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.