You know the age old saying the “Terrible Twos”, right? Well, my son is 2 ½ years old. And while he is far from terrible, (because I think he absolutely must be the sweetest kid on the planet), we’ve experienced a fair number of temper tantrums since he turned 2. Some days, I just cannot even deal with them. Which really means, I don’t deal with them well.
For example, last night my son woke up yelling for me around 12:30 a.m. Since I had not slept well the past two nights, I asked my husband if he would get up instead. He reluctantly did, bless his heart, but my son was NOT HAPPY about it. Because what he wanted was me, not him. He yelled at my husband to go away. Loudly, and rudely, I might add. Screaming “GOOOOOOO DADA!!!” at the top of his lungs – directly in his face.
As you might imagine, my husband was none too pleased with this. So after asking a few times what was wrong and how he might help, (and getting screamed at some more in return), he came back to bed. After which, my son proceeded to scream “GET UP MAMA!” and “Come HERE Mama!”
When I finally dragged myself out of bed, annoyed, that yet again I had to get up after a fully capable adult offered to help this screaming child in the middle of the night, I was not in a place to be helpful, nor patient. Instead, I charged into his room yelling right back “WHAT?!” “What do you need?!”
This obviously did not help my child to calm down, but instead, just made him madder. He then chose to look ME dead in the eye and scream “GOOOOOO!!!” at the top of his lungs to me too. Like his Dad, I was not in the mood to play games. So, go I did.
After returning to our room, my son yelled for me to come back. From my bed, I told him I would NOT come back until he stopped screaming. He replied, “I WANT to scream!” When he continued to do just that, my husband interjected and told him to be nice. He reiterated that Mama would not come back unless he stopped yelling. Our son’s response? “I WANT to yell at Mama!”
After a few more minutes of this, I finally gave up and went back into his room to see if I could get him to calm down.
I stood by his bed with my hands on my hips, willing myself not to speak, while he yelled at me some more. Eventually, I decided enough was enough – and resorted to counting. Meaning, “I’m going to give you to the count of three to lay down and stop screaming, or I will go back to bed and let you cry yourself to sleep!” Yep. There I was, issuing threats to a small child in the middle of the night. Because that was all I could come up with in the moment.
Surprisingly, he did lay back down, so the counting thing actually worked. Which is why I sometimes fall back on that. However, it never feels good.
After he quieted down, I tried to get him to tell me what was going on. Did he have a bad dream? “No”, he replied. “Then what is all this yelling about?” I asked. “Why do you keep screaming at Mama?”
“Because I WANT to scream at Mama,” he answered stubbornly.
“But why do you want to scream at Mama?” I probed. “Do you like it when I yell at you?”
“Yeah!” he alleged.
“Oh really?” I countered.
And that’s when I did it.
“GO TO BED!” I yelled loudly. The same way he had been yelling at me. Right in his face. Not quite at the top of my lungs, but close. To demonstrate what he had been doing to me. Or really, to try and prove a point.
TO A TODDLER.
Obviously, he didn’t see that coming. He jumped a little, clearly startled. Then he started crying. Not the scream crying he had been doing before. But real tears. Because his Mama – who he had wanted to come and comfort him in the middle of the night – had just shouted in his face.
I YELLED AT MY CHILD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.
What kind of Mom does that?
I immediately regretted it, of course. And hugged and kissed him and said I was sorry. And started kicking myself for not handling things better, right off the bat. Why hadn’t I led with empathy and patience? Why did I go in there guns-a-blazin’, instead of trying to comfort my child, screaming or not?
Thankfully, I was able to soothe him back to sleep, with back rubs and cheek kisses, and reassurance that I was there. Which is obviously what I should have done in the first place.
I crawled back in bed just after 2 a.m., upset with myself for handling things the way I did. I still feel guilty for trying to teach my child a lesson in the middle of the night – by yelling at him.
When my son woke up yelling this morning, it was “Mama, I want to come snuggle!” that he shouted. He came toddling into our room, climbed into bed with us, and rested his head on my belly. There was no anger or resentment. It did not appear that I had permanently damaged my child overnight by yelling at him.
We talked about what happened the night before, and he told me “Mama, you scared me”. Which reminded me of an important lesson I learned in a parenting class I took last Fall: One of the scariest things to a child is an out-of-control adult.
I’m not proud of this parenting moment. But I also can’t go back and change it. All I can do is remember how it made me feel the next time he starts yelling in the middle of the night. And try to lead with love instead.