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Throwing Tantrums


We are having a hard time with my boyfriend’s 3-year-old son throwing tantrums at bedtime or any other time he is asked to do something he does not want to do. How can I positively enforce that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated? Also, he stays up late most nights and wants his dad to sleep with him, either when he falls asleep or if he wakes up during the night. Is there a normal age when this should stop happening? Is there a good way to wean him from this behavior and get him into bed earlier?



This information is included in our Guide to Sleep Issues. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

Thanks for contacting us. Parenting is truly a tough job, no matter the age of your child. However, you can teach your child how you want him to behave. Parenting with praise and re-enforcement is quite effective for changing behaviors.

It may help to understand the stage of development for your child. Children at the age of 3 typically want to try to push the limits set by their parents; therefore, it is up to you (the parents) to decide what your plan will be. Stay consistent, and over time you will see a decrease of his undesirable behaviors. It is important that you remain as calm as you can when you are teaching or redirecting him. It seems like what is currently happening is he does not go to bed or do the task you asked him to do, and you become upset. Thus, he receives more attention. It’s a cycle called, negative attention-seeking. As the parent, you want to try to “flip” this attention-seeking into a positive.

Sometimes the child may be trying to communicate that he is not feeling well, too tired, thirsty, hungry, not tired, scared, cold, hot, etc. Try to unveil his real concern. If it means that he will get new pajamas, a bed friend or a special blankie to make him feel safe, then try that. You may want to start slowly and progress to a sticker chart. For starters, try consistently taking him back to bed without saying anything to him or even looking at him. He may continue to scream, but he will grow tired of this, and after a few nights he will know that you are there for him and that he can go to bed.

There are many different strategies to try to motivate kids to change their behavior. At your son’s age, a chart works well. This chart can be a sticker or star chart. For example, make the chart for each day of the week. If your son stays in bed at 8:30 p.m. every night, then he will earn five stars during the week. Set up the reward: In the morning, he will get to choose his breakfast or maybe choose to eat his breakfast in his pajamas — the possibilities here are endless.

Ultimately, what has happened here is that your son earns positive attention from his parents through a positive choice that he made. Give him a hug, praise him, go over the top. He will like the response that he is earning.

If he chooses not to stay in bed, then he will earn a consequence — no star that day and short, limited interaction with him. However, reassure him that tomorrow he can earn a star if he listens to you, so he can see that he can earn some back, but not all 5 stars that week.

You can start to help him follow the tasks you expect of him by helping or showing him. At his age, he should be able to do small, simple chores, such as tidying up his toys, getting dressed, putting books away, choosing his own cup/plate/bowl, helping carry small bags from the car. If you show him how to do the tasks that you want him to do and he receives a star/sticker for helping, then he will be motivated.

Remember that if you stay consistent with teaching him skills, his choices will shift to the positive, and the interactions that you will have with him will be much more pleasant.

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