This too shall pass...meltdowns and temper tantrums

My almost 3-year-old daughter screams most of the day. So much, that I am surprised that the neighbors have not come by to see if the children are alright. The reasons for the screaming varies: the dog sniffing a stuffed animal or a sibling touching her favorite toy, top the list. Anne doesn't discriminate. She will let loose a blood curdling scream in any situation.

People who know my family say she is going through a phase. People who don't know us make comments like,

 "Is your daughter okay?" or "She's probably sick/tired/hungry."

All I can respond with is,

"Nothing is wrong, Anne screams ALL day."

When she was born, Anne came to the world crying like most babies, but with an intensity that caused the nurses to comment, "Oh my, we have never heard a baby cry that hard and long before!"

It has to be exhausting, right? Having emotional breakdowns all day? Not only the energy that it sucks out of me and my husband, but her own energy.

I love my daughter endlessly and when she is in a good mood, she is a joy to be around. Her singing and laughing and story telling is almost like sitting in a spa, taking in the calm vibrations of complete serenity.


I am working on teaching her how to communicate more effectively by saying, "You don't need to scream, Anne, tell me what you want with words."

You might be saying, "Maybe this child doesn't have the vocabulary or ability to translate her feelings." But alas, this 27 pound peanut is extremely articulate, she just chooses to explode into a screaming mess when faced with problem solving or confrontation.

Something has to change, I know that. Any advice from you seasoned parents? I know you are out there somewhere!

Here is what we have tried:

  1. Ignoring-Little Anne is in it for the long haul when she has a meltdown and increases the volume and intensity with each minute I turn a blind eye to her fits.
  2. Reasoning-This type of approach completely backfires with my children. I have learned they need one answer. Period. There is no more explaining why we need to have milk instead of soda with dinner. We recently established two house rules: Listen to Mama and Daddy the First Time and No Arguing.
  3. Sitting on the Step-This is my version of a time out. After I have told Anne "no" and she argues (usually in a stream of over-the-top howls), she sits on the step for a period of time. Again, Anne takes each second of the "time out" to work her vocal chords.

I wish there was some sort of hat I could wear or maybe even a tattoo that labels me as a parent who is trying really hard to get her child to communicate in way that does not involve breaking down emotionally in every situation. When I am in public, the branding would allow me to spot other parents in my club who are dealing with or have dealt with the same situation. We can give each other a smile and a nod to signal that we are there for each other.

Unfortunately, that support group does not exist.

I figure there has to be some people out there who can see it on my face. The desperation and exhaustion of trying to diffuse this tiny, blonde headed, screaming bomb. I keep telling myself, "This too shall pass, right?" Her intensity is a good thing, a trait that will be admired when she is an adult. She is tenacious and determined. Independent!

All of the terms I just listed are positive and I need to see all of Anne's characteristics as a solid foundation to becoming a functional and successful adult. But in the midst of all that screaming, I sometimes find it impossible to see the good in her overly robust meltdowns.


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  • Bribery. Can you create a chart where she gets a special sticker (princess, Dora, Strawberry Shortcake) at the end of each day or hour that she is quiet and says how she is feeling? At the end of the week if she has all stickers she gets a special prize. The chart works really well for my kids.

    If all else fails, ear plugs?

    Good luck!

  • In reply to bethprystowsky:

    Beth, I am a fan of bribery and have a stick chart for my almost 5 year old which is successful! Anne, on the other hand, doesn't quite get the concept of the sticker chart. I haven't tried the chart for a few months with her, so maybe I will give it another go. Thanks for reminding me about that option! :) (I might have to invest in ear plugs...)

  • In reply to bethprystowsky:

    Sorry, Sticker chart!

  • In reply to bethprystowsky:

    Oh Mama! I feel for you. Little C does the same thing. He is so dramatic about everything. He spilled some juice on his blanket and the next thing I hear is "MAMA MY BLANKIE IS WET! AHHHHHH!" You would think we were at the Dr.'s office getting a shot. I am totally in your support group! I really love your #2 rule and I can't wait to use it with baby C!

  • In reply to AmandaJ:

    Today i have implemented my new plan of remain calm at all costs. It has worked with Anne so far, so let's cross our fingers. My mother-in-law had a great suggestion about talking in a whisper while Anne was having a scream fest. She said she did that on her kids and they were so caught off guard, they stopped screaming to see what she was saying. Whatever works, right?!

  • In reply to AmandaJ:

    Oh, does this sound familiar! My youngest daughter was a terrible for maybe 7 years. Replaying the "episodes" in our heads at the end of the day, my husband and I always finished by saying, "she's two." Then when she turned three, we'd sigh, "she's three." And so it went for years. At 12 1/2 she is finally much better. She still is feisty, but she's so much more tolerable. I did find that sugar set her off (even a glass of straight juice), as did not enough sleep. I see you mentioned the whisper technique and I remember using that and think that worked...they have to become quiet in order to hear you. I've read that calm is key. Once they see some emotion in you, they realize they have the power to move you. Oh, the book 1-2-3 Magic by Phelan (I believe) really helped with all my kids. It promotes the idea of using a time out (1 minute per year of age) and showing no emotion while doing it...putting the child in a time out area and leaving or doing something else entirely different. If the child gets up, you calmly and matter of factly put them back. I think I had to hold my daughter in time out a few times, but they all eventually got it. I've heard it said it takes 13 times to catch on or make a habit. Hope some of this helps. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
    Oh, I wonder too, if it has anything to do with being a perfectionist. The daughter I'm talking about is usually very neat (until lately and maybe that's a good thing for her) and works very, very hard to get all A's, which is something my other kids don't do. Just a thought....

  • In reply to jtithof:

    Jackie, thank you for the suggestions. She really does love juice and sweet stuff, so maybe I will cut those out and see what happens. She has been having a hard time sleeping over the past few months, too! Thanks!

    Interesting about being a perfectionist. I am a little bit of a control freak/perfectionist and my mom said Anne is quite a bit like me when I was little...

    Yes, calm is key. And it helps so much when your spouse is calm, too! My husband tries so hard to be calm with her and since I hear it all day, I am a little more immune to her outbursts. It's bedtime here, so I am busting open a bottle of wine! Yippie! One day down! ;) Thanks for reading and for your suggestions. Here's to child-rearing!

  • In reply to AmandaJ:

    P.S. She is darling. Just came to mind, is she distractable (sp?)? Sometimes that stops the tears. Soft touches. Back rubs.

  • In reply to jtithof:

    This is a great tip! My son is the distractable one, although I gave up on distraction since the screaming got so out of hand. Maybe I will try it again!

  • In reply to jtithof:

    I've been thinking about this since yesterday and I remembered the praise thing. I remember having to lavish on the praise (to all the kids really) whenever they did something (no matter how silly or little) and more ignoring the bad. In this daughter's case, whenever she would get a hold of herself, I would really play that up. Take her in my arms and tell her stuff like, you're not so prickly anymore, now I can listen to you, oh you sweet sweet thing, what can you tell me calmly, I love when you use your talking voice, look at all that sweat, doesn't it feel better to not cry/scream, I love when you talk so nicely, we don't always get everything we want when we talk nicely but it's worth a try, isn't it easier to talk instead of all that crazy screaming, get the picture. Yup, wine helps the mom!

  • In reply to jtithof:

    You are full of great ideas! It is so easy to get caught up in scolding and punishment, that you forget to praise them. I will try this for sure. (She has been a dream this morning.) I am also putting a stop to excessive sugar intake for the next week and see what happens.

    I had many people respond on facebook with some great suggestions. Several people suggested spanking and although I am at my wits end, spanking is not my style. Everyone parents in a different way and finds different methods to be effective for their children, so I am opting to not try spanking. I am just torn as to how effective spanking is long term. No judgement toward parents who use this method, I just don't think it is a good choice for my kids.

    Thank you for your thoughts and suggestions!

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