Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Advice Column--Contributors Welcome!

A friend of my husband's has asked us for suggestions on what to do with their 15 month old who screams at the top of his lungs when he doesn't get his way. I don't plan to make this kind of thing a regular feature, but since I have to think about it and write it up anyway, just thought I'd post it.

First off, I've never dealt with this exactly, so if anyone has any experience or ideas to offer, please Comment at the bottom!

Also, I do know of cases where a child screamed and screamed because of allergies or a sensory disorder. The following remarks are assuming that Dave is right in his assessment that his son is screaming "because he's not getting his own way."

So, without knowing the specifics of the situation, here's me rushing in where angels fear to tread....


The fact that you're not letting him get his way is a very good thing! Dr. James Dobson has said that there are two things that you must teach a child before his 2nd (3rd?) birthday, and they are, "I love you more than you can understand, and because I love you so much, I must teach you to obey me." [not an exact quote] Another piece of relevant wisdom comes from Susanna Wesley (mother of 14? living children and of John and Charles Wesley who started the Methodist Church). She had two things that she taught her children before they were a year old, and one of them, I remember, was "to cry quietly." (I've always wondered how she did that, though!)

Here's the first thing I would try: As soon as he takes a big breath to start screaming, say "No!" very sharply and glare at him. You may surprise him out of it, if you can catch him before he gets going. He may even have an epiphany of realizing that he has an option not to scream. Try distracting him right away with something new to hold or look at.

If that doesn't work, I'd pick him up, hold him tight and croon in his ear, "No, no...no screaming." You could even tell him, "You need to say 'Yes, Daddy. Can you say that? Let's say that--'Yes Daddy'" or "Can I hear you cry quietly? I know you're sad/mad; it's okay to cry, but can you show me how you do it quietly?" But--if he's just pitching an angry fit, then I'd put him in his crib till he wears himself out--and go in and get him as soon as he stops. (If he's climbing out of his crib already, you could use a Pack'N'Play or just put him in his childproofed room and close the door.)

If you're in public, one thing I've done to teach them to sit quietly on my lap (like in church) is: when I've made it clear that they're to be quiet, but they start getting noisy, I press my fingertips into the back of their leg right up near the diaper, through their clothes. It's just uncomfortable enough to get their attention. I don't want them thinking that they don't have to listen to me, since I can't really discipline them in that setting, and this usually interrupts the noise they were working up to. Of course, you also have to keep them supplied with things to hold, chew on and look at if you expect quiet in that kind of setting.

You asked for book recommendations. I'd say my number one choice for wisdom that is loving, no-nonsense, spiritually sound and practical is Hints on Child Training, by H. Clay Trumbull. It was originally published in 1890 and has stood the test of time. It is not a "my way is God's way" kind of a book, either. There are other books I could recommend, that I've learned lots from, but unfortunately they come across that way and I'd hesitate to recommend any of them without knowing you'd read all of them, for balance! Oh, the one other classic I can think of to recommend is Dr. Dobson's Dare to Discipline--I think the new version is called The New Dare To Discipline.

Well, HTH!! Love 'em, love 'em, love 'em and train 'em, train 'em, train 'em--with God's help!


HolyMama! said...

Hi! I found you from Amy's H/M site! We have 4 kids, and we've always done two things (the first of which may be too advanced to work now with such a young one) : if a kid is having a screaming fit, we matter of factly say that that fit can take place in his/her room with the door shut if it's truly necessary. The key part here is that it does not get a reaction. The second thing we do, also matter of factly, is to shrug and say, "I'm sorry. You do not get your way when you act like that." SOmetimes it's a request that I would have easily granted, but if it's accompanied by bad behavior I feel obligated to NOT fulfill it, lest I teach that fits actually work! (And that is SO not the goal around here!) It's my 2 cents, and may not be worth much more than that, but hey! It was an open invitation for parenting advice, and I don't get those too often! :)

Anonymous said...

Hello Jeannie! I am so glad to have found your blog. I "love" blogs, especially of people I know irl. I read what you replied to Dave and I just have a tad bit more to add.

Okay, just deleted about two paragraphs of me reambling...

my advice is to whisper. When the child begins to scream, Dave or his wife should whisper. Has worked like a charm for me in the past. I usually whisper something like, I can't understand you when you're screaming. The child must stop screaming in order to hear what you are saying. Also, I am assuming this has been tried but, distraction is almost always necessary at this age. It is a lot of work for the parents, but has never failed me.


At A Hen's Pace said...

Welcome to you both--and thanks for adding your suggestions! They're great. It's all worth trying!

Gabi--Ooohh, good! It's so much more fun doing this when you know someone's reading it!!

Holy Mama, thanks for visiting! I left a comment on your site too.

jlkm said...

The comments about whispering triggered some thoughts that I'll add. With a child that young (and probably even older children), it has always been clear to me that the actual source of the screaming is the inability to effectively communicate verbally what the child would like to say if he or she could. They just don't have the words. They have little control over their world and don't have the words to express that. Once they get into a screaming fit, though, I think that the fit itself can feel enormously out of control. I have had older toddlers express to me that they don't know how to stop screaming or don't know how to stop crying. So . . . I teach them.

When possible, I don't like to leave my children screaming or crying alone. I want them to know that no matter how they act, I still love them and still will take care of them. For a 15 month old, I believe this means presence, physical presence. So, first, I am present in the midst of their anger and frustration. I would likely hold the child very firmly in a hug (capturing the flailing in my strong arms, allowing them to eventually collapse into my arms). The hug is a hug. It's not a grip. But it's a firm hug, establishing who is in control and that the child can trust me and depend upon me. While I am hugging firmly, I whisper directly into the child's ear. I might just whisper, "I love you, little one." I might whisper, "We don't scream." I might whisper a song. That's most likely in my home. It might be a lullaby. It might be a hymn. Amazing Grace can be soothing to Mommy and 15 month old : ). It takes amazing grace to get this job done, this whole parenting job, that is.

My experience is that the child begins to relax into my arms and begins to quiet down to hear my words or the song.

There is a lesson for the child, but the lesson will not be learned in the moment of tantrum. The lesson will be learned after the tantrum, when you can again, firmly state the rule (e.g. We do not throw food. If you throw your food, I will remove it from your high chair tray. . . . or whatever got the child upset in the first place). When rules are implemented consistently over time, toddlers learn them and learn to live with them.

My opinion is that you certainly shouldn't give in to the tantrum, but that it is also not the moment for the lesson. Once the tantrum has begun, your responsibility as a parent has quickly moved into the arena of teaching the child about the control and care of their emotions. The obedience lesson will wait for a few moments. In a 15 month old especially, I think emotional control is best taught very tactilely (the hug) and very personally and directly (whisper in the ear). With a slightly older toddler, I begin teaching the child to breathe (in through the nose, out through the mouth) as a method of calming down. But with a 15 month old, I sing : ).


At A Hen's Pace said...


Wise advice. I agree. That's pretty much what I meant at the outset when I said hold him tight and croon in his ear. Letting them scream it out is more of a last resort.

But it depends on the child so much. I've had several who actually became happy as clams as soon as you put them in their crib. It's like the solitude , in that familiar, comfortable place of their own, was what they needed to regroup their emotions.

Thanks so much for contributing!!