Screaming Fits

Oh friends. Thank you for being out there. Thank you for reading. Thank you for caring.

Our sweet little routine that I wrote about some time back got blown all to hell round about Easter. The Toddler’s having a rough sleep patch again. I was thinking yesterday that you could know a lot about a mama’s mental health by asking her one simple question, ‘How are your kids sleeping lately?’

Could it all be sleep related? She’s back to having a fit most days, and some days (today) two or three. She is getting something like ten hours a night, and generally no naps remember.

When we’re in a blessed Good Spell, she gets almost 12 hours. Hardly any fits. 10 hours– everything is a struggle.

Or is it the chicken and the egg? Is something going on inside her little self that makes for the fits and the sleep troubles?

Whatever it is, oh please gods, goddesses or whoever might be listening, help her through it soon. I feel weak.

Today was my fault really. I over-scheduled a little girl who I knew damn well was dwelling at the Edge. I was trying to get us out of the house so My Man could study for his last (hallelujah!) test in peace. When I had to strap her screaming, thrashing body into the stroller to quick get from one to the next play date, you would think I would have taken heed.

I wasn’t completely insane, I thought she would fall asleep in the car on the way there, be refreshed and we’d be okay. But, plans changed so that our friends ended up coming over here instead. No nap, and all the pitfalls of property.

It was a MINE!MINE!MINE! day. Really I should have just said to my friend, ‘You know, I’m sorry, but this isn’t going to get any better. Why don’t you just come back another time.’ But of course she had driven some distance, and so we just kept trying to make it work. Trying to get two little girls off the minemine merry-go-round. Ended with me having to remove my toddler to another room, and the ensuing screaming at the top of her lungs fit. With Babe on one hip, lest you forget.

Sigh. Poor sweet little soul. I never seem to get mad once she reaches the point of a screaming fit. I get mad at her all the time, when she’s being a feisty little spitfire. But by the point of screaming, I just feel sad for her. Sad and kind of deadened.

The true voraciousness of her fits is almost always caused by something I have done which drives home the point that she is not in control of her own life. I can shut the door and lock it, and there’s nothing that she can do about it. I can rip a thing away from her weaker fingers, put it on a high shelf and she cannot physically get it back. And that is when the earnest screaming starts.

I have heard the idea that ‘you have to show you’re in control because how scary would it be to be 2 and master of the universe?’ And I see the sense in that. But what it doesn’t address is this: I know she should not have control over me, or those around her. But what about having control over her own self? Her own life and choices? I see such a caged animal panic in her eye when it happens, and it feels wrong.

Of course ‘freedom not license’ is hard to pinpoint. Where does her freedom end and someone else’s begin? If she is making everybody else miserable, and so I remove her from a place, who’s freedom am I protecting/destroying?

My tactic for fits is to stay with her, occasionally offer things I think might help (a glass of water, snack, to read a book), but otherwise try to sort of ignore her. Not actually ignore, because I tried some of that and I think it scared her unnecessarily to have me vacant. But to continue with whatever I was doing as much undisturbed as I can. I feel like this sends her the message that although I am there for her, she is not the center of attention just because she is screaming. I am available to help if there is something she needs, but otherwise I am just going to let her get her screaming out.

That all sounds nice when it’s packaged up into neat little words. But what this comes down to is me trying to, for example, keep washing the dishes while she is screaming/shrieking and clinging to my leg so hard she’s pulling my pants off. Or maybe I wasn’t doing anything in particular, and so I have to try to find something to make myself look busy so I don’t just sit there and stare at her.

Sometimes everybody needs a good cry. Her’s are just so much louder and more horrible looking than any grown-ups I’ve ever known….

A good friend once said that when she was confused about what or how to do something with her kids she’d try to think what she would do if they were an adult friend. I like the sound of that, but honestly, I wouldn’t keep a friend who threw screaming fits because she didn’t get something she wanted. I wouldn’t keep a friend who screamed at me to go away, then clung screaming to my leg when I tried to leave. I wouldn’t keep a friend who acted like a two year old.

If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. This Rough Patch has been on for about a month now, so it’s bound to be just about done, right? Right? Hello?

13 thoughts on “Screaming Fits

  1. Hugs-My almost 3 year old throws very impressive tantrums. It’s hard to just be there for them-I find it exhausting.

    You have my complete sympathy

  2. My little one isn’t quite two yet so I have only had glimpses of tantrums and mine-mine attacks. But, I have noticed when he does get panicked with that look in his eyes that yes, all he really wants is some sort of control and that’s not so hard to understand. I agree with your friend, if you can manage it, think how you would react if an adult acted that way. Often I pick him up or go down to his level as soon as I sense a burst coming on and I say, “What do you want North? Mama is LISTENING! Mama is listening!”. This often calms him down enough to verbalize instead of turn into monkey mush, and then I am able to talk back with a compromise or an explanation and an alternative. Also, no matter how irrational his demand or feeling is I try to be sympathetic and say things like “Does that make you sad?” “I know it makes you feel frustrated, but…” at least then their feelings are validated in a way. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll be biting my words soon enough. I have at least a whole year of tantrums ahead of me. Hope things settle well in your place soon. xo m.

  3. oh CJ, my condolences. I have a screamer too. Except my screamer is a boy, who then gets called a girl by ‘well meaning’ onlookers and relatives (as in ‘only girls scream like that’ – yep, reeeaal helpful). I dunno if you want like-minded stories or anecdotes, but I can say that I used to just sit on the floor, cuddle him and tell him I love him. I wouldn’t let go no matter how hard he fought either, til he calmed down. And it did get better, cos I started headin him off at the pass, by seeing him unhappy and asking him ‘why are you looking grumpy/sad/cranky/sooky?’ I found when I encouraged him to name and explain what he was upset about, so we’d go sort it out together or I’d get to explain the how’s and why’s a bit better. So with more vocalisation from him came less screaming. But still, every now and again, we have another visit from what I like to call The ShitFit Monster. And he’s never welcome here, either!

    Good luck though, and hurray for the end of tests for your Man. All the best with this toddler battle and get some rest before the next, that’s my theory anyway!

  4. Oh I feel for you. We had a 15 month ‘rough patch’ with my dear little daughter who has for the last 8 months or so been back to her lovely self again. Those 15 months (the ‘terrible twos’) were awful though and I consider myself fairly strict and did not let her get away with much.
    Grit your teeth, let her know ways she can express herself that are acceptable and be consistent.
    Remember, if you are firm and loving she will get through it and so will you. My fingers are crossed for you and hope it is over soon.

  5. HI CJ,

    My heart sinks for you. My middle gal is three and a bit and drops into hysteria in a bewilderingly quick blink of an eye. I have yet to work out why, but like you, I can see that there is sometimes a point at which I could have made a different decision and maybe had a better outcome. Maybe. Or maybe its like what my 6 year olds kindy teacher spoke to us about the other night. That kids go through 3 year cycles made up of ‘willing’ (physical growing stuff), feeling and then thinking. Maybe your little munchkin is deep in the feeling bit and without the capacity to think (reason), the intensity of it all is just tooooo much. And then, wise you, you do themost love filled thing and just be with her. What a mama.

    And just to let you know how great my empathy is… I have had my skirt wipped down in the school car park when my angel girl was just too mad about having to get back into the car… and my undies are more the ‘why throw them out when they’ll last one more wash’ kinda undies…sighhhh.


  6. it will pass. and, if not, i’m sure there’s a residential treatment center somewhere. (bad, bad joke)

    s is 2 1/2 and i’ve never seen anything quite to the level you describe, but he does have meltdowns. (then again, so do we all. mine are usually blood-sugar related, so that diana can head them off by offering me a cookie. no joke. sometimes taking care of the basics does wonders so i think your sleep theory is a good one.) my strategy is like your reader ecoMILF’s, which reminds me of the video “the happiest toddler on the block”–if you can get it at the library it might make you feel better. basically overcommunicating everything. make believe you’re a therapist with phrases like, “you’re MAD,” “you’re really mad that __ has your toys” “you’re so mad”

    with sahid it helps to do this and if he’s flipping out sometimes we remind him that there’s no screaming at the table (or wherever) and that he can go to his room to calm down. sometimes he goes, sometimes we take him, and when he’s done calming down he comes out again. i try to make sure that i don’t think of it as punishment, but rather helping him find the space he needs to chill out.

    good luck, i know those days.

  7. Oh yes, every mother has been there. You start to think this phase will last forever, and your child is going to turn out to be this horrible, disobedient person but then the phase passes and you almost forget all those worries you had about it lasting FOREVER! When my toddler has an absolute fit and I walk embarrassingly out of a store, I remind myself that there is a reason it is called “The Terrible Twos.” I remind myself that I am not the only mother in the world who feels this way about their 2 year old. 2 year olds are terribly wonderful and terribly terrible. This too (or two) shall pass.

  8. Exhausting, thats what it is. I have had a non-sleeper and a screamer. My 4 year old still goes in cycles of screaming at the drop of a hat, its a bloody exhausting cycle when he does it.

    I usually find a crappy period is followed by a wonderful cycle. So I’m sure you have golden children just around the corner. The kind where your heart just melts at a tiny thing they have done.

  9. What works for somepeople doesn’t work for others so I reckon just ride it out best you can, trying whatever feels right at the time. That fact that you care what she is thinking/feeling says so much…

    And yup, my kids are at their nastiest when THEY’RE tired or hungry or when I’M tired and hungry. I always try and work on the basics first. And some days that’s all I can do.

    Hang in there. Eventually she’ll be three!

  10. sorry, babe. it is horrid for all. with mine i noticed two things that made the terrible threes (she was a late bloomer, and by then she was the size of a seven year old and built like a brick shithouse. oy.) worse was when she was working on teeth or when she’d had red dye either in food or on skin. the teeth you don’t always see any external sign of, and it would ebb and flow – something i’ve observed in people who get wisdom teeth out later rather than sooner – two weeks of agony, a month off, repeat ad infinitum. laying down hard tissue is really stressful, and it happens with building bone too, so we saw it at times of growth spurts as well. proactive feeding of extra snacks (whatever her staples are – the kid’s was protein) and maybe a calcium supplement? although we got by on hyland’s teething tablets and extra food for a long time.

    but even though i could see patterns (and do preventive stuff and finally avoid dyes once i figured that out) the behaviour of course remained for a while. we tried a few things – talking about things once she was calmed down, discussing what she was feeling that led to it and what might have worked better on both sides to avoid it (like a safe word meaning essentially ‘everybody srsly stop/drop whatever you’re doing’, after which a discussion could happen without further escalation – and anyone can call this, kid or adult), time outs, ignoring (but i usta get the giggles when she got worked up – not helpful) – but the most successful when we hit a dead end turned out to be singing discussions. i have no clue how it happened, and it is bizarre, but without looking at each other we’d sort of make up tunes to the words of ‘you are screaming and it’s bothering me’ ‘you make me angry when you try to put my socks on and it isn’t fair’ – or whatever.

    this can all go too far, because by the time she was 5 she thought pretty much anything was negotiable and she was goood. that needed correcting, because i couldn’t even go shopping without some sort of discussion and compromise/dealmaking. she had way too much control and it took a long painful time to get back out of that.

    we did talk about freedom versus licence in the most basic terms, and i had the same problem and conclusion as you. ultimately, children do get less freedom as a result of their limited experience and inability to do something unpleasant but necessary when called for (although they are capable of more than we think in that line sometimes). no kid will volunteer to take a nasty medicine even if you explain the potential consequences of not doing so, so they don’t get a say. but if they’re comfortable outside without a coat even if the adults are freezing, they get to keep the coat off. i think there’s a balance involving an assessment of their ability to judge and the potential consequences of each situation, and even when the parent is the one in control, actions and words can be directed towards getting the kid more ready and able to take on something similar on their own further down the line.

    it’s their job to ask, and it’s your job to say no (and the converse – your job to insist on certain things and their job to resist). you can explain why you’re forcing her to brush her teeth or whatever, but some things are non-negotiable. it won’t last forever. trust your instincts. i think you’re amazing and doing a fantastic job.

  11. Oh my, you have my sympathies. We had our own one-of-those-days today, here’s hoping tomorrow is somewhat calmer wherever we are on the globe.

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