"My fiancé and I have a demon child," complains Madeline. "Isabella takes the terrible twos to a whole new level. She has a bad temper to the point where she shakes, trembles and turns red. If I don't pay attention to her, or give her what she wants, she will bang her head. She is a brat."
Her fiancé, David, shares his frustrations. "Madeline and I cannot control it anymore," he says. "Between Madeline and I, there are a lot of differences. We don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. The fighting has been daily. It's gotten to a point where she's no fun to be around."
"We don't even sleep together anymore. He sleeps in our bedroom and I have to sleep with Isabella. We're not communicating like we used to," Madeline reveals.
Recently, Isabella's daycare center informed the couple that her behavior is out of control. Now that another baby is on the way, Madeline fears the tantrums will only escalate. Wearily, she turns to Dr. Phil. "Her crying just drives me nuts. The screaming. Like, I don't know what to do."
Addressing Madeline, Dr. Phil says, "Give me your best idea of why she's doing this."
"To get attention," Madeline replies. "She feels tension between David and I, I believe."
Dr. Phil wants the weary parents to understand that their 2-year-old views the world through a different filter. "Her brain's not through developing yet. She doesn't have a vocabulary system that's very complex at this point," he explains. "The real key here is, as adults, we're supposed to have the ability to be empathic. We're supposed to have the ability to look at things through somebody else's point of view. Like I have to challenge myself and look at this through your point of view. You two are home. You've got a screaming child. You have no relief. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, there's no escape. It's just there, all the time, and it is pushing you to the breaking point. True?"
"True," Madeline says.
"It hurts a little bit. I want to comfort her, but she doesn't want me to comfort her," David replies. "She always goes to Mom, and it puts a lot of stress on Mom because she won't calm down until she's in Mom's arms."
Dr. Phil explains that Isabella may prefer to be comforted by her mom because she can control Madeline.
"Thanks for pointing that out," David replies.
Madeline chimes in, "His idea of playing with her and interacting with her is popping a movie in, and sitting and watching it. My idea of playing with her is playing with her " singing, toys, bubbles " things that will keep her occupied, not staring at a boob tube and being entertained."
Dr. Phil observes that David's attempts to engage his daughter are not working. "She's not bonding with you," he tells David. "And now, you're pulling back even more [from Madeline] because you feel rejection from her."
"Yeah. I am a little more," David admits.
Madeline's eyes well with tears. "It hurts a lot because I feel rejected from him," she says.
"So, there's distance here, stress here, pain here. I can't imagine why she's not just happy and sunshine," Dr. Phil says sarcastically. "Come on guys. You can't change what you don't acknowledge."
"What do you think about that? Dr. Phil asks the couple.
"I'm afraid she's really going to hurt herself," David replies.
Dr. Phil turns to Madeline. "He says you're just like her. He says you throw tantrums like she does, that you get stressed like she does," he says.
"I call it transference. I think it's him," Madeline says.
"You throw tantrums because of him?"
No, I think he throws the tantrums. If he doesn't hear what he likes, if he doesn't get what he wants, he storms off and leaves," she clarifies.
"Are you two going to make it?" Dr. Phil asks.
"I don't know," David replies.
"I don't think so," Madeline answers.
David mulls that over. "Compromised candidate, huh? Well, it hurts a little bit, and I certainly don't want to be a compromise to anything " especially in a relationship," he comments. "I'm pulling back, but I don't feel like she's a compromise by any means. She's beautiful, she's smart, she's fun to be around in the good moments and even the stressful moments."
"Well, if y'all had these thoughts and feelings, don't you think you should've dealt with that before you had [a child] and another on the way?" Dr. Phil asks.
Dr. Phil explains that arguing in front of Madeline will only escalate the tension in their home. "What she knows is her parents are fighting; she doesn't know who started it, and you know what? She doesn't care. All she knows is that her base of security is being threatened," Dr. Phil observes. "Is it possible that when she throws a tantrum, you two stop fighting because she grabs your absolute attention? I've seen it on video. She is so pervasive that when she throws a tantrum, she has everybody's full attention."
"So, her parents are attacking each other, and she's learned to stop that," Dr. Phil remarks. "She is the smartest person in the room, and she is addicted to power. So, there are two questions. One is, why is she doing this? Because you taught her to ... You don't think she can't figure out, 'If I scream loud enough, or I hit my head, or throw myself down, I control them like they're on strings'? You have trained her. She has learned well, and now we have to untrain her."
Dr. Phil tells the couple to close ranks and come up with a parenting plan that they can both be excited about. He also offers them help in their home town. "I'm going to bring you reinforcements because I don't think you can do it," he says.