Advice Needed: Make the Screaming Stop

So it seems that, much like walking, once W decided he was going to embrace this new phase of growing up, he decided he was going to do it full speed. And this new phase is HARD. Super hard. Mostly I can see how extremely hard it is for him. Nothing makes sense at all and 90% of his desires are crushed and plans are thwarted.

Navigating this phase is unpleasant and emotional and exhausting.

It starts almost as soon as he rises. A nonstop whining sound that carries on until he can express whatever it is that he is trying to express. And sometimes he honestly doesn’t seem to know what he wants, just that he has a want. Which involves mornings of me holding him on my hip in the kitchen as he screams and sobs and wails and we go through each food item on the shelf until we land on (for the 3rd time) YES YES YES mandarin oranges YES YES that is what he wants! And finally the world can be at peace for five minutes.

When left alone with a project he is fine, so I try to set up project areas for him to keep his mind engaged in a way that seems soothing. Taking packets of oatmeal out of a box and putting them back in, sorting books, pretty much anything related to a box and objects is satisfying.

But when he begins to test his boundaries he either totally freaks out by stomping around the house, flinging himself back onto the floor and wailing, or running up to me and pleading/signing, “eat! eat!”. I have been using time outs as a way to help him process him emotions (like if he is super flailing and could hurt himself) I move him to a safer place. Or if he has hit the dog, thrown a toy…he also gets a time out.

And this, I imagine, is fucking HARD to process. Because rules are hard. And having to follow them is hard. And I totally get, emotionally, why this process is difficult so I am sympathetic. But unrelenting.

I think it just surprises me that I have a child that is now capable of this stuff. The slapping, kicking, throwing of objects, seemingly deliberate acts of defiance. I know this is just part of what he has to learn- how to process his feelings. And that on a base level this is how we all feel when we are told not to do something. But seeing my sweet and adorable W act this way? HARD.

I would love to hear from any of you guys going through or survivors of through toddler years. Any tips of the trade you can pass on? And when does it get better???


  1. FEELING YOUR PAIN!!!!! Are you sure you were not a silent observer at our house? Adam is not no-stop whining, but OH MY LORD!!!! The biting, kicking, hitting, tantrums…I feel for him as some times the only way I can deal with the temper tantrums is to giggle and say “are you two?”…whilst he continues to flail about.

    I have no good advice for you as I am in the middle of it also, so I will be checking back hourly for some good snippets of wisdom…the only thing that helps me keep sanity in my sights is “this too, shall pass” At least, that is my hope of hopes.

  2. Harvey Karp (Happiest Baby/Toddler…) says 18-24 months is the hardest. I agreed. The book is worth a quick read. Nothing earth-sharttering but nice as a affirmation of this *very* difficult time. It does get better. Theo is such a delightful 2 1/2 year old now.

  3. Turning two was a revelation for us. Actually modifying his diet was also good (turns out his digestive system didn’t like gluten or dairy).

    It does get better. 18-24 months was a tough period. Hang in there!

  4. Sign, sign, sign. Even basic stuff – more, eat, help, no, yes – helps. Talk toddler – basically you sound like a caveman (Yes, Want Food, Yes, Want Food, Yes Eat). Leave snacks (small amounts) out for grazing. Toddlers at this stage love grazing. If you’re willing allow him to dispense his snacks – giving a small choice sometimes is the answer (pouring/sorting/stacking). Also let him know what’s going on (yes he hears you he just can’t talk). OK we’re going in 5 minutes (count downs work wonders at times). 18-24 months is tough – boys are generally later talkers so it is hella frustrating!

    I hate to say it but wait for the 4s!

  5. I was going to say Happiest Toddler on the Block too. I read it and it fit in rather well with what I was already doing and gave me a few more tricks to add.

    And only fight the battles that need to be fought. Right now, Elizabeth is playing with Matt’s empty soda bottles. Would I rather she let me dump out the last little bits of soda and let them dry first so that she didn’t make a mess? Yes, but I decided a messy floor (and chair) was better than a tantrum right now.

    And keep it up with the consistency. That is what works in the end. Elizabeth has a much easier time when I always make her mind, rather than when I let her slip.

  6. Just here to say…you’re not alone! this stuff is hard. I’m not cut out to be a toddler parent ๐Ÿ˜›

  7. Delurking because a thought just occured to me (and didn’t see it mentioned in the comments above) – could it be that W is also reacting to the changes happening (move, Mother not being there on a regular basis)? Sure, it’s an exciting and wonderful new chapter in your lives, but things are changing, and it may just take him a little while to adjust to the new “normal”. Combined with the usual temperament of his age-group, not being able to express how/what he feels, it could explain things.

    In any case, it is a stage, and bound to morph into something else soon enough – and good luck in the meantime. Sounds like you’re doing the right things (signing, choices, projects), so just hang in there!

  8. I can barely remember those days, but I know it was hard. I think I have PTSD (only joking. . . I think). It does get better. It gets better in fits and starts and just when you think you have it figured out, something new comes along. For us, things go worse around the year and half-year marks. Something goes nuts in the boy’s head and he has a period of disequilibrium. I have heard this theory before–not something I totally made up.

    Life does get better and better. Four was a very good year. Five is turning out to be fun.

    The only words of wisdom I have are simple ones. Mean what you say, say what you mean and be consistent. Cut yourself a break when you can.

  9. Hi, I am delurking too. I have a three year old and I navigated that tough terrain. I found that offering two choices vs. many choices helped with the meltdowns. So, instead of saying, “What would you like for breakfast?” Saying “Do you want toast or Os for breakfast?” If the answer is mandarin oranges, then respond, “That is a great idea. Maybe we will do that tomorrow. Today your choices are Toast or Os.” Or, “That goes great with either of toast or Os.” Some battles aren’t worth it, obviously. But we stopped having meltdowns that way. And by setting boundaries and rules that are non-negotiable, i.e. hitting other people, animals, or ourselves. I don’t know how much advice is too much, so I will stop there. I just read that this time feels crazy to 18-24 month olds. They want to be independent, but get afraid of their independence. That makes sense to me. They really need and want boundaries, even though they fight them every step of the way. I just feel like they test them to be confident that the rules of their universe always work. Every time they hit, the same thing happens. Every time they cry, the same thing happens, i.e., Mama doesn’t buckle and give me a lollipop for breakfast. Good luck, mama.

  10. I wish I could remember what that stage was like. My girl was pretty easy, and she’s working her way through absolutely constantly annoying here at 4. She likes to throw fits and whine. She’s started being picky about what she eats. I guess she’s mostly acting like an 18-24 month old, but worse because she also talks back to me. So what I’m saying is, get used to it?

    No, calmly ignoring the tantrums and limiting choices is good. Repetition is good for toddlers too, so try to develop a routine and don’t deviate from it. You’ll be OK.

  11. My daughter turns 6 in a few months and I went through this also. It started when she was about 18 months. The first thing I can say is stand your ground no matter what, even if you child ends up screaming. I gave in and had to back peddle later with her. From the time my daughter was 2 1/2 -4 she didn’t want to go to sleep, stay asleep all she wanted to do was sleep in my bed. Now I don’t have a problem with my child sleeping with me from time to time but every night doesn’t work. My best friend from high school let her daughter sleep with her all the time and her daughter was 12 before she got to sleep by herself again. There were nights that I put my daughter to bed at 7pm and it was 11 before she was asleep and it was a given she would end up in my bed at some point in time. This went on for months. I finally got her to sleep with lots of putting her back into bed and as for her sleeping with me she and I talked about it. She only sleeps with me when she is sick, has a bad dream or earns a special night in mom’s bed. I also started telling her an hour before bedtime that it would be time for bed in an hour and did a count down, then 45 minutes, 30 minutes, 15, 10, 5, 2 this worked great. I also told her that when it was time for bed it would be go potty, brush teeth, story and lights out. If she had a melt down and didn’t do what was asked of her she started to lose favorite items. It was little things like no story or one of her stuff animals or her special blanker. This took awhile to work but I still use it to this day. I let her know it is bed time she tells me potty, teeth and book. She now gets it!
    My daughter also had a huge speech problem. I didn’t understand a word she said until she was almost 3.5. Then only after working with the school district twice a week for months. When she tired to ask for something or wanted to do something she would have a melt down because I didn’t understand her. So I started asking her to show me what she wanted. This was hard at first because I didn’t always get it right when she showed me what she wanted and asked her to to calm down and show me again! This finally worked out and when she learned how to speak clearly this helped bunches.
    As for your child throwing himself on the ground crying, my daughter did this, it took me a few time to figure out that I needed to get up and walk out of the room. My daughter would follow me and thrown herself back on the floor, I would move again and she would follow and start it again. I think she did this three times and I just kept getting up and moving. She finally got it and it was never a problem again.
    Good luck, keep a routine, stick to your guns and if you ever leave your child with someone else make sure they know the rules and the limits. My daughters godfather lived with us for about a year and I had to make sure he knew what was ok and wasn’t!

  12. I love Happiest Toddler too. It’s basically all the same principles we use with animal training in “Mommy and Toddler-ese.” So I believe it works well though I haven’t had to use much of it yet. You’re a great Mommy Cali. Remember all this stuff to advise ME when I have to deal with it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  13. I’m with mc–his developmental stage combined with moving to a new house, and his other major attachment figure ‘disappearing’ everyday, is probably exacerbating his reactions. I would suggest talking about how much you both miss grandma, and how your heart hurts to see her go inthe morning, but that you kno. She is thinking about w and loves him etc. Because of egocentrism his perception is that if someone he loves goes away, it’s his fault, which is pretty excruciating, so he is probably having a bit of adjustment depression (no! Nothing awful! Just a normal trasient reaction to stress). I would address how his inside (heart?) is hurting, and that outside he is feeling grumpy. Clearly, he’s nit going to process this with you, but you offering the process is a place to start

  14. I should also say – moving/disruption in his schedule might be throwing W off.

    Also you have to talk directly to him – get down to where he is vs. picking him up when he’s whining. Once he starts talking (hopefully soon!) I’d ignore the whining (as my kids know the whining strangely isn’t heard when they do it). Constantly remind him – use your words – even if it’s signing it will help him “get” that you are struggling to help him. Nothing wrong with “I don’t understand you. Let’s try to help Mama understand.”.

  15. Omigosh. I have, like, so much advice ( though opinions may vary on its usefulness). I’ll be baaaaack.

  16. i feel your pain :o)

    we’re a big fan of Conscious Discipline (Dr. Becky Bailey) in our household. Check it out at choices are key. give him whatever control you can…even if it’s just choosing if he wants the red cup or the blue cup. he doesn’t know his colors yet, but just the fact that he got to pick his cup will make him feel empowered and more likely to cooperate. cooper’s almost two and it’s amazing how much she just “gets it” and how much it helps reduce the struggles.

  17. Ah. See now, this is why I don’t understand why people get all sad when their kids aren’t teeny weeny anymore. I was looking through hundreds of images from the boys, the very early years, and it was all I could do not to shudder at the memories of the irrationality, the tears, the weeping. Loving 5.75 and 2.75.

    Also, I have utterly forgotten what I did to cope. Actually, with the less reasonable child, I just made sure we were at the beach almost 24/7 because there was very little there for us to disagree about. That was my strategy. Find an environment with as few boundaries for him spatially/behaviourally/etc as possible. Harder in a cold place. Sorry. And probably horrible parenting advice, but it worked for us.

  18. We started his grazing snack shelf at this age, I am reminded by a previous commenter – he could eat the things on it whenever he damn well pleased. I think that helped. I also don’t worry too much about food anyway so it doesn’t bother me if he snacks constantly and barely eats “meals.” Plus he was allowed whatever shows he wanted whenever because that’s another thing I don’t care about (for the record, he almost never watches any TV now by HIS choice – I offer, he refuses!). That made for several fewer battles. All the choices he could have were given (cups, etc) and things that were not negotiable were firm firm firm. I was not a fan of that pre-reason age when threats and bribing were not yet daily tools. Much happier now. I have to say that three is freaking magical around here.

  19. Having met and fallen in love with your sweet sweet boy, what I learned about him is that he is definitely his own person and always a step ahead of what he is doing. ie – wanting to walk but his body wasn’t able to yet, but remember how happy he was when he finally got it!! This time must be so very frustrating for him because all he seems to want to do is tell mama what he wants and needs but the words just aren’t there. The ‘signs’ have really helped us for those moments when C just can’t express loud enough what she wants. I do agree that 2 options are a great way to start giving him power without you having to spend hours offering things to him. It might bring you some sanity and since he is already whining and you are used to that noise, when he refuses BOTH options, then he is out of luck and must move on to something else. I would spend hours in the kitchen with C if I didn’t limit my options. You are a strong mom and doing a great job with him so I agree with Carrie… remember to give yourself a break too. This toddler stuff is hard. The fact that you can actually think about how hard this stage in his life is for HIM instead of just for YOU makes you a pretty amazing person! Hang in there.

  20. W has gone through a lot of changes lately. You’ve moved away from everything that was familiar to him (twice in his short lifetime) and his grandmother has a new job and is less available to him during working hours. When she’s home she may be too tired to play with him the way he was used to or she may bring work home and is wrapped up in that.
    You know moving is one of the big, major traumas on any stress list, right? It’s right up there with death and divorce. Even though you move is a good thing it’s still a major adjustment for all of you, especially W., who doesn’t understand why it happened and where grandma goes all day.
    I suggest exercise. Kids need exercise like they need nutritious food and warm clothing. I know it’s cold outside in Philly and environs but there are great indoor play places where he can run, slide, crawl through tunnels and roll around in ball pits. If your place can accommodate a mini-trampoline, get one. With the right safety mat he can jump and jump and wear himself out.
    I get the feeling that you’re not big on exercising but it’s soooo good for you. If there’s a Y near you they probably have classes for moms and toddlers.
    One last thing: kids are hyper-aware of their parents’ moods. If he realizes that the screaming gets a rise out of you he’ll ramp it up, not because he’s the evil spawn of Satan (probably not, anyway; with privacy laws and all that it’s a remote possibility that Mr. Donor was the prince of Darkness) but no! W. is not a bad seed! But if he sees that the screaming and whining gets you agitated he’ll do it more because your lack of control scares HIM. Kids need to think their caregivers have everything under control, even if they don’t.
    I suggest walking away if you warn him to stop screaming/whining and he doesn’t. Give it a few minutes and return. If he follows you, tell him he needs to calm down and then you’ll talk to him.
    Good luck. And get him physically tired out. Exhausted kids sleep better and have less energy for random acts of boredom-induced destruction.

  21. BTW, I am thrilled beyond words that not one of your commenters advocated spanking him. I’m appalled by some of the comments on other sites where a certain misunderstood Bible verse is used as an excuse to beat children.

  22. I have one child that is heavy in the throws of this phase and one child that seems to be exiting this phase. Age 3 is A W F U L! Terrible No good. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of complete sweetness but from my experience 3 is a reverting age. At 2 they want to be a Big Boy, at 3 they are so confused and forget words, actions, skills etc and go back to this tantruming, screaming grunting, ticking time bomb phase. like a few said This is where it is extremely important to pick your battles and Be super Confident (fake it) and Very Consistant. If you say something, mean it. Follow through. It will save you many many many years down the line. With that said, What your words, Mean what you say, say what you mean. In all that yelling, screaming, tantruming, They are listening and watching you. Freaking Sponges. It is HARD. Super Hard. I did read Happy Toddler and 1-2-3 magic They are ok Nothing earth moving. I did not like that 1-2-3 magic gives them 2 more chances to repeat what you asked them to stop before you discipline. ( to each their own) but When I ask you to stop, I mean right now .. not in 2 more attempts to change my mind or see if I am really serious ( and now I sound like a drill Sargent)
    Distraction during a tantrum, Hey look at that squirrel etc. I read something the other day and if i can find it, I will send it to you) It stated how boys are not capable at this age to “sit down and talk about their feelings” like girls are. So When disciplining, Give them the Facts “i am sorry you are not able to process these feelings, that’s ok, You will be able to at some point and we will work through them together but you cannot yell and throw things, it is not acceptable ” type verbage. i will hunt that article down for you. To infinity and beyond my friend, You are not alone in this struggle ( although I bet it feels that way) Sending you Plaid Plaid thoughts


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