Current Issue of BDINews
Derek, is now two and has always been a "crybaby". As an infant, he would not nap unless someone held him....
Temperament and Parenting
A Newsletter About Caring for the High Maintenance Child by Kate Andersen, M.Ed.
Issue Theme: Coping with High Maintenance Traits: Shifting to a Positive Focus
Volume 23, Number 2, September, 2020.
Letter to Kate
Our first child was an absolutely happy baby and is still a happy, well-behaved five-year-old. Our second one, Derek, is now two and has always been a "crybaby". As an infant, he would not nap unless someone held him. As soon as we would put him down in his crib, he would wake up and scream. We always followed the "fifteen minute rule" (let him cry for 15 minutes before we would pick him up). He always outlasted us--he could cry forever.
Now, at two, he still cries a lot. If he doesn't get his way, even with the simplest things, he screams. And bedtime is the worst! One night recently, he screamed for over an hour. Our neighbor across the street commented to us a few days later that he almost came over to check on us to make sure everything was all right--Derek was so loud that even he could hear him.
Lately, I've become concerned about two things: the constant crying, and the "manipulation factor". Usually, if he cries long enough, my husband or I will give in. I feel that at two years old, he is learning that he can get his way if he cries and that we're in for even worse behavior in the future.
Children can be different right from the start, can't they? That's quite normal. I wonder if Derek has some temperament traits that played a role in his different behavioral style. Read more about temperament on this website to explore this possibility. I have a little concern about your situation in that you have one child you describe in very positive terms and one who is causing a lot of distress. In the long term, this can lead to a state of imbalance in the family. So it's time to help Derek behave in ways that will enable you to see him more positively. And I hope that your older child is still allowed to be a "kid" and express some negative feelings once in a while, even if you are so stressed out by his brother and need him or her to be an "angel". It's hard on a child to feel that he or she has to stifle normal feelings so as to protect parents. "Kids need to be kids," my mother-in-law has always reminded me. About the screaming, I congratulate you on your insight. It seems to me that you have appraised your situation very well. It does sound as though Derek has learned to scream to get his way. This is normal, too. I wonder if he is also persistent by temperament. Persistent children often outlast their parents during power-struggles!
Unfortunately, as you suggest, giving in will likely make them even more persistent. I often hear from parents that neighbors come over to check out why a child is screaming. In fact that happened to me once when one of my own children was having a tantrum. It was so humiliating! You have to swallow your pride and recognize that your neighbor probably has the best of intentions - we all have a responsibility to prevent child abuse. Even so, I think that a period of letting Derek scream himself to sleep will be the best way to stop this behavior. You may need to go and talk to your neighbors before you start this plan, so that they will understand what the screaming is all about.
I am glad that you do not try to punish Derek for screaming. This will not work and can make things worse. Sometimes screaming upsets parents so much that they do very dangerous things, like throwing water in a child's face or shaking the child. Of course, you know that both these practices are abusive and dangerous. Shaking in particular can cause brain damage and even death. I am so relieved to hear you want to solve your difficulties with Derek in loving and positive ways. Being a loving parent can make it hard to stop screaming, however. Many parents cannot bear to let a child cry. Fortunately, there are alternatives. If you find that you can't handle the screaming, you might try the method now known as "Ferberizing", after Dr. Richard Ferber, an expert on children's sleep. You might want to obtain a copy of Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, by Dr. Ferber to learn more specifics about helping children settle to sleep.) Here are the "cold turkey" and "gradual" approaches in brief. When parents are positive and loving during the day, they can use 'cold turkey' methods in good conscience. However, for the large number of families for whom 'cold turkey' methods of letting the child cry are not acceptable, a gradual approach is often very reassuring. The key idea with a gradual approach is that the child must fall asleep when the parent is out of the room. Decide how many minutes of crying you can tolerate before going in to pat the child on the back briefly before leaving, with the child still crying. This could be as little as one minute or it could be up to fifteen minutes. Then parents gradually increase the amount of time they wait before going in. This procedure can go on all night until the child finally falls asleep during one of the periods when there is no parent in the room. The point of this method is help children learn ways to soothe themselves to sleep, an important skill that most will develop in early childhood.
The procedure will need to be repeated for several nights before the new sleep habit becomes entrenched. The same procedures used for night-time sleep should be used for waking in the night and for naps. If the child then becomes ill or for any reason starts falling asleep in the presence of a parent, the old habit will come back very quickly and the procedure will have to be repeated. Whether parents are using the cold turkey method or the more gradual approach, often the period of the children crying themselves to sleep is quite short, sometimes just a couple of nights, especially with infants and toddlers. However, those early nights can be very difficult as the children intensify their crying to levels which alarm parents. Even if parents only wait a few minutes before going in, they may note that the crying has taken on a more urgent quality. It is highly likely that temperament will play a role here, too, with temperamentally intense children making a very big protest. This intensification which is part of the unlearning process. Parents need help understanding the basis of this extra effort on the part of the child so that you do not misread it as a sign of severe emotional trauma and give up on your plan.
As well, since the training period can go on for many hours each night, parents must be prepared to accept the loss of sleep and the interruption of their time. Having a supportive partner or friend available to help you stick to the plan and not feel guilty can make a big difference.
I hope this helps and you will have a quieter household soon!
Best wishes and good luck!
to some common questions about behavioral style.
Origins, impact on parenting, risk for behavioral issues, relationship to ADHD, and other topics.
Goodness of Fit
How temperament is assessed.
Poor fit can lead to stress and possibly emotional or behavioral problems
When professional help is needed
There are qualified individuals from several disciplines who counsel parents and children.