the answer no. She has been distracted by a wonderful game of snuggle tickles and loves from mommy. This is one of my most favorite times, but definitely not in the place of discipline.

    Erin

  • Laura

    There is a sweetness here, but it troubles me that she gets this positive reinforcement for throwing a tantrum. What is endearing at 3 is not quite so endearing at 23. Yes, when you ignore tantrumming behavior, it will initially get louder, but when it quits working as a way to get attention, it will fade. I wish you nothing but the best, but I will also admit concern. Biblically speaking, we are to train our children in the way they should go, and that sometimes, the answer is no…not to distract them from the initial pain of ‘no’ by pleasing them some other way. Tantrums come out of frustration initially (in the toddler years), but past that, speaking as an early childhood educator, they are learned behavior.

    • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

      What do you suggest?

    • Stacie Montella

      I also am an early childhood educator, and I also agree that tantrums should be ignored and not fed. But I have 3 beautiful babes, and one of them is extremely strong willed. She has not learned to continue tantrums because we give in to them. In fact, we have had tantrums last for hours because they are being ignored. We have picked her little body off the floor and had her melt into a puddle of tears at the end of these tantrums. In these outbursts she is angry and out of control, but she feels guilt and shame re: her behavior after, and the last thing she needs is for us to walk away from her during the outburst. So instead we are still learning how to cope with them, and learning how to teach her to calm down from them. Sarah Mae’s technique won’t work with my child, and may backfire for some parents, but she is learning how to defuse her child’s temper. She is demonstrating God’s love to her child by not walking away in annoyance (which I am sure she wants to do sometimes). She is teaching her child to get calm by finding and giving in to humor and delight, and that is a valuable life lesson. While most children outgrow tantrums at a young age with the proper response from parents, some children do not. Everyone is hard wired differently, and as an early childhood educator you know first-hand that what works for most doesn’t work for all. We meet our children where they need us.

      • Laura

        I did not suggest that she walk away in annoyance, Stacie.
        When I read the original post above, there is really no mention of a child who is throwing tantrums that last for hours. Rather, the picture painted is that when she is told she may not have something, the tantrum begins, and mom subsequently offers comfort, talks with her and tries to reason with her. When that doesn’t work, she increases the attention by adding the playful aspect.
        If a child is in control enough to yell at her mother, ‘I don’t want you!’…..to ‘go for the kill’, as SaraMae stated, then I think it’s appropriate to honor that child’s words. Love and logic – you don’t want Mom present, she will not be. Walk away calmly – go to another room and pray, and let her experience the moment without Mom there, and see that her hurtful words do have an effect. When she has calmed down, talk to her then, about hurtful words and inappropriate behavior. Help her understand that it’s OK to be upset, and give her appropriate ways to express it.
        It would be a more positive thing to nibble toes, snuggle, and give other positive reinforcement at a time when a child is not in the midst of negative behavior. I’m sure that as an early childhood educator, you have had child guidance classes and heard terms such as positive reinforcement – the idea of ‘catch them doing something right’ and reward that with praise and positives.
        I disagree with your statement that she is ‘teaching her child to get calm by finding and giving in to humor and delight’. In the midst of a temper tantrum as described above, it appears more likely that mom is taking measures to make her daughter happy again, rather than giving her the opportunity to accept the inherent pain of being told ‘no’.

        • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

          I appreciate all of your thoughtful comments. I have a follow-post that I hope will address some of the concerns.

          • TraciMLittle

            :-)

      • TraciMLittle

        perfectly said Stacie! I totally agree. Each child is different. If every outburst or tantrum was met with harsh discipline, this might create resentment in the Mama (Sarah Mae). Sometimes humor and silliness is the best way to show child and parent, that we don’t need to respond with anger, but love and laughter. Love this Sarah Mae. Traci @ Ordinary Inspirations http://www.ordinaryinspirations.blogspot.com

      • http://twitter.com/Crystal08102415 Crystal B

        I completely agree that we wouldn’t “walk away in annoyance,” or cause guild/shame to our children. In our house, when it’s over, it’s over and that is a very strict rule for me. But, I have to say that I think there can be a “middle ground” between not showing unconditional love to your child and giving what could be perceived as positive reinforcement for inappropriate behavior.

        We go the playful route sometimes as well, but I definitely think there are times when children need that discipline, regardless of how unappealing it might be to either the parents or children.

        • TraciMLittle

          yes :-)

    • Marywhite

      I have found that in my worst personal tantrums, my Heavenly Father has never given me the punishments I have deserved.I have felt His love and compassion and seen Him send my way! The goodness of God leads me to repentance! May I humbly ask you how often doesour Heavenly Father discipline you? In my life, I have been disciplined by God far less than I deserved. He gently teaches in love and show’s me the right path. He gives me chances andonly when I am lving in a state of direct disobedience have I seen His discipline. I am not against discipline, I think it as a place… But it is only mentioned a few times in scripture…. Whereas mercy is mentioned hundreds of times. See the perspective? I believe as a mother it is our job to nurture our children…. Like a garden. If you put the right nutrients in the soil ( love, laughter, toe nibbling, creatively avoiding unnecessary upsetting situations, and mostly putting ourselves in their little shoes instead of expecting them to be mature adults) and provide the environment of love, acceptance and joy they so desperately need you would be surprised at how little you have to use traditional discipline methods! I was a mother who consistently spanked my wild boy for 3 years straight and got no where. All day was spent dealing with him and his anger, and tantrums. It only made things worse. Finally at the end of answers I asked God and He brought me to this web site and reminded me of His dealings through the years in my life. I was shocked at how far away from the image of my Father my parenting was. As I dig deeper in his word I am finding I ave been taught a very warped, one eyed view of godly parenting… I have taken books written from 2 verses that preach an entire philosophy opposite of how God deals with us as children. This is shameful. As I have asked God to give me guidance I saw immediate change in my child – a change of HEART. He didn’t need spankngs, he needed more mercy and love. At the most now he gets one punishment a week on average. He is happy, mostly always obedient and would do anything for me. The atmosphere is different… He wants to hear about what Gods word says now, before I could talk for hours and he didn’t care. So, I say all that to beg you to be open minded…

  • http://joyfulmothering.net Christin

    Seriously?! Seriously, we DO this! Too funny—it’s no wonder you and I are kindred. xo :)

  • Victoria @ Mommy Marginalia

    This reminds me of some of the suggestions in “Playful Parenting”. I’ll admit I have a hard time remembering to “play” my way out of a sticky situation with my spirited 3yo boy, but when I do remember, wow, does it work like a charm!

  • http://twitter.com/LindseyMBell LindseyBell

    Now all I have to do is remember to be fun while I feel like pulling my hair out, lol :)

  • Vanessa

    When our older son was 2 he threw his first temper tantrum. It was just like you see in the movies…he got down on the floor and started kicking and screaming. I walked right over him and went to another room and after about 30 seconds he stopped and never had another tantrum.

    Thinking I had this parenting thing down (pride goeth before a fall), God gave us a second son who is the complete opposite of our easy going first child. At age 3 he started having temper tantrums and I tried ignoring it and I tried distracting him. When it escalated to screaming in public, in desperation I finally turned to the Lord for wisdom in raising my children and especially this child. Disciplining him for a temper tantrum has worked for this particular child. He is 4 now and I no longer feel like I have to hold my breath for fear that he will embarass me in public, and his behavior at home has also improved – angry screaming temper tantrums are a rarity now.

    The lesson I learned from this is that every child is uniquely made by the Lord and to ask Him for wisdom and strength for raising the children that he entrusted me with.

  • Stacie Montella

    Oh my! This is my four year old! We have found the less harsh we are in our punishment of the tantrum, the less severe and lengthy they end up being. I do wish the occasional eating of her toes would distract her, but that is not the case! Writing out some house rules has been our biggest help with stopping tantrums. I had hoped this blessing of a child (who threw her first tantrum at 8 months) would have grown out of it by now, but she’s learning. And she can recite Ephesians 4:26 by memory!

  • Charles

    I’ve got a pretty wild 3yr old boy and this sounds all too familiar. This reaction is definitely more fun for everyone. :)

  • http://twitter.com/SugarLovesJenny Jenny’s Blessed

    I LOVE this post ~ it drew me to your blog.

    Sad though that there are “high & mighties” eager to paint this method of dealing with a tantrum as detrimental…

    Every child is different and requires a response that works for the family. For us, we have a very spritely almost-3-year-old and unlike our 3 older children when they were toddlers, she throws fits. Distraction is the best remedy for us. Tickling and biting toes, ribs, etc. makes a wonderful difference and leaves everyone smiling. Is there more to discipline than that? Yes. But I believe that the point is being missed. It’s a love thing. Sometimes stricter methods are better tossed out the window in a given moment where a healthy dose of snuggles or fun offer to lighten possibly an entire day and bring mama and baby closer together.

    God bless and thanks for this sweet and lovely perspective!

  • MacKenzie

    I just love this! It’s so wise and yet so simple! Thank you for the idea!

  • Becca

    I laughed pretty loud when I got to the part about you seriously threatening to eat her toes. So Random! You are such an encouragement to me, and I’m not even a mom yet! I very much want 3-4 kids in the next 8-9 years (I am 28, and we’ll be starting as soon as we move out of the city!) and I LOVE learning about these things ahead of time.
    It also reminds me of learning a very similar lesson while working at a daycare when I was 17/18 years old: one little 3 yr old, Carson, kept acting up at lunch (typical for him in general), so I finally took him out of the room, sat down in front of him, and was like, “Carson! What IS WRONG??”…..he replied, “I don’t know….” Then I suddenly remembered that he spent all day in daycare while his mom worked, and he had only seen his dad, who lived in Brazil, twice in his whole life. Maybe he just really needed love and attention. I pulled him in for a big hug, and he was PERFECT! the rest of lunch :)

  • Michelle

    You’re brave to put yourself out there like this and I KNOW you are smart enough to have foreseen possible disagreements.

    My last child is much like yours Sarah. I had never experienced full-blown temper-tantrums and crying that went on indefinitely until our third and last child. I was always a “first-time obedience parent” and would say something to her like this before I got to the angry exasperated stage: “You need to go in your room until you calm down and stop crying. When you are calm, then we can talk about why this is wrong.”

    The problem is, she was never, what I call a self-soother. Even as an infant, she would cry constantly no matter what I did. I held her constantly, sang to her unless the screeching was too loud, nursed her, rocked her, and yes, would let her cry it out many times when I felt it was necessary and doing all the above didn’t help!
    I almost had a depressive nervous breakdown. (She is wonderful today, by the way and we both survived by the grace of God)

    The point I am trying to make is this: She has always had a hard time calming down on her own, even though I was very consistent with the whole Shepherding a Child’s Heart thing, and it didn’t matter. For some reason, she is a very intensely emotional child and once the water works start, it is very hard for her to stop.

    Maybe your little one is like that too? Ultimately, you are her mom, and understand this.

    Although I don’t agree with something like this on a regular basis, I wished I thought of toe-munching at times! I might have less gray hairs:D

  • Kendal Rich

    I’m struggling with this a bit too. I love your sweet, graceful approach and sometimes I sure need a good dose of it! However, how are we to teach our children self-control? Throwing a fit is never an appropriate response, and by avoiding the real heart issue behind it, I think can be a bit risky. I have 4 babies, ages 8 down to 18 months, all with different personality types. But we use the exact same discipline approach with all of them and we expect all the same behavior. Spunky or not, when mama says no, throwing a fit in response is not ok. We have ended fit throwing quite quickly in our house, and no spirits have been broken and no little hearts have been damaged. We have happy, less fit throwing babies. :) But anywho, thank you for sharing and I appreciate your sweet, caring heart! I love that you have such a heart for your babes!

  • Hillary

    My first born completely through me for a loop! I have a very dramatic, loud, never stops moving, strong willed boy! I also defuse him with silliness and giggles. I don’t think I am reinforcing the bad behavior because I don’t give in to him over what he was fussing about. I just change the mood and distract with playfulness. I think children would much rather have a tickle-fest than throw tanturms.
    Thank you for your encouragement! I am so loving Desperate! Crying through most chapters.
    Blessings!