My daughter Ella had been struggling for awhile with extreme behavior. Our home felt like a battle zone, and the other kids were on edge whenever Ella was there. No one knew when she would blow up into extreme tantrums. The slightest thing could set her off. And once a screaming tantrum started, Ella could scream and kick for three or four hours straight. I was desperate and didn’t know what to do. Between Ella’s tantrums, a two-year-old, a newborn, and a husband now working in a different state, I was at the end of my rope. There was nothing left and I was barely hanging on.
Although only six years old, Ella had already experienced more than most people do in their entire lives, from chemo to a bone marrow transplant to a heart attack. We knew how to help her battle physical illness, but these emotional issues were leaving us at a loss. I read every book I found on child psychology and discipline. I spent my days on the lookout for good behavior to praise. I tried charts. I tried awards or removing privileges. I tried just about everything I could think of, and anything that our pediatrician or her psychologist suggested. I felt like I was running out of options.
As I consulted the internet each night for some new idea, I felt like I was always coming across articles titled something like “Date your spouse.” That sounded nice, but my husband was working in another state, and when he was home, he was spending time with Ella and the other kids. I knew his absence, combined with the new baby, was hard on Ella. So we carefully protected her time with him when he was here.
One night after another futile search on the internet, I knelt down by my bed and again prayed for help with Ella. Usually I would drag my exhausted body into bed, but that night I just stayed there. I stayed on my knees and listened. That’s when an image from my email danced before my eyes. I saw the familiar line “Date your spouse,” but then the words changed, and I saw “Date your Daughter.” I clasped my hands tighter and said, “Lord, am I finally getting an answer? Will this help?” Then I felt a gentle reply, “I’ve been trying to answer for awhile. This is the first time you’ve listened.”
The next morning I made some phone calls and arranged for babysitting so I could take Ella on a mother-daughter date twice every week. When I told Ella the plan, she was skeptical. I told her she could choose our dates though and she got excited. For the first one, we went roller-skating. I was still recovering from a c-section, so I couldn’t even get on the skates. But I watched her and cheered her on. The next time we went to a restaurant. I let her direct each activity. All I did was make sure we got home in time. Otherwise, I let Ella be in control of each activity. I left my agenda behind and focused on just having fun with her.
Gradually, Ella’s tantrums decreased both in duration and frequency. One evening I realized that Ella hadn’t had a single tantrum or outburst all day. I immediately praised her for it. She looked surprised at first, but then was proud at what she had accomplished. We called Daddy right away to tell him the good news, and Ella proudly stated that Jesus had helped her be good all day.
After a few weeks, the tantrums virtually disappeared. We still had struggles at times, but the whole atmosphere at home was changed. Then one day, while I was driving Ella to school, she piped up from the back of the car and asked, “Mom, do you know why I don’t throw fits anymore?”
My breath caught for a moment and I said, “No, why?”
“Well, it’s because I realized that you really do really love me. You don’t just say it. You just really, really love me. You love me like Jesus loves me.”
Out loud I said through tears, “Yes, Ella, I love you. I really, really love you.” Silently in my heart, though, I prayed to God and said, “Thank you, Jesus, for loving both of us enough to help me help her.”