An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

How Do You Manage a Screaming Child?

In parenting, poetry on February 12, 2012 at 9:39 pm

The Master was once asked by his disciple,
“What is the Buddha?” He replied,
“The mind is the Buddha.”
Another day, when asked the same question, he said,
“No mind. No Buddha.”
The disciple was confused:
“But the other day you said, ‘The mind is the Buddha.’”
Said the Master,
“That was to stop the baby crying. When the baby stops crying, I say. No mind. No Buddha.’”

Some children cry, others however scream. Its like this primordial longing of being separated from their source, they take in that moment to be a toy or an adult leaving the room. My two year old son, Owais, has such a scream. It happens a few times a day. It always seems to happen when I’m tiered or frustrated. So bad is his screaming that on most occasions I have no other option but to leave the room. It then takes me some time to recover. Today, I ended up addressing his cry with a poem. The least it did was to remind me of the souls yearning for the Divine.

Owais’ Cry

(To my 2 year old son, Owais)

A cry from Yemen

Reached Medina

Mystics in their journey

Lay claim to hearing it

We feel its echos here today too

You’re cry my son

Is done in the space we share

And shatters my being to pieces

As though I were a mountain

Being rent asunder

For a Moses to see what would happen

If the veil between lover and Beloved

were removed.

  1. Hi

    I think we might want to start by changing the question to ‘how do we manage the parent of a screaming child’ ;-).

    If you look at Naomi Aldort’s ‘Raising our children, raising ourselves’ for example, there is a heavy emphasis on changing the parent rather than focusing exclusively on the child. So when a child is having a tantrum for example, what we should be focusing on is our own response to it and where it comes from. Are we responding the way we do because of the way we were responded to as children? (Sue Palmer in 21st Century Boys elaborates on how boys have traditionally been very very poorly responded to as babies and hence have a much harder time as fathers responding to the emotional needs of their children). Are we responding the way we do because we have some mind chatter telling us that we care more about how we are perceived (for example if the tantrum is in public) than how our child is actually feeling? Are we thinking that our child is being unreasonable when actually they are trying to communicate with us but we just aren’t ‘getting it’?

    Also what is our role as a parent? Purification of the heart is all about regulating ones emotions and minimising and eliminating ‘diseases’ of the heart. A lot of these can stem from childhood and by not helping our children regulate their emotions e.g. by being there for them when they are trying to communicate with us and not working through their emotions with them, we are making things harder for them in the future when they will be alone with trying to regulate their own emotions. I speak from experience here-my childhood was emotionally quite rocky, (my mum’s was an emotionally hard childhood too and she passed it on!) and trying to rid myself of anger for example has been very hard. My husband on the other hand had a pretty well emotionally regulated childhood and has had an easier time of attempting to purify his heart (although of course, like most people, we are both very far off even getting close to purifying our hearts!).

    Finally, why is the child screaming? Are they hungry, tired, thirsty, in need of an instant emotional connection? My son is 2.5 years old and I’m constantly amazed at just how much emotional and physical attention he requires (e.g. hugs, kisses, pretend games played together).

    So I guess there are two things I’m trying to get at-why does a child’s scream devastate one and is one of our main goals to help regulate a child’s emotions so they grow up with great emotional intelligence?

  2. Sorry, I know I’ve written too much already but I just wanted to add this (and please, please don’t take offence at this!):
    when we leave a child screaming on their own, what are we telling them? What is our action showing them? Inadvertedly we might be communicating to them that; we don’t accept them or even love them when they are experiencing strong emotions; strong emotions themselves are unacceptable and must be hidden; walking out is the mature way of dealing with situations of conflict/strong emotions.

    Also, as adults, how would we feel if our spouse were to walk out on us when we are beside ourselves with upset? Thank God its never happened to me but I imagine I would be extremely upset. I can’t imagine even forgiving my partner for doing something like that. Part of what we expect from loving relationships is that the people we love are there for us.

    Finally, it tends to be the case that children, when they are screaming and experiencing strong things, need us the most just at that time.

    (Of course I understand just how hard it can be to cope with a child screaming particularly when one is tired and frustrated but I am writing these things in the hope that we can discuss them and/or they might help someone cope as I know that these things have helped me in the past when I have read them myself in books/blogs etc).

    • Dear Summersday

      Thank you for your comments. I felt I had to sit with them before I could reply. I enjoyed sitting with them as the day unfolded before my eyes. I see everything you wrote. Thank you.

      Here are my reflections –

      Firstly, I never leave my son on his own to cry ever. May be I should have clarified this in the post to avoid any incorrect assumptions being made.
      Another thing I should have pointed out is that I have sensitive ears. I may fall in the HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) spectrum. I’m very sensitive to sounds and energies. The park is a million times more meaningful to me then the gym – one reason is the loud sounds and lack of stillness. Do you have any suggestions for me?

      The title reflects the mind set some parents bring to a situation. ‘How to..’. I feel its no different to ‘How to manage yourself/the parent’. Both, outer and inner, for me, are interdependent. Having the spotlight focus on one area may not necessarily be the wisest approach. Thomas Moore makes an interesting point about how in his work as a psychotherapist he felt, contrary to the status quo, many of his patients would resolve their problems if they focused on something outside themselves. May be title shouldn’t be at the level of doing with ‘how to..’ but rather something which is reflective of an opportunity for spiritual practice such as ‘Seeing a tantrum for what it is’?

      Role of parent: In essence, for me, its about allowing love to rule our lives and relationships. We should do this work faithfully to the best of our abilities. Being wayfarers of the Way, we are fortunate to have the opportunity and framework of cultivating presence in our relationships. This allows us, very subtly, to step outside of our roles and allow something Higher to work through us. Without this love, parenting manuals which are of central importance, becoming ‘how to guides…’. For me spiritual parenting is a bit more subtle and far more meaningful for the soul. Eckhart Tolle, describes it well “The child has a deep longing for the parent to be there as a human being, not as a role, no matter how conscientiously that tole is being played. You may be doing all the right things and the best you can do for your child, but even doing the best you can is not enough. In fact, doing is never enough if you neglect Being. The ego knows nothing of Being but believes you will eventually be saved by doing’. .. The entire civilization is losing itself in doing that is not rooted in Being and thus becomes fertile.”

      Regulating emotions so they grow with more emotional intelligence is a very important point. Thank you for raising this. Would you like to write a post about this? May be anger and other such vibrations change with the transformation of the nafs (ego) as it receives the transformative energies from the polished heart?. I do feel providing that space, with presence, is vital throughout a child’s development. In my experience with my daughter who is five, it’s so much easier (for me) to work with a child’s emotions once they start speaking. Other than that, I thank God, my son is noted to be a happy child and seeing his face everyday fills my heart with love.

      ps. If ever somebody does walk out on you when you are besides yourself – I would take it as a knock on my door from the Friend 😉

  3. Hold him close to your heart, whisper in his ear, hugs, kisses.

  4. What a beautiful thought… Recently my (almost 2 year old) son, has been suffering from separation anxiety to me (his mother). He is still learning that if I leave the room, I will return. Learning to trust, that I will always be here for him, whether he can see me or not. A bit like us, I guess learning to surrender to the great source of love and placing our trust in Allah. How many times have I questioned if God is there for me? The same way my little boy questions my presence if he cannot see me.

    This aside, we are currently going through toddler tantrums and Saqib, I too have had episodes when I have had to walk away. I make it clear to R that mummy is waiting for a cuddle when he has finished. I feel if he needs to vent off his frustration or express his sadness, then he is entitled to do that. For me though, as his mother it can be hard, as his cries hit me in my solar plexus. I actually feel a knot and find myself drawn into his hurricane of emotions.

    The other dimension for me to consider is the effect his tantrum has on our 6m baby. She often gets upset or distrubed by his screams.

    Next time he has a tantrum, I will remember your poem.

    P.s I have found at times that going into loud dhikr can help during a tantrum- i think it distracts his attention! (as does singing wheels on the bus!!!)

  5. Thank you Tazeen,

    Your words are comforting with no pretext.

    May be sometimes, or at some point, as children learn to be independent its important for children to learn that you wont be there all the time on demand? As parents some boundaries need to be set in my experience. I had trouble getting out the house on time some years ago.

    Dealing with a tantrum cant be tricky, I feel, if we can’t bring presence into the situation. I totally understand the need for space there. Your husband is one of the most brilliant dads I’ve met. Dealing with a tantrum can be especially tricky, if we have our own issues in that moment that need to be dealt with. Say somebody suffers from anxiety attacks or insomnia etc – a tantrum may well trigger some of those states.

    I’m glad you liked my poem!


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