Friday, June 06, 2008

Trin's tantrums...

...are very exhausting to deal with. Or maybe I lack the energy and the patience to deal with this.

We just came home from Malaysia. There are tantrums everyday. Not a day goes by without at least one or two frantic screaming/crying bouts. The worst was when we left KL for Malacca and she cried for the duration of the 1.5hr journey in the car.

She just didn't want to be strapped in her carseat. Too bad, went KH. Sitting in her carseat when the car is moving is non-negotiable. The first half an hour was okay as the kids tried distracting her, offering her snacks, sweets, their toys etc. But after that, all bets were off.

She wriggled her way out of the shoulder harness, but remained strapped by the hip harness. She started yowling and screaming from that moment. It wasn't even the usual sort of crying - she was screaming in fury and frustration.

The atmosphere in the car was tense.

All the kids went quiet as they either slept or listened to Trin scream her way down the NS Highway. We gave everyone stern instructions to ignore her and not even look at her so as not to encourage her to scream further - not that she needed any encouragement! KH and I tried to ignore her screams and carry on normally. But in an enclosed space, with such ear-piercing shrieks, it was very hard to ignore. At first we tried having a conversation by yelling above the din in the car - near impossible. Got to a point when it was just too tiring to maintain a conversation with that kind of noise going on. So even we fell silent and just drove, eyes on the road, ears assaulted by the constant screaming.

I could take it well at first. But after more than 1 hr of this, even my nerves were shredded.

By the time we were about 20min away from the condo, her screams still had not lessened in ear-piercing intensity but there was now a hoarseness there. And she had started begging us. She wasn't just screaming out of anger anymore. The anger and frustration at being strapped had gone. She was just sobbing for help. She called us one by one. "Owain" "Ning Ning" "Ian" (which was how she pronounced Gillian) "Che-che" "Dad" "Mummy" and then, "Please..."

My God it was heartrending to hear.

I could live with screams. I could not live with my baby begging us like that. It was so hard to sit there and not reach back and pull her out. Every instinct that I had, every inch of my heart was calling me to pull her out. But KH remained firm - and I suppose, rightly so.

I turned my frustration and resentment to the slow drivers in front of us, those who blocked our way, all the cars ahead who happen to be in the same lane, cursing the slow traffic. I blamed car manufacturers. I cursed those lofty thoughts about child safety. I thought about how car seats went against all mother's natural instincts to keep babies close. I wished the car had never been invented. I wish we all went back to horse and carriage and no cars!

It was agonising to hear her beg but do nothing. KH told us we had to remain silent and not even talk to her. It would only make things worse since there is no way you can take her out, he said.

Gillian piped up from the backseat darkly: If she gets a sore throat it would be all your fault! What sort of parents are you anyway to let your baby cry like that!

Upset though I was then, I told Gillian sharply: better a sore throat than roadkill! Daddy is going at 130km/h. If anything happens, Trin is going to fly through the window. Would you like to be responsible for that? I would not.

Trin went on pleading and sobbing. We finally reached the condo and the first thing I did was get out to go pick her up from her carseat. But someone had beaten me to it.

Trin was already standing in the third row, Cait had her arms protectively around her in a hug. Both were already out of the carseat and booster. KH fumed: WHO took her out!!

Caitlin said in a small voice: I did.

It must have happened about five minutes before we arrived. I guess she could not take it anymore. So she unbelted herself, unbelted Trin and both of them sat/stood in the third row with Cait holding Trin. Trin must have been too tired to even try to get to the front by then.

I could not scold Cait.

So I just held Trin. Her little arms went round my neck and her tear-stained face and sweaty hair pressed against my shoulder, her body still heaving with silent hiccups and sobs. We stayed like this for a long time. Trin's eyes swelled to half their usual size and remained puffy until the next day.

I told KH: No more. The next time, we break the journey when she starts to cry. I don't care how long it takes for us to drive back home. I cannot take another one and a half hours of this kind of crying.

But there were no more tantrums about the carseat. For the rest of the journey, she obediently strapped down and apart from some restless fretful protests, she was quiet for the most part - even on the long journey back to Singapore.

In this power struggle, I guess we won. But it feels like a hollow victory.

KH feels vindicated. See, he said. It worked. Just gotta ignore her and she'll get the message that this is non-negotiable.

But I feel rotten to do this to her, necessary though I know it to be for her safety.

More troubling was the size and expression of her anger - the Car Tantrum would go down in the Chong family history for being a real humdinger of a tantrum. But tantrums are not new to Trin. She has other tantrums and will continue to have them.

We have gotten to the stage where everyone walks on eggshells around her. When we hear the slightest wail, angry scream, one of us will say: What does she want? Quick! Whatever she wants, give it to her!! Like a real tyrant, she has struck fear into all of us and that is not good. We fear the screams, we tense up whenever it happens and the whole atmosphere (in the car, or at home) goes flat immediately.

It is not ideal. The kids have been good-natured so far about indulging her. But this is not the answer. In fact I think it could be detrimental to her and to us in the long run in terms of family dynamics. Honestly I am not sure what to do. Standing up to her is like dropping a lit match in a dry forest!

I suspect its got to do with her poor expressive language - and the fact that she's got a very strong will. None of my other babies were ever like this. The only one who ever surpassed Trin in tantrum intensity is Isaac - and he had autistic tendencies! No, Trin is certainly not autistic. But I worry about the anger and the way she demonstrates this.

She can even get physically violent - no qualms about hitting us, even me. And her violence/tantrums extend even to her night terrors. We have had quite a few episodes when she 'wakes' in the middle of the night, screaming. Her eyes are unseeing but open. She flails her arms about, screams, wails, cries "No! No! No! I don't want! I don't want! There! There! THERE!!!" Then she'll tug at us, pull our clothes, smack us, arch her back and throw herself back on the bed, rolling around, getting up and doing it all over again. No amount of placation helps. Not even an offer of 'nen-nen'. KH tries to carry her and I try as well, but she rejects us, screaming all the way. After about 20min to half an hour of this, she will eventually get tired and take the nen-nen again when offered. So nowadays, when she gets like this in the middle of the night, I just sit and wait it out. No point saying or doing anything. Wait until she gets most of it out of her system, then offer her the nen-nen.

She has an appointment at KKH on the 16 of June for her speech delay issue. So I am definitely going to mention this. Meanwhile we continue to live in fear. :-)


Anonymous said...


take heart, u are not alone...
my experience with my youngest son who is 3 is almost exactly the same as what u are experiencing with your girl. we had experienced the same tantrums when we were in penang last dec, the refusal of car seat etc. my dh's instruction was exactly the same as yours and yes, we had to tolerate the screamings while trying to find our way to our hotel at Gurney drive. i also cursed and swear at the traffic lights, slow traffic etc...He also ended up with swollen and puffy eyes from all the cryings the next day...He used to wake up screaming in the middle of nite and nothing could pacify him. i am not sure if you'll feel better but juz to let u know, there is someone else out there who had the same difficulties as well! hang on, it will pass...this is what i keep telling myself...


The Chengs said...

;( Your being able to *tahan* it for 1 hr already is so admirable(!). Personally, I just LOSE it. Big-time.