Friday, September 4, 2009


Yesterday was one tantrum after another. 

When Ryan wants something (a snack, to watch tv, whatever) it is not unusual for his first approach to be panicked shrieking, repeating the name of whatever he wants over and over rapidly.  Then I try to calm him and remind him that he can use words and calmly ask for the snack or the tv show or whatever.  I model the words for him, then make him repeat them calmly before he gets what he wants:

"Fruit bar! Fruit bar! Fruit bar! Fruit bar! Fruit bar!" he shrieks.

"Calm.  Calm."  A few moments of hyperventilating and wailing.  "Say, 'Mommy, can I have a fruit bar, please?'"

"Fruit bar pwease?"

"Can you say it calmly?"


"Can I..."

"...have fruit bar, pwease?"


"...I have fruitbarpwease."

Good enough, I usually don't feel like belaboring this any further.

Sometimes in addition to the panicked screaming and crying and endless repetition, he also throws himself on the floor and refuses to be calmed for many minutes on end; I will call this The Bloody Fit.  Sometimes I can distract him from The Bloody Fit after several minutes, often by taking him to a completely different environment, and sometimes I can calm him by squeezing him really hard and holding him down for a while, but sometimes there's nothing I can do.

Yesterday was a special day: almost every request he made of me was in the form of a Bloody Fit.  Fruit bar!  Banana!  Clean it!  I tried to buy myself some peace by turning on Sesame Street, but then he just wanted to skip every other scene.  DifferentDifferentDifferent! Number of the day!  Zoe!

I feel I must insert here that Ryan never gets what he wants if he's crying and screaming.  I do not reward or otherwise encourage these tantrums.  But pointing out to him that he has never gotten what he wanted as a result of carrying on does not change his behavior.

Here's one brief example of what a great time yesterday was.  In the afternoon we went to a nearby park of Ryan's choosing.  We ran around a little, I pushed him on the swings, he had a snack, everything seemed to be going well.  Then he decided he wanted to ride in the baby swings.  I told him, as I always do, that he's too big for them; I have too hard a time hoisting a 40 lb child in size 12 shoes into those damn basket swings.  Then he launched into a Bloody Fit.

"Sit in da swing!  Sit in da swing!"  he cried.  I repeated that he's too big for them.  I pointed out the big-boy swings.  He grabbed at the baby swing and screamed.  I walked away; this did not impress him.  He wailed and begged at each of the park's three baby swings; I said no and walked away.  Then he noticed an older boy sitting on one of the big-boy swings.  Instead of going over to one of the two empty swings, Ryan proceeded to cry and wail in the other boy's face in an effort to drive him from his swing.  When I noticed what was going on, I dragged Ryan away.

All efforts to engage him in something else failed, so I announced that we were leaving the park.  He followed me, running, the whole time shrieking "Sit in da black swing!  Sit in da black swing!!"  We walk three blocks, and the tears and screaming do not stop.  As I'm about to turn a corner to head toward home, I notice that the words Ryan is shrieking have changed.  He is now crying "Go to the rocks park," which is what we call the park at the local elementary school.

I get on my knees to try (again) to calm him.  There's a freaking river of snot pouring down this child's face.  I look down at my necklace and remind myself that he is in agony, and he's not just trying to be a pain in the ass.  I hold him as tightly as I can and whisper "Calm, calm."  He actually catches his breath - progress.

"Do you want to go to the rocks park, or do you want to go home?" I ask.

"Rocks park."

"Then you have to be calm.  If you're crying and screaming, we can't go fun places."

He is quiet.  We cross the street in the direction of the elementary school.  Immediately, he starts wailing, "Rocks park!  Rocks park!"

"Yes, that's where we're heading, right now."

"Rocks park sit in da swing!  Rocks park home!  Home sit in da swing!"

I have no idea what's going on.  I drag him home.  I park him in front of the tv while I make the dinner he won't eat.  I'm trying to remain calm.  I remind myself I'm the adult.  That idea terrifies me.  I concentrate on slicing carrots.

As soon as his show is over, he starts another Bloody Fit.

So I did the only thing I could thing to do:  I left.  I walked out of the apartment and closed the door.  I sat in the hall and listened to him screaming.  When there was a break in the crying, I opened the door.  He immediately started crying again; I left again.  It was like sleep-training a baby.  This Ferber game went on for at least 20 minutes.

And then he had exhausted himself and was calm.

I wiped his face and we went out to play in the back yard.

And it was a good 40 minutes until the next tantrum.


  1. OMG! This could have come word for word from a script of my day! Hannah has tantrums like this all the time. Scream, scream, scream, bloody fit. You leaving the apartment and sitting outside the door is so similar to what I do that I actually breathed a huge sigh of relief knowing that I'm not the only one-that I'm not a horrible mother. When Hannah gets like that I pick her up and put her in the bathroom and sit outside the door. I wait until screaming stops, open the door, if screaming resumes I close the door again. The process might last 10 minutes or it might last 1 1/2 hours. I can't tell you what a sense of relief it is to know I"m not the only one.

  2. Ryan has a beautiful, kind, patient mama. Keep up the good work.

  3. I just want you to know I feel for you and admire you. Parenting is challenging enough with a child who is not on the spectrum. Thank you for this amazing writing. Bridget Binder


Keep it civil, people.