A few weeks ago, I figured it out! I knew that feeling overwhelmed and disconnected were the main triggers for her to rage that way. Other things like being tired or hungry definitely exasperated it, but were never the main cause. I have struggled so much over the last few years to work on my own feelings of anger surrounding her anger. I am finally in a place where I can usually stop taking things personally and focus on helping her, instead of using all my energy to keep my cool.
One of the things that has helped me with her the most is *seeing past her behavior and recognizing the underlying needs.* I thought I understood it, but I now get it at a whole new level. I forget what she was raging over that day (again something with her sister), but as soon as she started I thought this time don't try to DO things to calm her down. She's feeling disconnected, so CONNECT. I had noticed that she never looks at me when she's raging, so as gently as I could while stopping her from going after her sister's stuff, I put my hand on the side of her face and said in a real quite voice "Look at me, E, look at me."
I don't like restraining her, but I held her like a baby on my lap, keeping her from kicking and hitting me and starting say things like "It's ok, you're ok, you're safe, I know you're overwhelmed, just sit with me, I'll just hold you, I'll cuddle you." I spoke very softly and made shushing sounds, like she was a crying infant instead of a raging 4 year old. She screamed that she wanted to go to her room, so I immediately let her go. Of course, she went straight after her sister again, which I knew she would, but I wanted her to know that I really didn't *want* to restrain her and I would let her go if I could still keep L safe. Before she got to L, I put my arms around her again, letting her know that I wouldn't let her get to L, and started gently talking to her again. I used slow, comforting words.
She has always liked back rubs and almost every night I massage her back and arms and legs before she falls asleep. So, as much as I could while restraining her, I did that and let her know that was what I was trying to do. She screamed to go to her room or go get something to eat a few times and every time I would let her go, but then get her again when she went towards her sister.
Finally, I let her go and she didn't get off my lap. She collapsed into me and started to cry and released all the stress and tension and feelings of being overwhelmed. She cuddled into me and asked me to rub her back so I did. Then we sat on the couch and snuggled for a long time.
Typing it out seems like it lasted a long time, but really it was about 5 minutes from the time she started to the point where she stopped fighting and started crying. As much as I dislike restraining her, 5 minutes was worlds better than up to half an hour of fighting, getting hurt and eventually collapsing and crying.
In the last few weeks, this has happened a few more times and the last time, she seemed relieved as soon as I picked her up. She still fought me for a minute, but it was more like needing a physical outlet instead of desperation to get away or get what she wanted.
If you've read my other posts, you know that this is a complete 180 from the way I handled any emotional outburst from her a few years ago. It's taken that long for me to heal enough to be able to figure out how to help her. From her perspective, she is probably always unsure of how I am going to react, which exasperates her fight or flight response. My reactions have gotten better and better, but I have still made plenty of recent mistakes. I think now it's more important than ever that I respond consistently in a comforting, calm and reassuring way, so I don't lose the ground I've gained with her trusting that I'm here to be the safe place during her storm. And of course, it's better if I can help her avoid getting that overwhelmed and disconnected in the first place.