Parents who tell their children to use their “inside voice” in restaurants must not have a child who yells, because inside is where my son screams the most. He yells at the top of his lungs when he doesn’t want me to put him in the bath. He then yells when I try to lift him out. He yells when he doesn’t like the meal I’ve served him, and he yells when I take it away. This morning, as I lifted him out of the tub to get dressed, he let such a loud, sharp scream, I was sure somewhere in the world, glass had shattered.
“Stop it!” I said.
“Eddie! Stop it!” I yelled back, startling him. His eyes then welled up, his bottom lip began to protrude, and he started to cry.
“I’m sorry, pal. I’m sorry,” I said, pressing him against me. “But I just hate when you yell like that!”
And I do. If phases have names, we’re most definitely in “The Yelling Phase.” And he does it in the most routine situations, like when I’m putting on his seat belt or changing his diaper. He yells really loudly, too. Last night, I had him on my lap when he let out a blood curdling scream, inches from my ear. If we were a comic strip, his mouth would have been a large “O” and my eyes would have turned into two “+” signs. I lifted him up like a stinky object and handed him to my husband.
The yelling has been going on for several weeks now, and this morning, I was almost at my wit’s end. Before we even left for school, he had unleashed a hefty spirited scream about five times, and being eminently mature, I yelled back at him three out of those five. The fifth time, I lifted him into the air and said, “That’s it! We’re doing a ‘Time Out.’ My pediatrician suggested I try it, particularly when I’m feeling frustrated, because it gives us both a breather. But as I hastily carried him from the living room to the dining room to set him down in our wing back chair, I remembered the chair was no longer there because we’d temporarily moved it out to the front porch. So I carried him back and forth between the living room and the dining room, his feet dangling, not knowing where to place him. I finally just set him back down on the floor and said, “Don’t do that.”
On the way to school, he screamed two more times in the car. I carried him into his classroom and placed him down on the floor and said to his teacher, “Is yelling a phase? Because he keeps yelling at me at the top of his lungs. I need to know it’s normal, and I need to know it’s going to end.”
As I continued telling his teacher what he’d been doing, Eddie looked up at me with eyes that seemed to say, “Why are you telling them this? They like me here.” Not only was I talking about him in front of him, but I was taking our private matter, born out of a particular dynamic between us, and revealing it to everyone at school, where they thought he was the happiest, most gentle child. “Smiley,” they call him. I felt like he was Mr. Popular, and I’d just whispered in everyone’s ears why he shouldn’t be.
For the rest of the morning, I kept having a vision of Eddie’s eyes looking at me as I told his teacher about the crimes he’d been committing at home. I had betrayed him.
“That’s not what he was thinking,’ said Eileen, the woman who stands behind the counter at the café I go to every morning.
“You’re projecting,” she said.
That afternoon, when I picked Eddie up at school, his teacher told me she had said to him, “Eddie, why are you yelling at mommy?” It made me feel worse because I’m sure it made him feel like I’d succeeded in turning his teachers against him.
The teacher then said Eddie yelled a lot more at school that morning. Superb, I thought. I’ve turned my angelic little child into a behavioral problem at school. And now it’s all going to feed on itself. Eddie will feel angry at home, and then when I react badly to it, he’ll feel unloved. He’ll then go to school feeling depressed and unloved and will then act out, until they start reacting badly to him at school, too. He’ll then bounce back and forth between these two hostile worlds, feeling no love anywhere.
This yelling felt like a game changer. I have managed not to screw him up, until now. But the screaming was getting me so frustrated, I was getting angry at him.
As we drove home from school, he yelled a couple of times in the car. When we got home, I walked him over to the little park near our house, like I always do, to let him blow off a little energy before his nap. I found myself walking a little ahead of him on the sidewalk and not turning around right away when he called me, out of spite. I was mad. I was tired of him yelling at me. But I couldn’t be mad for very long. We’d brought a ball to the park, and he kicked it and then ran after it, and before he could kick it again, I interceded and kicked it. He then ran over to the ball and kicked it, and then I stepped in again and kicked it. Soon, we were both vying for the ball, trying to take it away from each other, and I felt like all was forgiven.
When we got back to the house, I put him in his crib for his nap, and as he lay there looking up at me and I looking down at him, I felt thick with remorse at having outed him at school. I began to rub the side of his head with my hand and explained to him that I was sorry I’d talked about him to his teacher but that I was trying to get her advice.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” I said.
And as I said that, he looked up at me teary-eyed and then moved his mouth in an exaggerated motion, pretending to yell. He knew exactly what I was talking about. I knew I wasn’t projecting.