Toddlers have their own ways of communicating, and screaming is often your child’s way of expressing frustration. Here’s how to best handle your child’s screeching.
There’s no sound more maddening that that of a screaming toddler. I know first-hand.
As a new mom, I was guilty of giving into my toddler’s every demand. Each time we’d go to the store I would buy him the treat he wanted. At home, I would pick up his toys if he refused, simply to avoid conflict.
He soon discovered that if he screamed, he’d get his own way. To get what he wanted, he’d yell, kick his legs, and throw his arms in the air. In other words, he’d have a full-on temper tantrum.
Knowing that I’d made a big mistake by giving into his scream fits, I sat down with my husband to determine why he was screaming and the best way to handle his outbursts.
Screaming peaks between the ages of 18 months and 2 years, according to Dr. William Sears. Sometimes shrieking is just a phase – a way for your little one to test his voice and see your reaction. Other times, screaming comes from your child’s inability to express himself verbally.
While not all techniques work with every child, trying different strategies can help manage your toddler’s lack of volume control.
Control the Volume
Start by reducing the overall volume in the house. Remember: monkey see, monkey do.
Establish rules from early on. Teach your toddler the concept of inside voice and outside voice and go through with consequences if the rules are broken. If all else fails, distraction may work to stop the screaming.
What the Experts Say
First and foremost, it’s important not to display outwards signs of frustration when dealing with a screaming toddler. Keep your cool.
If your child sees your anger, he is likely to follow suit and mimic your behavior. Here’s what the experts have to say about how to handle a screaming toddler.
“Most parents think that if our child would just “behave,” we could maintain our composure as parents. The truth is that managing our own emotions and actions is what allows us to feel peaceful as parents. Parenting isn’t about what our child does, but about how we respond.”
Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, Laura Markham
“Scolding, nagging, or punishing your toddler for the behavior won’t get her to give it up and may even make her cling to it more tenaciously. So do your best to ignore what you deplore, or to distract your toddler when she starts pursuing habits that you find especially annoying.”
What to Expect: The Toddler Years, Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Murkoff, Sandee Hathaway
“Stick to your guns. Remember, if you give in now, he’ll think that tantrums get you what you want. Talk quietly. Partly because it’ll stop you from shouting, and shouting only raises everyone’s temperature. And partly because your toddler may actually stop screaming just to hear what you’re saying.”
Parenting for Dummies, Helen Brown
“Make sure your toddler understands the difference between an inside voice and an outside voice. Screaming is not an invoice voice. Get down to your toddler’s level, look her in the eyes, and whisper, ‘We do not scream when we want something. Please use your inside voice.'”
Help! My Toddler Came Without Instructions, Blythe Lipman
“Small children have a hard time lowering their voices to a whisper. When your toddler’s vocals shoot up the decibel charts, challenge him to a “whisper” match: Whisper a word to him, then have him whisper it back.”
What to Expect: The Second Year, Heidi Murkoff
Any parent will tell you that toddler tantrums are not uncommon. It’s how you handle these meltdowns that determine how and when the screaming will stop.
First, determine why your toddler is screaming. Is she in pain? Does she want attention? Is she angry that she didn’t get her own way? If you’re not sure, ask.
Even if your toddler is not old enough to verbally tell you what’s wrong, she may have the ability to signal the problem. For example, a toddler may cry if she can’t reach a toy on a high shelf. To tell you what’s wrong, she may point to the toy.
Next, make sure that your toddler has what he or she needs. This doesn’t mean giving in if your child wants a toy or treat. It means providing the love, attention, and care that children seek.
Maybe your child is hungry and needs a healthy snack, or maybe she has a dirty diaper. Or perhaps she’s just overtired and needs a nap. Children often scream and throw tantrums when hungry, tired, or not feeling well.
Another strategy that’s effective for many young children is to give options. If you tell your child “no” and she starts screaming, stop her in her tracks and say “I understand that you’re upset, but I’m going to give you a choice: calm down or go to your room.”
If she makes the right choice and calms down, compliment her. If she continues to scream, go through with the consequence of having her stay in her room until she calms down.
From an early age, children recognize the power of their voice. While it may drive you up the wall to hear your child’s high-pitched shrieks, remember that it’s just a phase that your little one will likely grow out of. In the meantime, try different strategies to manage the screaming and encourage good behavior.