Many of us have read the recent case about baby Elsie and very likely have experienced strong emotions of anger, pain, and empathy for the suffering an innocent child endured at the hands of her belligerent adopted father. I am quite an emotional person and so when I heard the story on LBC radio on Monday 6th November I burst into tears and was forced to pull over in my car.
I just felt, and still feel very angry. Why was this man so out of control? What led him inflicted harm on this sweet-faced baby girl. Her first injuries are now known to have taken place in September 2015 and continued until she died on the 29th May, two weeks after officially being adopted.
What also grieved me was his vehement aspersions, words so derogatory that he used to describe an 18-month-old child;
“Satan in a babygro”, saying she was “having a proper diva strop” and describing her as a “psycho”.
Elsie was an innocent child, 18-months-old. How dare he describe her in such an evil and horrid way. In fact, the words he used are more indicative of his own behaviour.
I’m sure most parents can relate to feeling stressed, angry and frustrated with a screaming child who just won’t settle and stretch our patience and limitations to breaking-point.
I most certainly have had those moments where I just want to walk away and disengage completely with my screaming baby or crying 8-year-old.
What can you do when you are exhausted, fed up and cannot cope with your child?
What can you do when you are exhausted, fed up and cannot cope with your child?
Her crying tantrums continued right up until she was 7 years old and even now she is quite dramatic and has her moments of crying which I do find very irritating.
I really struggled with her in those earlier days and even contemplated taking her to social services and fostering her out until she was 10-years old.
Similarly, there have been times with child #5 now one-year-old, when I have felt that I just cannot cope with his screaming and angry outbursts.
However, never, ever have I wanted to harm or hurt my children as a result of their challenging behaviour. So what is it that causes a person to snap and harm a child? And what is it that prevents the vast majority of parents from doing the same?
In all honesty, I actually don’t know the answer to my questions. What I do know is that even though I’ve had horrible thoughts towards my children and said horrible things like “I wish you would just shut up” or “this child is seriously getting on my nerves”, “I wish I could just run away and not have to deal with your behaviour”, I’ve even wished that my children came with a remote control so I could just put them on mute or even change the channel!
What prevents me from actually running away or physically harming my children in my own rage and frustration is the understanding that this is their way of communicating. They are also frustrated, angry and fed-up; hence the outburst.
I often make deductions and try to analyse what the issue could be, particularly pertaining to my one-year-old child who is not yet able to verbalise his emotions.
- Is he tired?
- Has he got a dirty nappy
- Is he hungry
- Could he be thirsty
- Does he just need my attention for a moment
- Is he unwell and communicating that something is wrong?
- Could he have wind?
When all the above fails and things start to get too much, there are always other options.
- Reach out for help
- Contact family and friends to unload
- Ask someone to come over and give you some rest-bite
- Contact your local https Sure Start Centre
- Contact Parenting Helplines
- Reach out to other mums, those struggling and those who can encourage you, forums like netmums provide amazing support and an outlet for parents where you don’t have to feel judged.
- Talk to your GP or Health visitor about how you are feeling.
I have personally found that reaching out for help and being completely honest and real with how I am feeling really helps. I am also very aware that this is not necessarily a natural response or way forward for fathers. Moreover, I would encourage a father to step outside of his comfort zone and access the resources and support available and be open and honest about his parenting struggles. More often than not, an individual is supported as opposed to criticised for being open with their struggles.
Another strategy I personally use is to remind myself that my child young and doesn’t yet possess the skills to appropriately rationalise their emotions. In such moments I am responsible for teaching them how to behave differently.
I also think to myself, I’d rather deal with this current behaviour than not have him/her here at all. I’d rather deal with the pain of their noise rather than the pain of their silence. I’m sure if anything tragic happened to any of my children I’d be crying wishing to hear them scream, wishing I could be getting frustrated with them and pained that I was no longer able to love them even in their most difficult of moments. It’s such thoughts that help me to put things into perspective and give me the strength and patience to endure the struggle.
Last week a friend and I took my youngest two children child #4 who is eight years old and child #5 who is 12 months old and her 9-month-old son out for the day at Sea Life London. My 8-year-old walked into the gift shop and was in shopping heaven which very quickly led to shopping confusion. She knew she only had £8 to spend and had to make a decision about what she wanted to purchase. With three items in her hand totaling to £7 coupled with the desire to also keep some money for another day the turmoil became all too much. Two of the items were glittery bouncy balls, one had a picture of a turtle and the other a picture of her favourite animal, a penguin. Child #4 took over 15 minutes contemplating which one to buy and which one to put back. The decision was so difficult for her that she burst into (in my opinion irrational and senseless tears) because she was so torn by having to make such a major decision.
She even spoke about her head hurting because she just couldn’t choose. After all the dramatics I had to step in by which point I was immensely frustrated and annoyed. I told her to put everything back and leave the gift shop empty-handed.
I mean, how difficult was it? In my rational mind, penguins are her favourite animal so it’s a simple choice, get the penguin. I explained to her that in life she just has to learn to make decisions and to be confident in the choice she has made. Be satisfied and know that sometimes we make good decisions and other times we make poor decisions, just don’t look back in regret. If anything, learn from the choice and do better next time.
My daughter’s behaviour was so irrational to me, especially at the end of a long day with an exhausting one-year-old and a big six-month pregnant belly. I was really angry and embarrassed by her behaviour. Fortunately, I had a friend with me who very calmly diffused the situation. What helped to keep my cool and not go completely crazy was a thought that popped into my head ‘in a few minutes, she’ll have forgotten all about this and be perfectly fine’.
I was then able to ignore her irritating cries, sobs, and runny nose (well almost) and focus on the fact that the moment would pass.
How do you deal with these testing times?
Why do you think some parents are unable to cope and end up harming their children?
Remember: Hurting a child physically and emotionally is NEVER acceptable, always seek help if you think you cannot cope.
Can you share any of your own practical tips to support other parents?
I really want to encourage and remind us all as parents to take a step back from the situation and know that it’s a moment, a bad moment, but a moment and it won’t last. Children can be testing, rude, annoying and badly behaved but it’s our duty to teach them how to manage their emotions and show them how to appropriately express themselves.
The bad moment WILL pass.