Parenting--Toddlers/Infants/Pre-Schoolers/Problem toddler


Dear James,

I sincerely hope you can give me some advice as I'm really struggling with my 31/2year old.

She has always been challenging, as a baby it was ( and still is to a slight extent) sleep issues and extreme clinginess to me. The problem I'm experiencing now is tantrums when things don't go her own way. This usually has to do with wearing clothes, as she claims most things she wears are too tight even if they're not.

We've just had a particularly bad afternoon which has literally brought me to my knees. I've ended up in tears, my other child has been crying and my husband has been upset too.

We were going out for a family surprise day out, which all children were very excited about. She literally went crazy because, firstly she didn't want to wear her tights and secondly would have her dress zipped up or tied.
We finally threatened she would not be allowed to go if her behaviour continued, this sent her in to an even worse tantrum.
When finally in the car, she was still in the midst of her tantrum so refused to have her seatbelt done up. We finally managed to get going, where admits sobs, she was full of apologies.
When we got to our destination, it was like it had never happened. I tried to pull myself together and enjoy the today, although felt totally spent!
We had a lovely time and I thought it was all behind us until we got back to the car and the whole thing started again!
I can usually deal  with her tantrums fairly effectively, but this was a particularly ugly episode that has left me feeling drained, emotional and at a loss as how to,effectively managed the situation when it arises again. She becomes completely and utterly out of control.

I must add that 95% of the time, she is exceptionally loving and funny, but I do feel fearful as to what the future holds for us/her as her tantrums cannot continue when she goes to school.

Please, please can you advise any strategies for effectively managing her behaviour?

Many thanks in advance,


Hello Mary,
It sounds like you have a wonderful child -- except when she's not so wonderful. As you put it, she is challenging. I assume you have an older daughter, who was not like your three-year-old, right?
Of course, you know at this stage in your parenting career that no two children are alike. I also assume that your first child never presented the challenges of this child. So, these are new issues and as you think about the future it is exhausting to consider trying to handle her various challenges as she gets older.
Okay, so let's look at how you need to best cope with your three-year-old darling.
First, consider carefully how she is different. Yes, she is challenging. But her temperament is unique. She is clingy; she is physically sensitive to how clothes feel; she is emotionally sensitive so that upsets send her into temper tantrums; she is perhaps more independent and wants more autonomy in her life. There may be other aspects of her temperament and personality, but these are the ones that most often relate to the challenges she presents.
Second, given these particular traits, it is important for you to accept them. You probably can't change them and it only causes upset to battle her on these issue. What is
left is for you to accept that she has a different way of responding to the world.
Accept that she is sensitive to how her clothes feel. Although shopping with her could be a real challenge, it would be important to let her pick out clothes that feel right to her. Then, when she has to get dressed, she should have choices, and these choices should include clothes that she likes to wear. You can give her limited choices at times (This dress or that dress), but the choices should include clothes that feel right to her.
When it comes to other situations, she should have choices. For instance, when it comes to buckling her seatbelt, the choice could be: "You can buckle your seatbelt or we will. Which do you want?"
When a tantrum starts, let it go. Let it run it's course. Don't argue with her or threaten her. Let her get through it. Once it's over, then go on as if nothing happened. She apparently is good at this; you have to get better at it.
These are some tips for present. Email back some of your questions related to what I've recommended. And ask any other questions you may have.
James Windell


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James Windell


I can answer questions related to normal child development, disturbed behavior and how to provide appropriate guidance and discipline.


I've been a clinical psychologist in a juvenile court, worked in school settings, been a child psychotherapist in a private psychiatric clinic and consulted with schools, courts, hospitals and daycare centers.

American Psychological Association
Michigan Psychological Association

I have been a columnist with the Oakland Press (Oakland County, MI) for 21 years writing a weekly column called Coping With Kids, which is also published weekly in the Staten Island Advance. I have been a mental health columnist with the Detroit Free Press and a columnist for Working Mother Magazine. In addition, I have published articles in professional journals. I have published 16 books, among them are "8 Weeks to a Well-Behaved Child" (IDG Books), "Discipline: A Sourcebook of 50 Failsafe Techniques for Parents" (IDG Books); "Children Who Say No When You Want Them to Say Yes" (IDG Books), "What You Need to Know About Ritalin" (Bantam Books) "6 Steps to an Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers" (John Wiley & Sons), "The Fatherstyle Advantage" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) and "Defusing High Conflict Divorce" (Impact Publishers). My latest parenting book (2012) is "The Everything Child Psychology and Development Book." Articles about my work with parents has appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Sun Times, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. My website at includes more information about me, my books and includes many columns I've written.

B.A. in Psychology from Wayne State University
M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Oakland University

Awards and Honors
Best Educational Program by Juvenile and Family Court Judges Association (National award for the development of a parent training program for parents of delinquent teenagers. Beth Clark Service Award from the Michigan Psychological Association.

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