upset-girl

What Would You Do With This Screaming Child?

Issues Kids Deal With //

Recently a grandmother who has been the primary care giver for her toddler grandchild contacted me. Her grandchild had been returned one evening after spending time with other relatives. When he came in he rushed over and hugged her, which was his normal ritual. He looked around her home and began to scream.

She proceeded with her normal routine of getting him settled into her home. Nothing she did worked.

  • She asked if he’d like to take a bath.
  • She gave him a choice of a bath with bubbles or no bubbles.
  • She asked him to pick out the toys he wanted in the bathtub.
  • She asked, “Do you want some juice? Or some milk?”
  • After the bath she laid out a couple of pairs or pajamas and asked him to point to the ones he wanted to wear.

Throughout the entire evening he just screamed at the top of his lungs.

  • She picked him up and put him in the bathtub. He screamed.
  • She put toys in the tub. He screamed.
  • She got a glass of juice for him. He screamed.
  • He screamed when she laid out the pajamas.
  • She told him to find his favorite book and she’d read him a bedtime story. He screamed.
  • She tried holding him. He screamed.

This grandmother tried things that normally work. Things such as giving him choices; trying to get his approval of taking a bath by asking him if he wanted a bath; offering him a drink were all met with screaming. She checked to make sure he wasn’t hurting or had a cut or a bruise.

Issues that might have been going on

  • This child has delayed speech and language skills. It might be possible he was upset and didn’t how to tell her what was bothering him.
  • He doesn’t like to be in crowds or around new people. More than likely he was around a lot of people over the weekend he didn’t know and it scared him.
  • He may have been wondering if his “Nana”, the name he calls her, was going to stick around for him. His little mind might have wondered when Nana was going to disappear. After all she has been the only consistent person in his young life.
  • Perhaps he just didn’t want to his auntie to leave or maybe he wanted to stay a little longer at the other house.
  • Maybe he was hurt or scared at the other house. Perhaps something happened to him that sent his brain into the survival mode and it was stuck there.

Helpful tips

  • When he started yelling he was saying, “Something is wrong but I don’t know how to tell you what it is.” At this point offer him empathy. You may have to try and guess what is bothering him. Your conversation might go something like one of the following
    • “Oh Jacob it must be hard to leave your auntie. You like going to her house don’t you? You didn’t want to leave?”
    • “Were you wondering if Nana was going to be here to greet you when you got home? I will always be here. “
    • “Jacob I bet there were a lot of people at your aunties this weekend. You don’t like to be around a lot of people do you? Well we are going to have a nice quiet evening tonight.”
  • If he doesn’t respond to the conversation starters above start describing what his body is doing,
    • “Jacob, your face is going like this” (imitate his facial expression) “and your shoulders are going like this.” (Imitate what his body is doing)
    • When he looks at you, add, “It seems to me you are ____________” You will have to do your best to fill in the blank.
  • Once he has calmed down at all, tell him in a comforting voice what is going to happen next. Children who are scared and upset can’t make decisions. Making a choice of a bubble bath or no bubbles is too complicated and tiring for him. So tell him what is going to happen.
    • I’m so glad you are home. Come on; let’s get you in the bathtub. I’m going to get out some of your favorite bath toys for you to play with.”
    • After your bath Nana is going to help you put on your blue pajamas. They will feel so good when you are all clean.
  • If the child calms down he will then be able to make a choice of juice or milk; pick out a storybook, etc. If hasn’t calmed down, keep using a soft but reassuring voice telling him what is going to happen next.

When little children don’t have the verbal skills to tell us what is wrong we have to help them by giving them the language or the words they need. Patience, soothing voices, empathy and love helps bring their bodies into control and rewires their brains for success.

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About the Author

Linda has been a children’s ministry director, developed DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids, dc4k.org), operated a therapeutic child care, and has extensive experience at successfully accommodating challenging behaviors. She currently serves as the DC4K Ambassador and Professional blogger at http://blog.dc4k.org.