Tag Archives: screaming

Feb ’22 Q&A Hitting a Wall? (Revising a conversation from May ’20)
Emotional Exhaustion

Q. I’m utterly overwhelmed. I’m resentful of those who have support from a partner and grandparents and guilty for feeling resentful. Frustrated that there’s no end in sight. Exhausted, emotionally and physically. Sad. I miss my family and friends. Lonely. 3 kids 1, 4 and 8 entirely on my own. Working 60 hours a week. Trying to be grateful I’m employed but there is no balance possible when you have 3 kids in tow. I don’t bathe or sleep without them and if I try, they scream or immediately ‘need’ me for something which is their anxiety showing up. It’s endless. How do I stay sane?

A. We’re on year three of a global pandemic and all of us, especially parents with young unvaccinated children or families with unpredictable child education schedules due to positive COVID cases, are still very much in the throes of it. If we thought we were exhausted in May, 2020, it’s certainly not gotten better for a lot of people. Maybe we’ve become more accustomed to our reality, but emotional stress among our hardworking families is very real and present.   

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Walking on Eggshells or Shell-shocked?

Ever feel that way? You try desperately to avoid the inevitable meltdown, the screaming “NO!”, the next “I don’t have to and you can’t make me” or the falling on the floor in a fit of tears—in the middle of the supermarket. I hear so often, “Everyday it’s the same thing. I can’t get my child to do anything I want. It seems as if I ask her to lift her finger and she falls apart.”

I felt like I was walking on eggshells with my daughter from the time she was about 18 months to almost 5. I knew how to handle a lot of her meltdowns but it was exhausting, and I always felt like I had to be ready for the next unexpected reaction. So let’s examine what walking on eggshells means.

It means that you have to tread extremely lightly—or be so careful of what you do or say—for fear of breaking something extremely fragile. Is it your child who is so fragile or you?

Children who are strong-willed, have an extremely sensitive tolerance for injustice, hear “no” and think the world is coming to an end, and have a high need to feel in control of their surroundings are not fragile! Just the opposite. We are the ones who feel trod upon, attacked, bulldozed, punished, and shell-shocked. We don’t want to feel that way and so we try everything in our power not to set off the “time bomb”. In the meantime, we are sending our child a message of danger—“I’m afraid you are going to hurt me. You are someone to be avoided.” Granted, sometimes they do hurt. But the physical hurt doesn’t hold a candle to the mental anguish we go through, which is the #1 culprit in feeling exhausted and drained. Let’s examine.

In order not to feel attacked by another button-pushing incident, we usually resort to blaming/punishing/threatening the child for her behavior. We resist our child’s resistance, the cycle spins, and behaviors get worse—both of ours. What we need is to change the way we look at things.

What I finally understood with my daughter was that I had to let go of making her be who I wanted her to be; who I thought she should be in order to have a happier life, to get along with people, to be polite and respectful. Sound familiar? What I didn’t realize and what is so hard for parents to let go of is that I didn’t have to teach her that—she already knew it. What I did have to do was accept her 100% just the way she was.

That didn’t mean letting her do what she wanted anytime she wanted. I still needed to insure that my rights and needs were always met. But it did mean that I had to allow her to be herself, to do things and see things differently than I did, to think about things in her way, to have the fears she had that I wished I could protect her from, to be angry about things that I thought were not worth it. And when I did, when I got it…she was able to come into her own and be the person she was meant to be, not the person I thought I could design her to be. As it turns out, she did a much better job than I ever could have.

I no longer had to walk on eggshells when I knew that I didn’t have to change her. She was fine just the way she was. It was me who had to change. I had to stop being so fragile and so afraid of what she was “doing to me”. She could handle herself even though herself was having a very tough time of it. When I knew her tough time wasn’t my problem to solve, I felt stronger and way more together so I could be a much greater support to her in her fears, her anger over injustice, her problems—because now I saw them as her problems, not mine. I was no longer an eggshell.

When that strong-will arises:
• know that your child is reacting because it’s who he is—it’s not really about you.
• when anger, frustration, sadness and disappointment arise, know that this is your child’s problem and he is perfectly capable of handling his feelings—with your support and validation.
• when fears arise, acknowledge them and let him know you understand just how it feels and it’s no fun to be afraid—and you promise him that you will do everything in your power to keep him safe because that’s your job.
• when you see “rude” behavior, know that this is your child’s way of expressing frustration and injustice. First ask yourself if you are being unjust and change your way of asking. If it’s something beyond your control, acknowledge how he feels whether you agree or not.
• suggest how people (including yourself) might feel when spoken to in an abrupt or angry way and how it’s important to be considerate in order to get them to listen to you—then don’t expect it every time.


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Taming Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrum

For the child, a temper tantrum feels like swirling in the middle of a tornado. It is frightening and there is no way of knowing when or if it will end.

A temper tantrum is not a parent’s favorite aspect of their child’s development. Tantrums are often accompanied by shrill screaming and physical kicking and hitting. And they result from “unreasonable” situations.

“I asked him to put his coat on, and he acted like I had pulled his arm off.”

“She wanted the blue plate that was in the dishwasher. I gave her another one and she threw it across the room.”

“All I did was tell him it was time for a bath. You’d think I told him I was leaving him for good.”

“What doesn’t he understand about ‘no’?”

Our adult reasoning brains have forgotten what it is like to be a child trapped in a body that often will not do your bidding. Impulses take over body parts, and words are emotional and dramatic and do not mean what they say. Our adult brains, together with our parenting culture, tell us that we have to stop this unpleasant and inappropriate behavior because if we don’t, it will never stop. So we isolate, punish, threaten, scream back at, shame or ignore—all of which tells the child she is being bad. Exactly the opposite direction we should take.

In the words of a 13 year old autistic boy describing his meltdowns in The Reason I Jump (a wonderful book), “It’s this feeling of helplessness that sometimes drives us half crazy…. When this is happening to us, please just let us cry, or yell, and get it all out. Stay close by and keep a gentle eye on us, and while we’re swept up in our torment, please stop us from hurting ourselves or others.” Granted he is autistic, but this is surely the experience of a three or four year old when the tornado of overwhelming feelings hits with no ability to filter the emotions out with reason. It’s pure development in a young child. When they are stressed (read: don’t get what they want or think they have to do what they don’t want), they lose it. This is normal and the most important time for parental compassion.

Tantrums in a two to four year old child are developmentally appropriate ways of releasing pent up emotions that children are not yet capable of managing—they cannot do anything but have a tantrum when stressed, overtired, or thwarted.

We want our children to learn that all emotions are normal and (eventually) in their control. Not that they are bad and shouldn’t feel the way they do. Young children are in every way egocentric and easily lose control when they are frustrated. Maturity will help them find that control. We need to trust their development. Normalizing their feelings does not mean allowing them to do or have what they want. But letting them know that their desires are natural and understandable helps them to gain better control of them.

When a child has a tantrum, she is in a very scary place. She doesn’t want to be there anymore than her parent wants her to be. Imagine being swept up by a tornado, and then imagine being three.

What to do when a tantrum hits:
  • Stay close and on the same level (on the floor if your child is on the floor).
  • Let your child know you are there waiting supportively. It is unlikely you can say anything she will be able to hear or physically comfort her.
  • Initially focus on keeping her and anything around her safe.
  • As soon as she is able to hear you and when she is ready, invite her for a hug. Slowly she will gain back enough control to curl into your lap for comfort.
  • Simply rock and hold your child.
  • At this point say, “Now look at that, you were able to bring yourself right out of that tantrum and back to being calm. You did that by yourself.” This infuses your child with capability for self-control as she grows toward being developmentally ready.
  • Ask, “Do you want to know what happened?” Often they have no memory of why the tornado hit. In an objective, simple way, explain what happened. “You wanted to have that cookie and I told you no. You got very angry with me for not letting you have the cookie—so angry you had a temper tantrum. Now that you got your anger out, you are all okay again.” This normalizes the situation for the child so she does not feel wrong or bad. With this understanding her tantrums will get fewer and further between.
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