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Keeping It Real- Screams From My 2.5 Year Old

This is the keeping it real post for this month LOL! While my daughter is amazing, often very mature for her age, and seemingly an easy child that likes to please….she has her moments, and lots of them. Not everything is peachy perfect in our world, even though it may appear that way at times when you read a blog about how caring and patient my daughter is. That’s just one snapshot. Those are all true things, but she’s 2.5. She has plenty of 2.5 year old moments…

Today my daughter screamed for 1 hour. 1 full hour. Why? She’d asked me to change her from a dress into a shirt. “Sure,” I said, as I did the dishes after breakfast, “just go get the shirt that you want to change into, please”. All out screaming ensued. Screams are a new addition to her repertoire lately. Caroline is very emotional, strong willed, and stubborn. She’s also very mature and knows all of the methods that she has available to her to help calm down.

I immediately tried to stop the screams before they were escalated. I reminded her that I said “YES” to her question and tried to focus on the positive. “You do it!”, she yelled at me. I reminded her that she needed to talk nicely, and that I was going to help her as soon as she got the shirt that she wanted. I tried to get her excited about picking her shirt out. The screams intensified. I then reminded her that if she wanted help calming down, I was there for her, or if she wanted to continue screaming that she’d need to go to her room. I reminded her of all of her options to calm down, and offered a hug. She continued screaming, so I took her to her room to calm down. I stood outside of her door for about 30 minutes, all the while reminding her that once she was calm, I’d come in. I reminded her again of all of the ways to help calm herself down, and I offered her hugs. There was no break in the screams, and no acceptance of my hugs.

I finally opened the door to tell her again, but face to face. I held out my arms and offered a hug. I remained calm and never raised my voice. I tried to sound as soothing as I could. She screamed. I told her I’d love to help her if she’d try and calm down. I again reminded her how to calm down. Screaming continued. I told her I was going to leave and got up. She silenced just for a moment, and so I offered a hug again. She jumped into my arms.

I calmed her. I hugged her. Then we talked. We talked about how screaming is not acceptable. We talked about what is acceptable (telling me that she’s frustrated/sad/upset/etc and why). We talked about asking for Mama’s help nicely and in a normal voice. She apologized for screaming. She then said, “Mama it’s hard to calm down once I start screaming”. I empathized because I know how hard it is once you are worked up. I told her the same thing happens to me and told her we can work together. I reminded her I’m always here to help.

Then she told me she was cold and wanted her shirt. I got excited and asked which one she was going to pick out. The screaming was back that fast. We’d had 5 minutes of peace. Now we were back to the shirt and Caroline was just refusing to do anything herself, or to ask me to help nicely. Again, I eventually had to leave my daughter while she screamed. She was back to not letting me hug her, not letting me help her. And so she knew that if she was just going to scream and not work with me, that I’d not be staying in her room. Another 30 minutes of this went by. I tried and tried to talk her down. I knew the next step…

Calling Daddy. Daddy was at work, of course, but he luckily had 5 minutes. I gave him the lowdown and took the phone into Caroline’s room. Caroline was immediately silenced, and the words that Daddy said to her (while the same exact words that I’d said), worked. I could then hug her, talk to her, calm her. We never did get a shirt on, but we just moved on with our day.

Switching the parent that is dealing with the situation is the only thing we’ve found to work. We parent in the same way. We say the same things. We give the same options. We give the same consequences. The only difference is the person. If Caroline has been dealing with me while having her “fit”, Daddy can step in and calm the situation immediately. If Caroline has been dealing with Daddy while having her “fit”, I can step in and calm the situation immediately. The change is what does the trick.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always an option. I’m the one home with her. I’m the one there in most moments. I hate the screams. I hate that there seems to be nothing I can do (other than give into whatever her original request was) to calm her. I hate that the tactic of putting her in her own room or in a different location to calm down doesn’t work. I see so many parents using this technique and raving about it. It does not work for us. But I also can’t take the screams. I also can’t reward the scream by giving in to her every whim. So we are stuck when this happens.

Then the question becomes…

Why are these little moments causing my child to scream?

1. She’s tired. 

Caroline night and nap potty trained herself at the beginning of June. It’s been 1 full month. 90% of the time she wakes up to go potty in the middle of the night. I take her and she’s usually back to sleep relatively quickly, but it’s still a disturbance.

She’s taking FOREVER to fall asleep right now at night. Most nights she’s not asleep until 9:30 pm. We’ve tried starting her bedtime routine as early as 6:50 pm, and as late as 7:30/8 pm. The bedtime isn’t changing the outcome.

She’s so tired she’s taking pretty early naps (sometimes as early as noon).

No matter when her nap starts, however, she’s taking SHORT naps most days. Then she’ll make up for lost time one day and take a 3 hour nap randomly (but it’s the exception).

2. She’s getting 2nd year molars.

Her bottom two are through. The top two are trying to come. I highly doubt that this is the main cause, but it certainly might be a factor.

3. She’s 2.5. 

Enough said, right!? LOL

What am I going to do when the screams come!?

Well I got some really good ideas today from BFBN mamas. We don’t JUST blog… sometimes we pick each other’s brains for ideas!!! LOL I also came up with a few ideas just from writing this blog and talking it through!

Below you’ll see each idea written out, my initial thoughts on it, and then in blue text you’ll see how it worked for us. Lucky for us (or unlucky) we had a second screaming fit in the afternoon and got to employ all of these new ideas!

1. Shake our sillies out
I wouldn’t have ever thought of this. I am not sure if Caroline will take to it. She’s very focused in her rage LOL! I can see how channeling energy in this way would be of use and break the cycle of screaming, so it think we’ll give this a shot and see what happens.

How it worked for us: Caroline looked at me like I was insulting her and not taking her seriously when I tried this. I thought she might all out and start hitting me. Not on our list of things to try again!

2. Have a designated safe spot to calm down
I haven’t figured this out yet other than having the safe spot be Caroline’s room. She’s already in a toddler bed, and any open area would not work…she’d run right towards me. When in her room she stands right by the door and bangs on it. So, I wouldn’t be able to keep her on a blanket, or on the couch, etc. Her room is the only area that contains her, and is safe enough to do so.

How it worked for us: We continued to use Caroline’s room since it is a safe location and she feels comfortable in it. No change here.
3. Give a sip of water
The idea here is that the simple distraction of giving water, breaks the cycle of screams. I think Caroline might be the type of child to just throw the water back at me though, so I’ll be ready to duck LOL!

How it worked for us: Again, Caroline looked pissed that I even asked such a thing in such a moment. She didn’t take the water that was offered, and just screamed “NO NO NO!”. Mama got the point and didn’t offer again.

4. Create a “calm down basket”
Something I did today was hand her one of her special blankets at one point. It didn’t stop the screams, but she held it so tightly and it seemed to help her and comfort her. So, while she doesn’t always allow me to hug her, I think she’ll take to a few items like a blanket, stuffed animal, perhaps one of those calm down bottles we all see on pinterest, etc. I would keep this basket tucked away so the items are not play items, but rather used only when it’s needed as a calming down tool.

How it worked for us: Ok so this one was kind of amusing. The minute I’d heard this idea, I knew that I wanted to try this. I involved Caroline in the process and we created her calm down bin together. I asked her “What are some things that help you calm down? Does a blanket help you calm down?” She answered yes, and we put a blanket in the bin together. We went to Target and bought a new bin, a new stuffed animal (purple Care Bear), a book and some squeeze balls. Caroline knew what these items were for and I thought it was going to work really well. 

When we got home, we put the items in the bin. Then she said “Ok Mama, so I get to scream, and then I get this bin!?” My daughter was excited about the bin and kind of thinking of it as a reward. I corrected her and reexplained that the bin was to help her calm down if she was screaming, while reminding her that screaming was not an ok thing to do. 

So, when the screaming fit happened that afternoon, and I took Caroline to her room, I immediately got out the bin. Caroline wanted nothing to do with it, and this time she flopped down on the floor and kicked. She kicked for 1 hour solid while she screamed. I tried pulling things out of the bin and handing them to her. I put the blanket in her hands and she rejected it multiple times. I tried the bear, the balls, etc. Nothing was working. Not until after 1 full hour, when I forced the blanket on Caroline one more time, did I see her clench it and relax a bit. Suddenly her screams came to a halt and her body almost went limp. She looked at me and said “I want the bear”. I handed her the bear, and she clutched it for dear life. I asked if I could hold her now. She said yes. All was fine. Just like that. The bin was partially to thank, but more so I think she’d just decided she’d had enough and that it was time to stop. 

See this post (will go live on 7/3/17) on how the calm down bin is actually working for us and stopping the screaming almost instantly!

4. Only use isolation techniques long enough for me to calm down
Part of the reason I am drawn to using the isolation type methods of going to her room to calm down, is because I get upset. I need a moment to calm down so that I can model the behavior for my daughter and actually be of help to her. If I am in the same room, and being subjected to screams, I get upset after a while, and it causes me to yell. The use of isolation techniques gives me a chance to collect myself and remain calm with a plan of action so that I can be of help.

These isolation techniques DO NOT work for my daughter. So there is a compromise to be had. I think I may start setting a timer. After 5 minutes, I’ll go into the room with her for 10 minutes. Then leave for 5, etc. Kind of like a sleep training model.

How it worked for us: This time instead of closing the door, I left the door open and sat right next to her. She was in her room right at the doorway, and I was in the hall (about 1 foot away). I sat with her the entire time. At times I’d talk to her and offer suggestions of ways to calm down, other times I offered hugs, at times I tried the above techniques. When nothing was working, I’d just sit quietly. 

I pulled out my phone and read for a bit, in order to focus my attention somewhere positive and stay distracted so I wouldn’t get upset. My pregnant belly was about to cause me to be sick if I didn’t eat, so I went down and got a plate of dinner that was ready and waiting to be served. I sat in the hall and ate it while she screamed. I waited with her. I reminded her that I loved her, and that I was here to help. None of my actions helped or changed the outcome compared to when I just use the isolation techniques and try to talk her down. 

The only thing that really worked was time. I think my daughter is just very strong willed, very stubborn, and very emotional. Funny…these things all sound VERY familiar and are just like Mama. She just needs time. And all I can do is continue to tell her that I love her. When she’s done, she decides she’s done and will allow me to hold her and hug her. But until then, I have to wait and just offer my love and my help. 

Check out the “Regressions” page, for more posts like this where I highlight an issue we are having, think through it and try to problem solve!

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