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I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

I scream, you scream, we all scream for… Wait, what the hell are we all screaming for?

I have an easy kid. An “easy” kid. Every parent knows that no kid is easy all the time. And sometimes I think that having an easy kid makes it harder to deal with the times that my kid is a holy terror. But maybe I’m just full of shit, because I don’t have a kid who’s challenging most of the time, so I just don’t know.

Anyway, my kid. He was an easy baby, and he’s always been a relatively mellow, even-keeled child. You can take him to a restaurant. You can take him shopping. He's a champ on an all-day drive. Most days, he’ll sit patiently through a wedding ceremony or a bossa nova concert. He’s never been tantrum-prone. We made it through two and thought Hm, that wasn’t so terrible! We’ve made it through most of three with only the occasional wild-eyed, full-tilt fit. As he nears four, he’s gotten more willful, and his tantrum rate has increased slightly. Still, more often than not I’m able to be patient with him even when he’s wigging out. And when I run out of patience, I’m as likely to glaze over and go slightly comatose as I am to grab his arm and start hissing through gritted teeth (though I’m certainly capable of that, too).

In the last couple of weeks, though, O. has added something to his tantrum routine that eats through all my stored-up patience in three seconds flat. He’s started screaming.

I can handle crying. I can handle rolling around on the floor. I can even handle kicking legs and flailing arms, in small doses. But this screaming. It makes me insane, immediately. I clench my teeth, my eyes pop out of my head, and I start making the international symbolic gesture for parent-at-wit’s-end (for the uninitiated, that’s pulling the hair out by the roots). And after a few excruciating moments, I start screaming ‘til my own throat is sore: “Stop screaming! STOP screaming! Stopscreaming stopscreaming stopscreaming!

Last night I found myself with a soaking wet, recently bathed O. on my lap - he was screaming, and I had my hand clamped over his mouth. I knew I needed some help.

How do you get a child to stop screaming? I went to an expert, pulling a dusty copy of Dr. William Sears’s The Discipline Book off the hallway bookshelf. It hadn’t been touched since O. was just under two and we decided to try out that legendary move of humane parenting, the Time Out. On Sears’s advice, we began giving him age-appropriate time outs. And everything has gone pretty well since then. Until the screaming started.

What does Dr. Sears advise us to do with a screaming child? Surprisingly, neither “scream back at the child” nor “clamp a hand over the screaming child’s mouth” appear in this section of The Discipline Book. Hm. Odd.

Anyway, what Sears does say: 1. Don’t take it personally. [Does getting irrationally angry and yelling at the top of my lungs count as taking it personally? I’ll have to work on that one.] 2. Don’t give in. [Check. I’m way too stubborn to even consider that.] 3. Make a rule that the child is not allowed to scream inside the house.

Okay, hold on. A rule? Sears, my good man, are you joking, or just stupid? My child is screaming as the culminating salvo of a totally irrational, possessed-by-Satan’s-dark-forces, force of nature fit. What do you want me to do, threaten to give him a time out? (Assuming he's not already in a time out, which he usually is by the time the screaming starts.) How would you like me to convey this information? Perhaps by screaming at the top of my lungs: “HONEY REMEMBER NO SCREAMING IN THE HOUSE IF YOU DON’T STOP SCREAMING SWEETIE MAMA’S GOING TO GIVE YOU A TIME OUT NOW STOP FUCKING SCREAMING!!!”? I’m a little confused.

So that’s the Sears advice. Now, I know Dr. Sears is a controversial figure and there are essays out there by smart, educated mothers entitled “Why I Hate That Co-Sleeping Nazi Dr. Sears.” But, generally, I like him more than not. I believe in attachment parenting, and it’s always worked for us. But this advice on screaming? It’s just not adequate. To be honest, Bill, I was hoping for some sort of magic trick to stop the screaming, not to be advised to deal with it, and stay and listen. (Oh, yeah: that’s the other bit of advice he offered: Don’t leave the child to scream alone. Come on! If I can’t get him to stop, can’t I at least go in the next room and listen to Enya on my iPod? Mmmm… Enya…)

So, anyway, if you have any advice on how to talk children out of the habit of screaming, or how to stop them once they start screaming, or how to cope if you can’t get them to stop, I’m all ears. And those ears are ringing, so speak up.


Blogger Feral Mom said...

We tell them if they want to scream, they have to do it in the closet. Does it work? Sometimes. Then again, they are malleable two-year-olds, as opposed to a willful almost four-year-old. Good luck!

12:02 PM  
Blogger Feral Mom said...

I just realized your readers haven't seen the closet. Before you call DCFS, it's spacious one with a light and a rolling door easily opened and shut. They play with their dolls in there all the time.

12:04 PM  
Blogger E. said...

Yes, I've seen this closet. In Manhattan, you could rent it out for a thousand dollars a month.

We have a closet that O. likes to play in, pretending it's a train car). Maybe I'll try planting the "you can scream only if you're in the train car with the door shut" idea when he's in his right mind, and then we'll see.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Esereth said...

The biggest trangression of motherhood is for a woman without kids (I have one but she's negative three weeks old and her tantrums are mostly related to my drinking grape-juice) to give parenting advice.

But lord, I want to know how you solve this one. What does you mom say?

11:22 AM  
Blogger E. said...

Well, of course, there has been no screaming since I wrote the post. I did mention the (roomy, well lit) closet "rule" to O, but it hasn't been necessary yet. Another case, perhaps, of blogging about something magically solving it. I guess we'd all better start furiously blogging about global warming.

Anyway, my mom? She takes care of O. two afternoons a week, and the screaming drives her batshit crazy, too. So we're both at a loss. Apparently I did not go through a screaming phase as a child.

The best advice I've gotten so far has actually been from Mr. Feral. He and Feral Mom were over for dinner the other night, and while O. and the little Feral twins were playing away sweetly, we discussed the screaming issue. I said I had resolved not to repeat my impulsive hand-over-the-mouth move, and he said "why not just put your hands over your ears?" Brilliant plan. Why didn't I think of that? Probably b/c my brain was addled by my little boy's screams at the crucial moment.

Anyway, the Ferals and the Orals all agreed that, all due respect to Dr. Sears, it's okay to go into the other room while your kid screams, as long as you can still hear them and respond if they call for you.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

We have the same problem. While it's nice that our kids are in touch with their feelings, and express their frustration and rage rather than keeping it all bottled up and repressed and developing an ulcer, it's not easy on the ears.

What works for me is getting right in my kid's face and turning her to make her face me, holding her there, and saying loudly, "HEY - [and then more quietly] I know you're upset but you need to stop with the screaming and talk about it. Screaming is not the way to work it out. What's going on with you?" Sometimes that works and she will get herself together and we resolve whatever's going on - maybe not to her satisfaction, but we resolve it.

If not, there's always Plan B. Earplugs.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what i do is i whisper what i want into their ears, or at least mouth what i want. that way they get curious and want to listen so they quiet down (because they won't hear me if they keep on screaming). of course, there are days when i'm tired, and i just...scream back. (bad momma, bad momma!)

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved this post. You verbalize some of the exact feelings I'm having about my almost-three-year-old screamer.

Today in the car I threatened to take his suckers (pacifiers) away. They are the most precious things he has. Then I realized that they need to go the way of the dodo soon enough anyway, so why not just postpone the agony for another month or two until Operation Lose The Suckers begins?

My kids are several years apart, and Alzheimer's seems to have set in between #1 and #2. What I seem to remember doing with my big boy, though, was saying, "Use your inside voice" or "Use your words." If those didn't work, I'd ask him, "Do you need to yell and scream?" Then I'd take him outside and tell him to go to town.

He usually stopped. After two or three trips outside, the screaming was temporarily silenced, as well.

...Or that's how I remember it, anyway.

2:35 PM  

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