Control issues: A screaming toddler
© 2011 Roy Benaroch, MD
Alice wrote about her 14-month old toddler’s new screaming habit: “I am going crazy! When my 14-month old daughter doesn’t get what she wants, she lets out this high pitched scream until I give in. It seems as though she is gaining a little more control over me and I am are losing control of her. I really do not want this need for control to escalate to other things in the future, which is why I really need to take action now.”
A 14 month old is supposed to be figuring out how to control her environment, including the people in her life. These are crucial skills for children to learn. Parents should not be in complete control of toddlers, and a parent’s control is supposed to get lower and lower as children mature. The whole goal of parenting is to help a child become an independent, competent, and happy adult—not a little robot controlled by the parents. It’s not always easy, but if you wanted easy you should have gotten a goldfish.
There are some things, though, you can and should control: mainly, what YOU do. If you don’t want her to learn that screaming at you is the best way to get you to “hop to it,” you’d better change the way you react to screaming. She’s learning her lessons well, that the best way to get what she wants is to scream her head off.
When she screams, make sure she’s safe first. Then ignore her. Leave the store. Go where you won’t feel pressured or embarrassed. If she’s screaming at you from her crib, leave her there and go somewhere else. Do this without anger or retribution– this isn’t payback, this is the way it is. You scream at me, I do not help you. Period.
Try to stay away from thinking that you can control her, or that there is some magic parenting method that will keep you in control longer. In the long run, that’s not what parenting is supposed to be about.