Yesterday was one of the worst day ever. My son Ben woke up in a good-ish mood, but by the time daddy left for work, he had already switched to angry toddler.

The one hour between daddy leaving and the school drop-off was one of the hardest of my life. Every silly little thing would set him off. Any request was met with open refusal and a simple invitation like “it’s time to put your shoes on” would set off a wide range of destructive behaviours.

These behaviours always follow a very specific order. Most of the times, I’m able to stop them before they escalate, but not yesterday. A little slip in my therapeutic parenting effort, and things turned nasty.


This is often Ben’s first reactions to my instructions. Sometimes, he doesn’t even listen to what I’m trying to say, he just screams louder and louder in an attempt to muffle my voice. It doesn’t even matter to him which words he screams, he just wants to shut me out and keep me away.


This is how Ben tries to provoke me, and initiate a fight. He mostly pushes me from the back, so that he has enough time to move a few steps back by the time I turn around. Then, he looks at me with daring and taunting eyes, just waiting for me to react.


By this point, the volcanic emotions swirling inside him are about to erupt. Like a pressure cooker, he needs to let go of some steam. Kicks are quick, and Ben can keep a safe distance from me, and maintain the illusion of physical separation. Of course, I could extend an arm and stop him, but taking away his sense of safety could be more damaging than helpful.


When there is no longer hope for negotiation, next comes Time-In: we sit in the same room, but not too close to each other, waiting for Ben to calm down and for his mind to clear. Ben struggles to let go of his anger, and the only way he knows to get to me and to get a reaction out of me is throwing any object in his reach. The more I remain calm, the more frustrated he gets, and the more objects he throws.


After screaming, pushing, kicking, and throwing, Ben still cannot calm himself down. He is still refusing any physical interaction with me, and he’s now completely lost in his anger. I can spot a streak of panic in his eyes, and I know what is about to come next. He punches his head, quick and hard, over and over, without being able to stop unless helped. I park away the panic, and I stop him gently.

Last jab

And finally, I know the meltdown is getting closer to an end, and the anger is becoming sorrow. Ben still needs to try to hurt me with a last punch before he can give in to me. Seeing me hurt is what brings him back, what calms him down.


Now Ben is ready for cuddles, hugs, cry, and to start working on understanding what has happened. He’s ready to let me close, let me touch him, listen to me and mend our relationship.

The madness of these moments is unnerving. It’s emotionally draining, it’s mentally exhausting and physically demanding.

Yesterday, after I dropped off Ben at school, I went to Tesco, and in the vegetable aisle, I almost started crying. I feel lost, demoralised and hopeless. I cannot comfort my son when he needs it the most, and I’m frightened I won’t find a way to help him navigate through his emotions.

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  1. Anne Ross 17th December 2016 Reply
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  3. Matthew Blythe 28th December 2016 Reply
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