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3 year old tantrums- advice?

Looking for some advice from other 3 year old daughter is typically well behaved and a relatively happy child.   However, when it comes to getting her dressed she throws absolute tantrums to the point of where it take hours to get her ready to go somewhere.   If it doesn't matter what she is wearing (if she is staying in the car, going over my parents, etc) I let her chose whatever she wants to wear as long as it is weather appropriate.   That's where the kicker is...if she chooses something either not warm enough or if I selfishly want her to look cute in matching clothes, it's a nightmare.....any advice? 

Re: 3 year old tantrums- advice?

  • Somebody wants to be comfy instead of gussied up! :)

    Are all her spring/summer/fall clothes packed away to where she can't find them and pick them out, as far as not being warm enough? As for cute outfits when you're going somewhere nice can you ahead of time, put out a bunch of cutie-pie outfits and then have her choose from those to make things easier?

    Or how about negative reinforcement? "If you don't put your clothes on like a big girl, you can't go see Santa/go to freind's house/spend the night with grandma."
  • I'd stop fighting about matching clothes and get stickers that say "I dressed myself!"

    As for the not warm enough, when she is choosing her outfit can you say "Today it is very cold.  You will need pants and a long-sleeve shirt" and let her go from there.  If she throws a fit or will not follow your guidelines, are you implementing a time-out?

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  • I live in the black & white world of the toddler, so I can immediately say that you are not being consistent - even with your post. It really jumped-out at me. You let her choose "whatever she wants" "except if its not warm enough, cute enough, matching enough , etc, etc., etc." That's a set-up for conflict. I know my almost 3 y wouldn't get the nuances of what's warm enough or cute enough and would really resent thinking she had control but them had it yanked away for non-toddler-understanding reasons. The expections you listed are very confusing for a toddler. And it sets her up to take power and control in her little world.  

    First off - My DD can't wear "whatever she wants". It's not an expectation at all. So she knows and I know that that isn't an options. Perhaps you need to get specific on what her choices really are - and to significantly reduce her options in general and on a day-to-day basis.

    Second - When she has an opinion, I give in quickly. I don't wait for her to push or whine or exibit any behavior that I don't want to reinforce with saying yes.

    Third- Tantrums are developmentaly normal for this age. Hours of tantrum are not. When DD falls to pieces then she sits on the couch in her playroom until she's ready. There is no fighting or yelling or forcing. There is no playing or toys. It is not a time out. She can have as much time as she wishes to cry it out. But she cannot get down from the couch and she calls "ready" when she's done. I think I am very lucky in this. But I also think I've worked hard to create this time and space to give her the room to tantrum without giving her any unintended reinforcement to do it. So, you may want to look at your role in the 'what to wear' battle and see how you can change to get a change from her.

    Fourth: Positive reinforcement works. If you find your clothing conflicts are about "no" to this and that, then turn it around so you are completly reinforcing "yes" things that she can choose, wear and decide. It's tricky, but worth the effort. And positive reinforcement when she behaves well and appropriately. So you are talking about what she is doing right 90x more than you are saying what she is doing wrong. It works. And its a much more enjoyable way to parent.

    Good luck. Adjustments don't have to be major to see a big improvement. This will pass.

  • Give her more focused choices.

    You tell her she can pick what to wear and then you override her.  That is going to frustrate anyone - especially a 3 year old.  

    Instead of telling her to pick out an outfit, ask her if she would like to wear outfit 1, outfit 2 or outfit 3.  This way she feels empowered but you are making sure she is properly dressed.  If she proposes a different but appropriate outfit, agree to it praising her for choosing something that fulfills the requirements of the day (play outfit for school, pretty outfit for visit to grandma's).

    Life can not become a battle of wills between you and your child.   Both of you will lose.

  • Thanks for the advice everyone.

    I have tried the giving her three options which works at times but not always.  

    I know I have to stay consistent but sometimes I feel like giving her an option to wear what she wants sometimes gives her a feeling like she does have control over something instead of me bossing her around all the time.   Maybe I should throw away this idea and stay consistent I guess.  (Although I do think the i dressed myself button is cute)

    As for the tantrums...the tantrums don't last for hours....the hours is the out...try again..wait it out..tantrum. wait it out..try again etc etc.....which I don't have time for when I need to be at work or somewhere on time....

    what i think i may try is to pick out outfits the night before maybe....that what she may be "excited" to wear the outfit the next day???  we'll see....

    Thanks again though :)


  • As a toddler/preschooler, my daughter's battlefield of choice was always getting dressed.  Even now, at 10, we are more likely to argue over things related to laundry, clothing, and appearance than any other topic.  Who knows why?  It's just where she likes to exert her independence.

    Anyway, I have found that allowing her to be as independent as possible when it comes to this particular topic -- within my parental limits -- has helped to ease the battles over getting dressed.  That being said, I am 100% firm in enforcing my limits.  With that in mind, here are some things I've done in the past that have helped me deal with this issue:

    --pick out 2 outfits and allow her to choose one of them to wear, saving the other for a different day.

    --she gets to choose the "inside" clothes (pants, shirt) but I get to choose the "outside" clothes (coat, mittens).

    --avoid buying clothes without her there (more important as she got older).

    --not serving breakfast until she's completely dressed.  My kid was much more likely to dawdle and argue about getting dressed if the only thing going on once she was dressed was a trip to the grocery store or the bank!  If she knows she can't have breakfast until she is dressed, a lot of her resistance and defiance melts away.

    --occasionally allowing her to wear clothes inappropriate for the weather, if the conditions were just right.  I wouldn't allow her to wear shorts and a tank top to school on a day with high temps of 30, but I have occasionally allowed her to wear shorts on a day with highs of 60, if she is the only one who is going to be inconvenienced by her choice of outfit.

    --not worrying about the "cuteness" factor too much.  I try to bring her into the decision-making process about cute outfits. I have also, on occasion, gone out in public with her wearing things that I would not wear (mismatched outfits, etc.)  I draw the line at certain things, though, such as: crew socks with capris, clothes that no longer fit, clothes that are too casual for a particular function. And, yes -- we've had serious mother-daughter battles over these situations!


  • My 4 year old throws the occasional fit over clothes.  Heck, getting my 7 year old dressed is sometimes a challenge!  In her case it's less about the specific outfit than about getting dressed at all (she'd have "pajama day" every day if she could!), but it's still problematic.

    I let my kids be involved in choosing their clothes.  It's made easier by the fact that I pack away all seasonally inappropriate stuff so they can't choose the winter, only long pants and long sleeved shirts are available (I do keep a supply of short sleeved tops for layering, but the kids don't have access to my stash and I only pull it out if they choose something that needs one).  

    I've learned not to be too picky about matching unless it really matters.  Going to school, the mall, the library...who cares if their pants, tops, socks, whatever are all matchy matchy.  If somebody looks at them and thinks poorly of me because of the mismatch, oh well.  Nobody I'd want to be friendly with would do that; in fact, most of them have similar battles at least occasionally!  I always ask myself, in the grand scheme of things, is the orange top with the pink leggings really the hill I want to die on today?  The answer is almost always no.

    When it does matter what they wear, they are given 2-3 options to choose from.  I let them help assemble the choices by holding out a shirt and they match it to a skirt/pants or vice versa, with me having veto power if it doesn't make an acceptable outfit.  Then they get to choose from the options we've created.  Doing that in advance helps most of the time, as well, although it's not unheard of for them to change their mind the morning of an event.  In that case, they are firmly reminded that they had their chance and now they have to stick with their choice.

    If they don't get dressed, there are consequences.  I won't allow the snacks they prefer, or they don't get to go to a play date or do other things they want.  I've been known to dress them myself, which isn't as big a deal with my little one but my older daughter hates it and is usually willing to avoid having it happen by putting on her clothes. 

    Despite all of that, there are still tears.  I hug them and sympathize, but I don't give in and we move on with our day.  They may crank in the car a little bit but it stops by the time we get to wherever we're going for the day.

  • Never argue with a three year old. Do all the choices things if you feel like it; but the deal is, the kid has to get dressed. You can decide it doesn't matter and let the kid wear its PJs out (or, for more interest, refuse to allow the child to wear its choice of clothing and make it wear its pjs out and about since it won't wear what you want) or you can buy only clothing that your kid will wear so that you minimize, though not completely obliterate these kinds of ridiculous fights, or you can continue these power struggles where you let your kid pitch fits and scream and shriek and cry and howl and twist and make getting dressed, just with you, a holy hell.

    I recommend the pjs everywhere theme, as easy for you and surprising for the kid. Then, you can implement the "no, they don't let little girls go there in their pajamas" line over and over and over when the kid wants something nice for itself till the kid swears it'll wear whatever you say.

  • I simply took all of the weather inappropriate things out of my son's dresser and put them away in his closet - out of sight, out of mind. 

    Maybe it's easier with a boy, but his wardrobe consists almost entirely of blue jeans, a couple of neutral colored sweatpants, long-sleeved t-shirts and thermals, and a couple of sweatshirts.  Pretty much everything matches decently enough.  So 97% of the time, I have no problem letting him pick out his clothes for the day. He feels empowered doing so, but since I have complete control over what goes in his dresser I still control what his options are. 

    So I guess my advice to you would be to limit what clothes she has in front of her to choose from - put the spring/summer stuff away, for pete's sake!  You can't control what other people buy for her, but stop buying her "outfits" and start buying more individual pieces that will match her other can still find cute pieces.

    And I don't spank, and there's still no way in hell that a tantrum would last HOURS in my house.  DS knows by the tone in our voices when he's' treading on thin ice. I'm not saying that we don't have tantrums and meltdowns, but they are pretty limited in duration.   

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  • Where I live the temps bounce back and forth a lot, so simply putting away un-seasonal clothing is not an option. I tell DD she can pick any long-sleeved top she wants (or short sleeved, depending on the weather). We step outside in our pajamas each morning to "check the weather" and decide if it's short sleeves or long sleeves. Then I pick the pants so matching is not an issue. She picks socks and they rarely match the outfit, but whatever.

    If she threw a fit and could not be reasoned with, I would dress her even if she was fighting it.

    - Jena
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