Q&A: 3 Year Old Throws Terrible Fits At Night

Tamara GuoBehavior, Challenging Behavior

blockquote_bgMy three year old has been throwing terrible fits at night. It starts if I tell her to do something she doesn’t want something as simple as bubbles in the bath. It turns into AN HOUR OF HER CRYING. I send her to her room until she can stop but she don’t stop she just acts worse. She throws toys. Wiggles around on the floor and wont stop till I hold her. When I hold her she still wont do the original thing I told her nor while she say she will listen to me.

Preschoolers are prone to exerting their independence and tantrums are still typical in the preschool years when children do not get their way or are told no. If you are holding the line and not giving into your daughter (even though an hour long crying fit can be exhausting for you) then you are doing the right thing. If you give in after 15 minutes of a tantrum she learns that she her “fit” worked and is apt to cry 20 minutes the next time in order to get her way. Make sure you keep her daily routine and bedtime routine consistent each day/night. Also, make sure she is getting enough sleep (since her tantrums occur at night, often an overly tired child’s behavior escalates).

Also, pick your battles and give her choices where choices are possible…for example, if the choice is bubbles or no bubbles and she doesn’t want bubbles, then fine no bubbles tonight. If she wants to wear her purple striped sweater with her red pants today and she will have a tantrum if you make her change…just say “oh well she won’t match today”. But, if it is time to leave the park and she doesn’t want to, this is not a choice and you need to leave tantrum included. You can make a daily routine chart to hang on your wall to help her with transitioning to bedtime…cut out pictures from magazines and order them for her daily routine, such as 5pm Susie eats dinner, 6pm Susie plays with her toys, 7pm Susie reads books with Mommy 7:30pm Susie takes a bath 8pm Susie goes to bed.

Also give her advance warning of transitions…for example, 5 minutes before it’s time to eat, let her know that she will soon need to clean up her toys because it will be dinner time…you can use an egg timer to help her understand this concept. When you give her the 5 minutes warning, tell her “when the bell goes off it will be time for your bath”. You can also use songs for transitions, such as Barney’s clean up song or make up your own to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle “When Susie’s bathed and scrubbed her head, then it’s time to go to bed”. Again, consistency in routines helps with behavior. You can also make abehavior chart for her; this is a link to printable pages.

You can use stickers and pick a single behavior such as “cleaning up toys” or “going to bed without a tantrum” encourage her to collect 5 stickers and then she gets a special reward for good behavior, etc. You can also use a reward jar that you fill with coins or rocks, etc…when she follows through with a request she can drop a token in the jar, but when she doesn’t follow through a token is removed from the jar, you can decide how many tokens she needs to collect at the end of the day or week in order to receive a reward…she will learn quickly that this is fun and an incentive to be a good listener. Make sure to focus a lot of positive attention to her good behaviors, so she learns that she received attention for being good, not for misbehaving. You can read more about behavior here.

If you feel your daughter’s behaviors are not typical for her age or have other concerns about her development contact your local early intervention preschool program for an evaluation.