Friday, July 26, 2013

Trying something new to combat screaming

This past week, Janey's screaming has become a huge issue.  Every single time she feels the slightest bit angry, sad, annoyed, impatient or any kind of emotion except completely happy, she has been screaming.  And it's a loud, eye-shattering intense scream.  The kind of scream that is literally dangerous when you are driving, the kind of scream that wakes up sleeping people and scares the cats, the kind of scream that can quickly drive you to despair.  Yesterday afternoon and evening was the worst.  She screamed over and over and over.  She kept asking for videos, and then the minute they were on, if they weren't exactly what she had in mind, or if they weren't at the beginning, or if she had just changed her mind, she'd scream.  She would ask for food, and if we weren't magically able to make it appear instantly before her---you guessed it, a loud, loud scream.  She finally got to sleep, only to wake at 2 and stay up for hours, displeased with us and letting it be known by screaming.  She had school this morning, and the minute she got home, she started the routine again.  By around 4, we were ready to flip out.

I'd been thinking for a few days about trying something new.  I have very, very rarely used ignoring as a technique for Janey.  This is because when a child isn't that verbal, it seems wrong to ignore a way they are communicating.  However, lately Janey's talking has improved a good deal.  I KNOW she can at least in a word or two tell us what makes her mad, or she can if she calms down enough to do it.  And by trying to do what she wanted to prevent the screaming, we were reinforcing the screaming.  This is something that even a year ago, I wouldn't have said.  I didn't think then that Janey was capable of making that kind of connection.  But I am realizing Janey is progressing, and she understands more than she used to.  So I talked to Tony and the boys, and we decided to tell Janey that we were no longer going to answer her screaming.  If she screamed, we were just going to ignore it.

This sounds scarily close to what just a bit ago I wrote about not liking, the "use your words" phrase.  But I really feel there is a difference.  I know Janey can't always use her words.  But she can get across what she wants in many other ways.  She can hand us a movie.  She can lead us to food.  She can stomp her feet.  And most of the time, she can say enough so we know what she wants.  And of course, she can scream.  And if the screaming was a once in a while thing, a sign of truly being very upset, I wouldn't mind it.  But it was turning into her first line of communication, probably because it was working.  We were trying very hard to avoid it, so we were likely doing things quickly to make her happy.

We told Janey about our new screaming policy, in words we thought she'd understand, and then we did a series of roleplays, where Tony asked me for something, I said "not right now" and then Tony screamed, and I ignored him.  Then we did it over, with everything the same but his response being "I am VERY ANGRY at you!" after which I answered "I'm glad you told me that!  It's still going to take a minute to get you what you want, but it's great to know how you feel!"  We overacted heavily, and switched roles around.  Janey watched in delight.

It only took a few minutes for the first scream to come along, and we ignored it---that first time, also saying that out loud "We are ignoring screaming today!"  Janey's scream turned to a happy look.  I think she was testing us.  And she then said loudly "I want BACON!" Luckily, we had bacon, and Tony made it for her.  The last few hours have been quite free of screaming.

I have NO illusions this has solved the screaming problem.  I'm sure it will be back.  But it felt very good to decide on a way to handle it, discuss the way and be in agreement.  It made us all feel a little less desperate.  Of course, we will stay near her if she is screaming out of control.  We always stay near her.  And of course there would be exceptions if she got herself into a state where she couldn't talk or communicate otherwise.  But the whole thing is an illustration that Janey IS making progress.  She IS understanding more.  Or at least I hope she is.  We'll see how the weekend goes.

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