what to do when your child yells at you

Q: When my child yells at me, I tell her she can't talk to me that way, and that I won't listen until she can be sweet. But rather than calming down, she often just becomes more upset at me. What is going on? I don't want to reward her lack of self-control by responding to her when she is yelling, but I don't think what I am doing is working, either.

A: What an insightful question! A little bit of brain science might illuminate what is happening.

Ever heard of the Triune Brain? It's the theory that our brains are actually three-in-one. I'll be oversimplifying the heck out of it in this article to suit my purposes. Please google it if you want to learn the neuroscience. (Daniel Siegel and Allan Schore have each published some wonderful materials for parents that are well grounded in current brain research.)

The brain stem is responsible for governing our basic survival. It keeps our hearts beating and our lungs expanding, as well as managing instinctive protective responses like fear, fight and flight. It keeps us alive by automating functions that we don't have the time or energy to consciously control. By the time our conscious mind realizes we are being chased by a tiger, our brain stem has already got our adrenaline pumping and our feet moving.

The limbic system governs emotions and attachment. It's what allows us to feel both love and rage. It helps us form relationships. It anchors memories; making shortcuts so that we associate feelings with certain sights, smells, and sounds and don't have to figure out if we are with a friend or a foe each time we are with someone.

The cortex is the seat of reason, logic, and learning. It's what helps us draw conclusions, consider other perspectives, and do things differently the next time.

At birth, all three brains are present. But they are not well connected to each other, and therefore not in reliable communication. In newborns, the brain stem is calling the shots, keeping us breathing and digesting so we survive. When we get basic survival mastered, the limbic system undergoes major development in order to help us form attachments to caregivers and become social beings.

Connections to the cortex are developing all the time, but development really starts revving up sometime between the ages of 4 and 7. However, reason and logic won't be the primary driving force behind our actions for several more years. And the cortex is often not well connected enough to the other brains to consistently inhibit and override impulsive and emotional reactions until the mid 20s.

So when your child is yelling at you, she is likely at the mercy of her limbic system. Her cortex, which would be the part capable of inhibiting her outburst and helping her figure out a better alternative that is more likely to work for her, is not in charge. She gets more upset when you tell her you won't listen until she can be sweet because it's the cortex that can bring her back to sweetness, and hers is offline at the moment. She was hoping you could help her with that.

The optimal response then is for your adult, connected, reliable cortex to come in and soothe her little wigged out, disconnected brains. We do that by giving her empathy; letting her know we understand she's upset while staying calm ourselves.

Children are wired to imitate their caregivers. An interaction with a calm, cool adult brain helps settle down the red alert message she's getting from her temporarily overwhelmed limbic system. As her limbic system settles, her own cortex can come online and continue the job you started.

Am I saying it's okay for her to yell at you? No. I am saying that she's still developing, and her brain is on TILT, and she needs help settling down before she can understand that you don't like being yelled at and learn a better strategy for communicating her feelings or needs to you.

So what do you do when she's yelling at you? Here is something to experiment with:

Take a breath to settle yourself down.

Get on her eye level, touch her shoulder, and calmly ask Do you need my help?

Don't rush to help her or do what she was demanding. Just ask, and stay near her. She may want to be held, and that's fine. She may cry out of frustration or relief. Just be with that. She's simply releasing emotional energy -- discharging some static. If she revs up and starts hitting you, gently restrain her arms while reassuring her by saying I'll keep us safe.

When she starts to relax and settle down, her cortex is probably coming back online. That's the time to say I want to help you. When you need my help, please ask me like this, "Daddy, can you help me?"

This kind of response shows her own cortex what do to: pause, assess and acknowledge the current situation, settle the limbic system and brain stem down, and either take a constructive action or ask for assistance if necessary.

You've just helped her brain take one step closer to doing this without your help. But remember, those neural connections are still very tenuous in a young child, and they easily get disconnected under duress. So don't expect that only one interaction like this will make every future communication sweet forevermore. It's a learning process, just like feeding, bathing, and dressing herself.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit http://www.karenalonge.com/


Anonymous said...

great post, thank you! there are many articles on parents shouting at children with little information to be found if the situation is reversed so this has helped me lots.

karen alonge said...

I'm glad you found it helpful!

Izzi said...

Thank you so much. I actually felt teary when I read that we should say "I'll keep us safe". My son gets worked up about everything, yells at me, shouts his conversations, and often hits me. He's 3. His sister doesn't do this -she's 2. Oh,she has her full on tantrums, but not as a rule, just as the exception. Your advice/counsel feels 'right' and it's the first time I feel confident in someones advice. Thanks for simplifying the explanations too... I do like to know why things are the way they are. Light & Love. Izzi xo

karen alonge said...

thanks for taking the time to post, Izzi. I'm so glad this advice resonated with you. You may also really enjoy reading the free articles on www.handinhandparenting.org. Lots of great stuff there, in my opinion.

take care,

Anonymous said...

This sounds good. But how do I stay calm? My daughter is 11, and will push away and continue yelling if I touch her or try to calm her. After a few minutes of this, I tend to yell back. Then, she's in tears and it can take a long time for both of us to calm down. Of course, we always end up hugging and telling each other how much we love each other. (Walking away doesn't seem to help either.)

karen alonge said...

thanks for commenting, anonymous. this is such a great question, and it comes up for so many parents.

if walking away/taking a break does not help us to feel calmer, that's usually a sign that we have some emotional sore spots left over from our own childhoods.

what can help us to heal those spots so they are not quite so tender and easily triggered is to spend some good quality time venting to someone who won't judge or try to fix us.

ideally we can say to that person all the things we hear in our heads when we are upset with our children - those things that we know would not be helpful or wise to say directly to our children, but sometimes sneak out anyway.

by deliberately finding someone to listen to us when we rant about things like how angry we are, how taken for granted we feel, how hard we are trying, how different life is for our children than it was for us, how much trouble/pain we would have been in as a kid if we did what our child just did, etc, we can take the edge off of our anger.

when our sore spots are not so reactive anymore, it's much easier to stay cool and think clearly with our kids.

for more on this topic, please see the articles at www.handinhandparenting.org.

Patty Wipfler, their founder, really has a handle on this dynamic. This article might be a great place to begin:


please let us know how it goes ... parenting is hard work, and I hope you have access to all the support you deserve!

warm regards,

Anonymous said...

Whoa! I googled "kids yelling at parents" and got many items geared towards parents yelling at kids. I work nearly every day at remaining patient with my daughter and not ever raising my voice or expressing frustration with her, so I was naturally relieved to find something for a parent like me. I will give your approach a try. It seems informed, and makes a great deal of sense to me. I can only hope that she responds to it. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This really sounds sensible. I have just allowed my daughter down from her bedroom as she was screaming, swearing and hitting me after she declared that her dinner was simply not good enough. I really am at my wits end and am willing to try anything. I will certainly try this. Thank you.

karen alonge said...

glad you found it helpful! good for you for being willing to experiment with new and different strategies. come on back and let us know how it goes if you'd like.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this. It was enlightening. I have been a yelling mom, and by the time I realised it, my 6yr old yells and cries when things don't go her way. I was looking for information on what to do now that the child has learnt to yell, and help her to unlearn, and whether it is even possible now that she is six. I kept getting results about what damage yelling can do, but finally I have found something which helps me respond when my child yells. The brain science helped me realise how wrong I had been and probably am wondering the state of my own cortex! your answer to a comment dated 7 Feb 2012 probably is the answer to why I yell. I do feel cheated when she doesent keep her promise, and forget that she is the child. My childhood memories and other resentments kick in many times. Even with my husband. :( Walking away for a breather has not worked for me too. Thankyou so much for letting us know the connection. All of a sudden I feel so immature and sad. I am hoping to teach my child a behaviour which biologically they are not even capable of mastering, while I myself have been displaying my incapability..While I don't have close friends, I can start a diary of feelings and anger. While I have made progress in the number of times I fly off the handle, my daughter is still scared to talk to me freely and says she is not sure how I would react and give the answer she thinks I would like to hear, and keep her from my anger.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this. It was enlightening. I have been a yelling mom, and by the time I realised it, my 6yr old yells and cries when things don't go her way. I was looking for information on what to do now that the child has learnt to yell, and help her to unlearn, and whether it is even possible now that she is six. I kept getting results about what damage yelling can do, but finally I have found something which helps me respond when my child yells. The brain science helped me realise how wrong I had been and probably am wondering the state of my own cortex! your answer to a comment dated 7 Feb 2012 probably is the answer to why I yell. I do feel cheated when she doesent keep her promise, and forget that she is the child. My childhood memories and other resentments kick in many times. Even with my husband. :( Walking away for a breather has not worked for me too. Thankyou so much for letting us know the connection. All of a sudden I feel so immature and sad. I am hoping to teach my child a behaviour which biologically they are not even capable of mastering, while I myself have been displaying my incapability..While I don't have close friends, I can start a diary of feelings and anger. While I have made progress in the number of times I fly off the handle, my daughter is still scared to talk to me freely and says she is not sure how I would react and give the answer she thinks I would like to hear, and keep her from my anger.

karen alonge said...

dear anonymous -

bless your heart!

your daughter is so lucky to have a mama who is trying to do right by her.

I hope you won't be too hard on yourself -- all parents lose it sometimes. It just goes with the territory!

We can go back to our children after we've yelled or lost our tempers and apologize.

This models an important skill - repairing a relationship by taking ownership for our actions. Then we can ask for a do-over. These are good things for a child to know how to do!

You might enjoy checking out www.ahaparenting.com. Dr. Laura Markham really gets how hard it is for us parents at times, and she writes lots of insightful newsletters and articles to help.

She had an email series just recently that was about how to unplug from our own triggers so we can be more present with our kids. If you can't find it there, email me and I will forward it to you.

hang in there, and please remember to forgive yourself first.

warmest regards,

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this valuable information. Lately my son (6) has taken to yelling me when he is ravenously hungry and doesn't feel like what I've made for supper or when we are on our way home to dinner and he wants to eat immediately. I feel absolutely heart broken when he yells at me and I am sure that is a remnant of childhood (I was yelled at a lot as a child but children could NEVER yell at an adult as it was a sign of extreme disrespect). Understanding that his yelling is not him disrespecting me but rather brain immaturity is very healing for me. I will be reading and rereading this passage a few times over the next days and weeks so that it thoroughly sinks in.

karen alonge said...

thanks for taking the time to comment! it does change everything when we have a better understanding of what might be going on in our children that is driving their behavior.

and as you no doubt read above, parents are human too, and we need support to keep calm when we feel triggered about being disrespected. I hope you have some good, reliable emotional support where you can share those feelings that come up for you - you deserve someone to listen to you with the same love and understanding that you listen to your child!

Jessi Jefferson Photography said...

Thank you for this post!I just searched this issue because my 6 year old has taken to being a little hostile and screaming when he used to easily cooperate. I knew it didn't seem like his personality, and this science based explanation is the best answer to the problem I could hope for. It makes so much sense now, and makes me feel more confident in my reaction of not getting frustrated or taking it personally.

karen alonge said...

thanks, Jessi, I'm so glad you found it helpful. not taking things personally seems to be the secret to so many parenting and relationship challenges! :)

Beth said...

Oh wow! I'm so glad I found this. I, too, was only getting Google hits about yelling at kids rather than the other way around. (But if you need help with not yelling, I highly recommend the Orange Rhino challenge--she's even created an app for the iPhone!). I'm also relived to see the number of people writing with 6 year old boys. Since you listed 7 as the possible end range of this connection to the limb if system, it made me wonder if 6 is the age of "extinction burst" when the yelling hits a peak before his synapses develop enough control and self awareness.

The problem I have with his yelling is the non-stop of it. He rarely speaks without yelling. Happy, sad and everything in between, he's nearly always vocalizing at the same level as you would to another person standing on the other side of a freeway. And lately, thanks to the merchandising machine that is STAR WARS, (he's never seen movies) even when he's "quiet" he's looping the first four bars of the theme song over and over.

It's really hard to be around, but nearly impossible to take breaks because he will forget I am taking a break and yell until I get back. And I hate that I feel that way about my wonderful little boy.

Thank you for reminding me to try compassion.

Pritha said...

Good one Karen. I would like to seek advice from you regarding my 4 yr old son, who yells at me all the time he is in a grocery shop, demanding things he want. As a parent I don't want him to get the practice of owning whatever he demands for. He is really good at home, but is the reverse when in public and more when there are more audience to watch, he embarrasses me badly and feel helpless, because he is now grownup and I am not able to physically handle(like carrying him, giving a hug) him either to calm him down.

He never listens and keeps yelling demanding the thing he needs.

karen alonge said...

Oh yes, the store can be such a nightmare, can't it? It reduces otherwise logical people into mush sometimes - adults and children alike!

Prevention is better than intervention. So if you know that the store is often where problems occur, the best time to work on this issue is before you are at the store.

Do a little detective work to see what might be triggering him. Could he be hungry? Tired? Overwhelmed by the lights and stimulation? Having a hard time coping with the massive selection of forbidden goodies presented right at his eye level?

Often we ourselves are tired, hungry or overwhelmed while shoppping, and sometimes our kids sense that we are distracted and start to act out to check to see if we are still attending to them.

After you've assessed the situation, you can stack the deck in favor of success. Here are some ways to do that:

- Go to the store after a nice meal with full tummies.

- Take him to the park first to wear him out and give him lots of preventative attention there.

- Don't stop at the store after a long day at school or work if at all possible.

- Go at a less crowded time of day if you can.

- Give him a job to do; something to choose, carry, or put into the cart.

- Play a game together while you are shopping so he feels your warmth and attention; something having to do with colors or numbers or letters can be good.

- Instead of speeding through your list and trying to get it over with quickly, try slowing down and including him more.

- Before you go, you might also play "shoppping" with puppets or stuffed animals. Talk to the animals about what is expected of them at the store. Have them act out, and experience a limit, like this: "Elephant, your loud voice is hurting the ears of the other shopppers and me. If you can't use your inside voice, we will have to leave and go to the car." Then pretend Elephant could not use his inside voice and take him to the toy car to "Keep him company while he settles down."

- Play "store" a lot, not just when you are about to go. Let him play each role. Ask him what Mommy Elephant is going to do if Baby Elephant gets too loud. See if you can get some laughter happening to lighten things up.

I hope some of these are helpful. You might also check out Larry Cohen's Playful Parenting and Patty Wipfler's Hand in Hand Parenting for additional ideas.

warm regards,

Anonymous said...

What happens when my daughter just turned 11 and has all out angry fits , uncontrollable screaming until my husband and I are exhausted. Then an hour or so later she is crying I don't know what's wrong with me I can't stop when I get worked up. Is that still her brain developing? Or do I worry more ?

karen alonge said...

anonymous -

Yes, your daughter's brain is still developing, for sure, and it seems like there might also be some other things going on as well. It's a lot for a parent to deal with, and you deserve plenty of support while you navigate through this.

you might like to check out the website of Dr. Laura Markham for some detailed articles that can give you some insight and suggestions for how to deal with this dynamic: www.ahaparenting.com.

You might also want to check out www.handinhandparenting.org, where you can read a tone of free articles and also schedule a consultation with one of their parenting coaches if you'd like.

hope this helps,

Anonymous said...

I am the grandmother of two, one of whom yells at the supper table, at her mother, her brother, and dad. She begins by disagreeing with something that's said, then goes straight into yelling. If and when her parents intervene, the back and forth escalates and she usually jumps up and stomps upstairs, yelling all the way. Because she doesn't yell at me (I visit them in Europe for a few weeks twice a year from America) I've told her yelling at people is unacceptable. She understands but seems to think any disagreement is a challenge. I really like your explanation and suggestions. This gives me a good place to start. Thank you!

karen alonge said...

good for you, grandmother of two, for using your influence to help your granddaughter and her parents with this stressful situation! You might also help her practice alternative ways to respectfully communicate when she disagrees, since that's an important life skill to have.
good luck and thanks for taking the time to comment!

Anonymous said...

Your response is exactly me and what I have been feeling. Thank you for sharing this. You brought me to tears, time to start working on me so I can try to correct the wrong I created.

karen alonge said...

good for you, anonymous! so well said, and yes, you can indeed correct the wrong. kids are very forgiving when we own up to our mistakes, are willing to hear their perspective, and take consistent action to restore their trust in us. You can do it!

Christina said...

I'm so happy to have found this article. We've just had an awful morning with my 3-year-old daughter. It started with her refusal to get out of bed and get dressed because I wasn't available to participate. (This is a common occurrence; she consistently favors me over daddy and says, "NO, I want MOMMY to do _______"). Because I was not available, her anger escalated, then turned into a battle about getting dressed in a particular outfit, one SHE had chosen last night. She now decided she didn’t like the outfit. (At that point she was not happy with anything, and I'm sure she was looking for a way to regain control). However, we weren’t willing to give in; our rule is that each evening, she chooses an outfit to wear the following day. (We don't have time for a fashion show in the mornings, which is why we have her choose it the night before; prior to this approach, making the decision and dressing had become problematic in the mornings). Her father ultimately forced her to get dressed in the outfit, which took her to an insane level of frustration and anger. I got involved when I was available (by that time, Daddy was past his breaking point). I calmly explained why we would not be able to change her outfit. I reminded her that last night, she had chosen her outfit and was very happy with it. I held her, and I told her I understood she was angry and why she upset at Daddy for making her get dressed, but she needed to remember the rule; she chooses her clothing and must with it in the morning. I offered that she could pick out an outfit for tomorrow. After a few minutes, she would calm down, stop crying and her breathing would regulate. Then she would look up at me and quietly say “I don’t want to wear this”. So then I would calmly reiterate the explanation of why she was to remain in her current outfit. She would lose her mind again and the massive tantrum would start all over. I also tried various methods of redirection, to try to change her focus, to no avail. I realize now that my explanations weren’t helping; she was being controlled by her emotions, not logic. This went on for an HOUR. I ended up yelling at her. I also put her in her room for timeout. I was at my wits end. Eventually I was able to redirect to a new topic that appealed to her, and at that point, she calmed significantly and was able to snap out of the manic tantrum. Needless to say, I was very late for work, and wondered if we should’ve just let her change clothes from the very beginning.
What can we do differently? Incidentally, her teacher approached me today to ask if Carly had been “yelling at home” because she has been aggressively yelling at friends when she’s unhappy. This is proof that we aren’t always calm in these situations, so your article especially hits home.

karen alonge said...

wow, Christina, I'm so impressed with what you managed to accomplish here! We all have our limits beyond which we lose our cool, but up until that point, you stayed calm, HELD HER which is amazing, and paid loving attention to her as she adjusted to reality, even though it was a noisy process.

And you did this for an HOUR!!

All of that is beautiful, and no doubt she was able to release a bunch of emotional static that had been building up over time and interfering with her ability to think clearly and reasonably. Nice work!

One of my favorite websites for parents, www.handinhandparenting.org, has a lovely free PDF about dealing with tantrums that I think you may find to be quite in line with your insights and therefore helpful and validating. Here's the link: http://www.handinhandparenting.org/uploads/Tantrums.pdf

There are many many articles on their site that I find very useful. Here's a link to one to get you started: https://www.handinhandparenting.org/article/what-to-say-during-staylistening/

and here's the link to the entire article list:

To answer your question directly, it sounds to me like the blowup/emotional release was brewing, and if it hadn't been about the clothes, it would have been about breakfast or some other thing. So let yourself off the hook here about whether you should have let her change or not, because pretty much no matter what there was gonna be a storm.

As far as moving forward, you might consider setting your alarm ten minutes earlier, and spending a little bit of one-on-one time just snuggling with her before you each start your morning routine of getting ready to leave. It's amazing how sometimes just a bit of intentional connection can smooth over the bumps that might otherwise detour the morning.

There are articles about this on Hand in Hand as well, under the heading of "special time." Check them out and let me know what you think.

Yelling at friends is not always an imitation of what happens at home ... sometimes it's a natural expression of the built up feelings of powerlessness that happen in every child. Helping her release these feelings in other ways (search play-listening on the HiH site) will likely reduce those outbursts.

And of course, if you'd like to schedule a phone consultation with me, that's an option as well.

thanks for writing, and I hope you can celebrate how many wonderful things you are already doing to support your daughter. :)

raki said...

Hi, got good knowledge of the brain. Thank you.

Maggie said...

Maggie said...

I just posted but not sure what happened to my post. At what point in this process does the child learn about respecting their parent. At what point does the child learn compassion to another person and gratitude? In your advice I feel that the child victimizes the parent and the parent appeases (this feels like creating an abuser/victim dynamic which will invariably repeat itself in ever more serious scenarios as the child grows and becomes stronger and gets new more evolved reasons to lash out). This is child centered approach which makes it safe/ok for the child to abuse and for the parent to take it. Our society applies consequences for abusive behavior to others. Are you doing your child a favor by allowing them to lash at you or even hit you with no consequence. Kids look to parents for leadership and if we lead by first respecting ourselves (by not alliwing others to victimize us) will teach them to do tge same. Teach our kids assertiveness and don’t put up with their aggression.

karen alonge said...

Hi Maggie -

thanks so much for taking the time to post your thoughtful comment! You are right that there's more to this story, and I appreciate the opportunity to provide additional information and resources.

The time to teach/explain comes after your child has calmed down and feels safe and connected again. Until that point, their brains are not in a learning state. After that point, we have a conversation with them about what they were trying to do and better strategies for achieving it.

I don't advocate letting a child abuse a parent or anyone else. As the adult and hopefully calmest and clearest thinker on the scene, it's our job to keep everyone safe and we may need to step in to do that. If we do step in, it's important that we speak calmly and state our intention as protective, perhaps by saying, "I will make sure everyone stays safe," as we move the upset child to a safer location, take the truck out of their hand, or catch their leg gently before their kick connects with its target.

Then we help them calm down, and teach/discuss better strategies. Kids learn respect, compassion and gratitude by observing us being respectful, compassionate and grateful in all kinds of circumstances. There's no way we can instill those things in them without walking our talk so they can see and feel it in action.

For more on how to set limits and bring out the best behavior in our kids, please see these resources for concrete strategies:




hope this helps, and thank you for commenting!

Jenny said...

Can you give more advice on what to say during the outburst or when the child says things that are out of left field like today my daughter (5) was making a picture for her dad. She thought she kept messing up so she was getting frustrated and startinf to show it. I tried to support het through it and she ultimately said I didn't think she was doing her best! I didn't know where it came from. I don't know what to say or do when she says things like that. It isn't true and it's hurtful. Can you give more one-liners for heat of the moment situation?


karen alonge said...

thanks for your question, Jenny. You might enjoy checking out the article list at handinhandparenting.org for lots of ideas about what to say and do in situations like this: https://www.handinhandparenting.org/article/complete-article-list/

My hunch is that "where it came from" was inside her mind. She was probably attributing to you the words she was saying to herself, and did not mean to be hurtful. She may have been signaling that she was overwhelmed with frustration because she didn't have the skill to make the picture look like it did in her mind's eye.

Sometimes when kids are frustrated like that, it's better not to say much. We can't fix it for them. The more we try to convince them that what they are doing looks ok, the more disconnected they feel us from because it doesn't seem like we are understanding them.

In those moments, you might try just ignoring the lashing out since she doesn't really believe you think that, and instead offer a few simple words of empathy, such as, "Seems like it's not turning out the way you wanted," or, "I like it, and I can see that it's not what you were hoping to make."

She might cry with frustration, and that's ok. It doesn't mean we didn't do something we should have, it just means she's young and there are lots of things she can't do as well as she'd like quite yet. Crying is actually a healthy way to release those intense feelings.

Later, after the storm of emotion has passed, you can share with her that sometimes you want something to turn out a certain way and it doesn't, and then ask her if she wants to hear what you do when that happens. The moment for teaching new coping strategies is not when she's upset, but after she has calmed down.

I hope this is helpful!

Helen said...

I do not know if you might have a bit of advise for me. My problem is very different, although it does involve a child shouting at an adult. I am a widow and my unmarried daughter and I am in the processe of adopting a ten year old boy. You might think this crazy but as there was no one else to take in this little guy, he was nine at the stage we took him in,we opened our hearts and home for him. Our little guy comes from a background where he begged for food,dad was in jail more than out, mom left him when he was two and at nine he already joined a gang as this was the way to survive in his neighbourhood. He has been with us for nearly a year and has showed wonderful prigress. I homeschool him to enable him to catch up on school work. He has made some lovely new little friends. We have discovered that he can draw quite well and has started doing ice skating and is doing well. Now usually he is a pleasant boy but often in the evenings he becomes impossible. Nothing is right or good, he speaks to us in a disrespectful way and will not listen to anything. He will argue about everything, from not wanting to brush his teeth now to being upset because the fan is not making him feel cool enough, to not liking the music we've put on for sleep time to shouting at us for not putting the music on that he did not want yesterday. We thought that he might be too tired in the evenings and tried to make bedtime earlier but it did not help at all. When morning comes I can sit him down and talk to him and he listens and tells me he will try and not get angry again but as soon as evening comes we have a child that shouts at us and cannot be pleased in any way.

karen alonge said...

Oh Helen, bless you and your daughter for giving this boy a stable and loving family! My hunch is that in his previous situation, traumatic things happened to him in the evening. It's not at all uncommon for certain times, places, people, or situations to trigger fight or flight type behaviors in kids with traumatic histories.

It might help to think of him as basically feeling inconsolable, sort of like a colicky baby, as night approaches -- wishing he could jump out of his skin. When bad things happen to little kids they learn quickly what to be afraid of, and for him, darkness might have been a very scary signal that bad things were coming. He doesn't intend to be unruly... he's just so completely and totally uncomfortable and is too young to know what to do with that level of intensity inside, so he strikes out or gets mad at you.

This can take a lot of time and energy to parent a child through, but it's really helpful for the parents to recognize that he truly does not have access to any other options for his behavior once he's gone into fight or flight mode. You'll want to become sort of a detective for what soothes him and have it at the ready, so he can learn new and positive associations with darkness. And yes, what works one night may not work the next, so you'll need a big bag of tricks and a TON of patience. This is not a time for discipline, it's a time for empathy and understanding and comforting as best you can.

Heather Forbes has done quite a bit of writing and teaching on parenting adopted children -- here's the link to her site: http://www.beyondconsequences.com/parents. If you scroll a bit down the page, you'll see a bunch of resources under the heading Free Stuff where you can get a feel for her approach.

Another site that I think will give you insight and tools is www.handinhandparenting.org. Here's a list of all their free articles so you can get a feel for their approach: https://www.handinhandparenting.org/article/complete-article-list/

Hope this helps. Please feel free to reach out to me directly -- I'm happy to offer you support in any way I can. And THANK YOU for giving this little guy a good life!