It's been a very long time since I have posted. I am having a very unsettling situation with my daughter, four years old this month, and I am finding myself at a loss. I'm hoping very much that someone might have some ideas, experience, or wisdom to share. I have gotten such wonderful advice here in years past.
My dd has had maybe four massive, epic tantrums in the past six weeks or so. Once it was in the night (on that occasion, I finally helped her back to sleep, and then she woke up again for round two about 45 minutes later), and the other times have been in the day or evening. They have been triggered by either nothing discernible (like the nighttime one) or else something very minor ("I can't find my shoe!"). What it looks like is her being incredibly angry, screaming bloody murder, and going extremely rigid in her body. She will make one demand after the next ("I need fridge milk! I need [insert choice of song]! I need to go downstairs!"), but has seemingly no ability to process my unchanging responses ("Yes, as soon as you are calmer, we can do that"). Sometimes she will yell that I am hurting her, when my body is actually being very gentle. She will lob all sorts of blame and insults, I suppose in an attempt to externalize the distress she feels. I don't doubt that she feels some kind of pain––physical and emotional, both––but it's very hard to put a finger on what it's really about or to figure out how to show her the way out.
These episodes have lasted what feels like a really long time. It happened just last night, and I had a chance to glance at the clock and note that it went on for about an hour.
I have responded by trying to stay really calm and present, but not tolerating any physical abuse. I have tried insisting on her taking space and calming herself when it feels like my presence is only making it worse, but this seems to me to be a failed approach. She acts as if she's genuinely completely lost it and is overtaken by chaos, body and mind both. As much as the nonstop screaming pushes my limits, I feel like she needs the safe presence of a parent to anchor her in whatever way possible. I have tried helping her to cut it off and being very assertive in having her change gears, breathe, notice something in the room, etc. I have also tried letting her have it out and get to a natural end. I guess the latter feels a little better to me, but it's a long haul and it's really intense. I have lost my temper and yelled at times, unfortunately. I don't feel certain about what she needs, or how to summon the resources to give it to her. To endure such endless screaming is incredibly difficult for me.
The first time or two, I felt like it was just a blip. I know she is working on some stuff right now, and I know she feels things very deeply in general, so I let it go. But last night I felt worried, and it started to feel like a pattern.
This is a kid who is exceptionally strong-willed and persistent, even compared to her very intense older sister. She lets nothing go, ever! So for her to become unhinged and then have extreme difficulty letting go of her upset and moving on is not totally out of character. But here's the thing: I am used to having pretty intense kids, and even by these standards, this is really extreme. She acts almost... possessed?
A bit of background: going on two years ago, her papa and I separated. She was a wee nursling at the time, and didn't react much at first. A few months after the split, she started having episodes very similar to these in the night. I surmised that it was related to all the changes/grief, and rode it out with her as best I could. It passed, and she has seemed basically very well-adjusted, strong, happy, and healthy since then.
Lately I am sensing that there is another wave of grief/adjustment happening for her, now that she is at a different stage in her ability to understand it all. My gut tells me that these tangled-up feelings are likely at the bottom of what is happening for her. I've been talking to her teachers (wonderful Montessorians), reading books about divorce with her, and trying to provide her with more language and narrative about it all.
But I don't know (a) how to be helping/supporting her better in general or (b) how to best mother her through these nightmarish episodes, when they happen. Do we need outside help? If so, what sort?
Any help greatly appreciated. I'm worried about my lovely girl.