My almost two year old is an angelic looking, chunky legged little (okay sort of big) blonde bouncing baby girl. She can be as sweet as pie: loving, hugging, blowing kisses to her older brother and sister as they get on the bus, playing gently with her baby doll, saying hi to every stranger in the store that we pass. And other times...not so much. She has entered that lovely stage that some toddlers go through, the SCREAMING PHASE.
Out of the four children, I have had two screamers, my oldest being the first screamer. Finn was the sweetest, nicest little boy, easy going, mild mannered. That is until the screaming started. It basically would happen when he didn't get what he wanted. If he couldn't have the toy he wanted, if I didn't get him fast enough from his crib when he woke up from a nap, if we had to leave the park. The park leaving was THE WORST.
There he'd be, happily playing with little friends, the other moms telling me how sweet he was, and I knew. I just KNEW that it would be meltdown city when we tried to leave. And sure enough, once it was time to go Finn would just LOSE IT completely. Kicking, screaming, screeching, just all out craziness. The other moms would be perplexed, like "Um, is this the same kid who just shared his choo choo with my kid?" as I would football hold him under one arm while trying to escape the scene as fast as possible, smiling weakly like "This is all okay, I swear, he's fine, this is normal". I would get the looks, for sure. The judgmental looks, and the sympathetic ones. Mostly, I was just really confused, and scared. Where did my sweet little guy go? Was this going to just continue happening, or get worse? Nothing I did seemed to help at all.
He wasn't teething, he didn't have an ear infection, he wasn't ill at all. I read all the toddler behavior books, I tried changing his diet, I tried changing the bedtime schedule, I tried everything, but the screaming continued. I asked our pediatrician, practically begging her to give me a solution, anything I could try. He was nearly two years old and wasn't talking much, just the screaming. SO MUCH SCREAMING. And it was starting to make me a little unhinged. Being at home (or anywhere) with a small child who's main mode of communication is screaming at the top of his lungs can be a challenge to one's mental well being, to say the very least.
In Finn's case, the screaming came from a place of frustration because he wasn't able to talk yet, he couldn't communicate. He was right on the cusp of talking, but before he could, he was going to FREAK OUT and scream as loud as he could to express his displeasure. He started talking late (after he turned two), but once he did, the screaming did actually stop. Once he could "use his words" (and actually had words to use), it did subside, and his personality came back and blossomed and developed even more.
With my youngest, I
hope think it's a similar situation, combined with the fact that she just likes to be heard. I guess in a family of four going on five kids and you're the littlest you need to pipe up once in a while? Who knows. The point is, it's a phase. And it will pass. Here are some tips on how to handle your own screaming toddler demon (said with LOVE):
- Ignore it. SO EASY, right? Oh here I am pushing my cart through the grocery store and my toddler is screaming her head off but I'm just going to pretend like it's all cool and talk to her in a soothing voice and tell her I understand that she's upset but maybe we should use our inside voice? Well, yes. Just model a soft voice, and don't give in to the screeching. It's so hard, I know, but it helps.
- Let the dirty looks roll off your back. Let’s face it, a suddenly shrieking toddler can cause ANYONE to turn and look, even a seasoned parent. Sometimes it’s just startling and it’s a natural reaction to see what the commotion is. And if someone is just being rude, let it go, you have bigger and more important things to care about, like the shrieking banshee you are in charge of.
- Sometimes it IS an ear infection, or molars coming in that is compounding the problem. Don't always assume it's a "terrible twos" problem. One of the best, most reassuring things I did was bring Finn in to the doctor, at the end of my rope, to just make sure things were okay. If you have a supportive pediatrician they will understand and will help you make sure there isn't an underlying health issue that is causing them discomfort and if there isn't, ask them for some of their tips on how to get through this difficult phase.
Part of what made it hardest for me was that I felt like my children's personality was changed forever and might never come back to where it was. Part of me felt guilty for what I perceived to be their unhappiness. It also happens to take place during a pivotal time in their growing up. They aren't a baby anymore, they are fully asserting their independence, and that can be hard, emotionally, on a parent, to go through those changes and start to let go more. With my oldest, I remember feeling horrible pangs of longing for the baby stage, when he seemed so much happier and bubblier and just sweeter in general. I was scared I wasn't going to like the toddler phase, that it would be difficult for the two of us, it made me sad and anxious all at once. But you know what? Just like every stage, the toddler stage has it's lows, but it also has it's highs. Consider it some hard core boot camp for parenting, it can be an intense phase where you are building skills, building your endurance, and building your character as a parent.