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Ask Grandma Maggie

Parenting & Childcare Advice
Peggy Moss (1933-2014), also known as Grandma Maggie, penned a parenting column on this site for many years. Back by popular demand, we are republishing the column, sharing with you the best of Grandma Maggie’s parenting and childcare advice.
Unfortunately Grandma Maggie is no longer able to take questions.

My step-daughter won’t stop screaming!
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Dear Grandma Maggie,

I have a dilemma with my step daughter. She is four now and her father and I have been together for a year. We’ve always been very consistent with her as far as time outs go but lately when she’s put on time out she screams at the top of her lungs well beyond the four minutes. We ignore her and she’s not allowed to come off time out until she’s calm but sometimes this can take up to 15 minutes. I absolutely can’t stand the screaming — it drives me up a wall and it seems like a totally over the top reaction to routine discipline.

I know she’s going through a lot with her mom — we have 50/50 custody but her mom recently moved with her boyfriend 50 miles away from us and she’s expecting a baby in June. So my step daughter spends a lot more time in the car now than ever and arrangements for kindergarten are up in the air because her parents can’t agree on where she will attend. I know this upsets her and I feel for her but oh, the screaming! I have a nine-year-old son and he never was a tantrum-thrower. It’s difficult for me as the step-parent to know the best way to proceed. I don’t want to make things worse on this little one but how can I convey that the behavior is unacceptable?

Thanks,

Julie

Dear Julie,

Well it seems to me the two biological parents need to get it together before this poor child has to begin school. I think what would be best for the child is to be in one place with one biological parent while she attends school, unless both parents live in the same area. This arrangement might entail going back to court, but this should not be seen as one parent winning over the other, but agreeing on what is best for their child.

Perhaps some professional help could be attempted before they need to go back to court. That might save some money as well as the animosity of a court settlement IF both can listen and agree. Of course that means both step parents have to also agree.

When one enters a relationship with someone who is a parent, the kids must be part of that agreement. They come with the parent and with the kids comes some screaming. Consistency and love can change unacceptable behavior. When the child is done with screaming, tell her you love her and want everyone to be happy in your home. Then hug her and tell her you care about her.

15 minutes of screaming? I am surprised that’s all she gives you. With a new baby on the way and two new step parents in her life, plus that 50 mile trip as part of her life, it amazes me that she can function as well as she seems to.

I love that you want it to change, not because it drives you up the wall, but because this child seems to be unhappy and in my estimation is literally screaming to be heard.

My best,
Grandma Maggie