When it comes to toddler tantrums, there seems to be a ranking system of sorts. You've got your entry-level tantrums, the ones that typically involve some crying, a lot of whining and maybe a flailing limb or two. Then there's your mid-level tantrum, the kind where small bodies are dramatically thrown on the floor, random objects get tossed across the room and the crying can even be heard from outside the house. And finally, you have the crème de la crème of tantrums: The Scream.
If you've never raised or encountered a screamer, consider yourself lucky. But if you're not done having kids, don't start bragging about your good fortune just yet. My third—and last—child is a screamer, and while his older two sisters threw their fair share of tantrums, nothing could have prepared me for the eardrum-shattering, anxiety-inducing, fear-provoking screams his little lungs can produce when he's upset.
If you have one, you know what I'm talking about. In fact, here are five things that every parent of a screamer knows to be true:
1. You've tried every parenting method out there to make it stop. Ignore the screams? Tried it. He just screams louder until I unlock the bathroom door I'm hiding behind and let him in. Explain calmly that we don't behave that way? I'm not sure he knows where his belly button is most days, let alone what's "acceptable behavior." Timeouts? Ineffective once he grew tall enough to reach the doorknob—which he does while screaming even louder. Hold him and hug it out? Attempted that, and now I think I have permanent hearing loss in my right ear.
2. You hate taking them in public as much as bystanders hate hearing them in public. Listen, I get it. I like to enjoy my Starbucks and Target runs in peace and quiet, too. But sometimes I have to take him out in public, and when he gets mad that the line is too long or he's hungry or his shoes suddenly hurt his feet even though he's had them on for two hours, he's probably going to scream like I'm causing bodily harm. I'm not. And that's why I'm stepping four feet away from him and raising both hands straight up in the air.
Nothing could have prepared me for the eardrum-shattering, anxiety-inducing, fear-provoking screams his little lungs can produce when he's upset.
3. Screamers are completely unpredictable. Yesterday's earth-shattering screams were caused by the fact that I wouldn't let him eat butter straight from the tub. Some days, it's because I gave him juice in the wrong sippy cup. Tomorrow it could be because he discovered the Earth is round. You just never know.
4. You stand in solidarity with parents of fellow screamers. A few weeks ago, we were camping and I watched a fellow mom loading her toddler into the car and heard that all-too-familiar battle cry coming from her back seat. It took everything in me to not throw three fingers up on an outstretched arm, Katniss Everdeen style, to silently say, "I get it, Momma. Hope you packed your earplugs."
5. You know (and pray) it's just a phase. Like all things toddler, we cling to the fact that the screams are hopefully just a phase and that they will soon discover a new, less vocal, way to express themselves. I find extreme comfort in the fact that I haven't yet encountered a 34-year-old man who screams at the top of his lungs when his email inbox gets too full. But if you have, please just lie to me and let me believe it's a phase—one I can say with 100 percent certainty I won't miss when it's over.
I recently wrote about why we should be grateful when our little ones throw a tantrum. But aside from understanding that a tantrum is normal and even healthy, what else can we do when we’re actually in this kind of high-stress moment with our kids? I don't believe parents should ignore a tantrum. When children are truly out of control, that’s when they need us the most. We still need to set clear boundaries, but our response should always be full of love, respect and patience.
Here are seven suggestions for dealing with a toddler’s tantrum: