the IT city, the I.T. Baby


Onward with parenting learning

What do you do with the sweetest child who randomly explodes into 90 minutes of full on tantrum? That’s what we’ve been working on for about a year now with 3-5 bad days a week, nonstop screaming and crying, and afterwards a child who doesn’t have a clue what set her off.

It’s been a fairly known thing in our circles that there’s Awesome Maggie, and then there’s the explosion. The explosion (Katie Kaboom,) can come when there’s reason, or the explosion can come out of the blue when something in her triggers it.

I’ve been reading parenting books for a while now, some are complete garbage, some are ok, none seem to have applied to our situation (although reading one now that seems to.) What do you do for a kid who doesn’t fear consequence, doesn’t associate negative behavior with punishment, and has a memory like a goldfish so even if you’ve told her the most profound thing to her existence it’s already a gone memory.

She also doesn’t have the words yet to describe what’s happening, but we’ve finally got her to describe stress to us and that seems to be it. Unfortunately a stress trigger for a 4yo can be not getting a lollipop (standard,) not having things in the order she wants them in (intermediate,) or realizing something scary from a movie she watched seven weeks ago (advanced).

When Katie Kaboom starts to pop out she kicks into full on ODD. If there’s a way to get into trouble she’ll try for it. Fight kick scream stay near parents. Oh what, there’s nothing to fight? Annoy parents.

In the past that’s meant head butting, her kicking and screaming, and doing anything to make sure she’s the center of attention including sitting in front of you screaming and making goat like noises.

It’s not been fun.

And it’s not been the entire experience. Maggie spent a lot of time being punished or having rewards withheld. There’re still times we do this but it became evident this is not the route to deal with Katie Kaboom. It doesn’t work.

There’s also Mad Maggie. This is a 4yo who’s mad. We can deal with that. Mad Maggie can sometimes become Katie Kaboom, usually not though. Unfortunately KK can’t be lowered to MM. KK just is screaming and kicking and tantrum time.

So we’ve read and read and hired a behaviorist to help us with some of this because with Metro Nashville schools, we set an appointment with their in school behavior councilor back in early September and just had the meeting in March and have a follow up from that 30 minute meeting in August.

Oddly the Metro behaviorist was absurdly good, just looking at two times a year getting support isn’t going to help much.

Between the Metro behaviorist and the play therapist I’ve finally got a picture of a good kid who goes into full on reaction mode and explodes based on things most kids would roll with. Fear and uncertainty and memories of a Ghostbusters cartoon from months ago can trigger Katie Kaboom to get on deck and next thing you know there’s a 4yo with all the feels and no ability to bring herself back down.

And we tried every parenting style that had worked with us. They didn’t work with her. Not because she’s a bad kid, but most likely because she’s got a portion of her brain screaming “it’s go time motherfucker,” and very little in the way to say “what now?”

I’m pretty sure I could write half the parenting books I’ve read now on post-it-notes. They’re a lot of words, whole lot of words, overly descriptive words, stories that might somehow relate but you’re really going to have to work to read something into, let’s sell you on the method once, more words, sell the method again, come up with a new way of explaining a fairly easy concept, and then tell why every other method fails.

It’s also probably very important to have an image. Wooden spoon, spread open hand, toy telephone, sun with clouds blocking it, etc.

It turned out I needed a fairly easy concept re-explained to me. I’ve had it explained. Kid, amygdala, incapable of emotional management (yet) frontal lobe, KABOOM. Structure as much stuff as possible so there’s no bedtime woes of missing out on Activity X.

Things that didn’t work for repeat tantrums:

  • taking stuff away (unexploding kid didn’t associate it, exploding kid expected it and exploded)
  • time outs (4yo doesn’t sit there and think)
  • sitting in there and thinking about what happened (I know, I think I’m just needing some treats and that’s why I exploded for 90 minutes)
  • not going fun places (this lead to 4yo depression. I mean she doesn’t go to Disney World if she shanks a guy but we set the reward level to being good a couple of days in a row and things started getting better)

We’re running life a little like a game show, not every night as we don’t seem to have to, but we do catch-up. We’re announcing both verbally and with a chart what’s happening next in the night. Want to get a bath? needs to be done in this timeframe, move the tub where you want it. Trying to not use space as a calm down thing when KK sticks her head out (oh, you only want to love me when I’m being good?) and letting her know sometimes we react negatively to her negative reactions and that’s our problem, not hers.

Mom tells her a story about a girl like her doing things and getting upset and handling them. I sit with her for a bit and we run through all the things she’s afraid of and I tell her how to handle them and get questions such as “so what happens if we put silver in a werewolf cheek?” and “so vampires can’t come in unless you invite them in?” and occasionally I’ll drop a useless monster in for her to obsess over like the Barewolf (a hairless werewolf that just curls up on your heating vents and eats cat food) and Blobby (a blob, nobody’s scared of blob) – these knocked out obsession over zombies and scary faceless creatures.

It’s been odd. She’s never slept well, we used to call 7pm the witching hour as baby M would explode into psychotic breakdowns all the time. She took 8 months 17 days to sleep through the night or longer than an hour or two, and her list of fears is astounding. Unfortunately I’m thinking that our reactions to her reactions were one of the things she was afraid of so she reacted.

Things are getting better going by the metrics. Unfortunately by feel they get worse. Five hours of screaming a week was bad, but three or four days with no issues and then explosion again somehow is worse. It’s the waiting for the next fail I guess.

But, moving forward. Will probably fail again at this but I think the plan is either holding or my soon to be five year old is growing to the point of being able to control some of the impulses to scream for 90 minutes a night.

I mean I’m sure there’re some selfish factors here but I really just want her to not be a miserable screaming wreck 5-9 hours a week. Think we’re finally getting there.

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.