When your little one starts screaming, you’ll know all too well the temptation to scream yourself. The piercing sound can be stressful, heartbreaking, and downright infuriating. But no matter how much your toddler screams and screams (and screams some more), you should never snap or scream back at them. Your toddler is communicating by the only means they know how to, and more often than not, they just want connection, love, and attention.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll be going over all you need to know about your toddler’s screaming, including the best ways to handle it, so you can rest assured that their terrible twos won’t be quite so terrible!
- Why Do Toddlers Scream Like a Banshee?
- How to Handle a Toddler Screaming
- Other Potential Causes of Toddler Screaming
- How NOT to Handle Toddler Screaming
- Final Thoughts
Why Do Toddlers Scream Like a Banshee?
Your little one has just discovered their voice has the power to turn heads. When a toddler discovers something new about themselves, especially something so powerful, they’re going to be using it and experimenting with it as much as possible. For them, it’s exciting, fun, and a new way they can release their energy and communicate with you.
Yes, in their mind, screaming says a thousand more words than the earsplitting noise you hear – ‘I’m hungry, look at me, I want that toy,’ and everything else that enters their thoughts. Toddlers also scream out of frustration, especially if they’re in the midst of a temper tantrum!
How to Handle a Toddler Screaming
Most toddlers will stop screaming when they grow tired of its novelty and learn better ways to communicate their needs. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways you can manage it, in the meantime, to prevent it from getting out of hand.
Teach Them About “Inside Voice”
Explain to your little one that there are two types of voices: inside and outside. Quietly tell them that an “inside voice sounds like this,” then belt out “an outside voice sounds like this!” Encourage them to copy you. If they don’t seem interested, turn it into a game and challenge them to mimic you.
When your toddler does use an inside voice appropriately, praise them for doing so. This positive reinforcement will really show them that an inside voice is something you love, which will motivate them to repeat the behavior.
Make sure to also expose your toddler to different environments, as it will give them a greater understanding of what sort of places call for an inside voice. You can take them to public places like the library and say, “this is where we use our inside voice,” then take them to a park and yell, “this is where we use our outside voice!”
Once your toddler has grasped the concept of an inside voice, you’ll simply be able to tell them to use their inside voice to prevent them from screaming. If your child is struggling to understand the difference between inside and outside voice, even with all of your attempts to explain it to them, check out Elizabeth Verdick’s Voices Are Not for Yelling picture book. It demonstrates the concept in a visually simple, toddler-friendly way.
No Loud Noises Inside
Toddlers imitate and model the behavior of those around them, especially their parents! If you’re screaming in frustration at the fact your newly bought microwave has now broken down for the third time, your little one will likely copy you and start screaming as well.
Remain calm and avoid yelling and shouting. You should also avoid playing the television at full volume. Loud noises – even those from devices – will tell your child that being loud inside is acceptable.
Turn It Into a Game
When your child starts screaming, quickly whisper to them, “can you whisper like me?” Keep challenging them to whisper like you, and when they do, praise them and then continue the game by asking them to copy other (quiet) actions: “can you touch your tummy like me?”, “can you touch your nose like me?”
Your little one will love this fun parent-child bonding activity, and by the time you’re done, they’ll have completely forgotten about their urge to scream. After all, toddlers are easily distracted – they have much shorter attention spans than us!
Keep Them Occupied
It goes without saying that if your toddler always has something to do, they’re less likely to scream for your attention. When you’re out and about, keep your little one occupied with their favorite book, a healthy snack, or a toy to play with. Toddlers are inquisitive, so you could even give them objects which appeal to their curiosity.
When your toddler starts screaming, don’t react to it and instead speak softer. If they continue to scream, continue to lower your voice. Chances are your toddler will eventually quieten down as they’ll want to hear what you’re saying, something they can’t do if they’re drowning you out with their screeching!
Hold Them and Soothe Them
If your bundle of energy is screaming out of excitement, the best way to calm them down is by holding them and soothing them. Similarly, if your toddler is screaming out of nervousness, holding them will reassure them and help put them at ease.
When you do hold and soothe your toddler to stop them from screaming, make it clear you’re not doing so because of their screaming, but because of how they’re feeling. Then, show them better ways to express their emotions. For example, you can say to them, “Yes I know, it can be scary when you visit a new place! You can use your words and say ‘mommy, I’m scared!’” This will also really aid their language development and help them understand how to put their feelings into words, something they’ll benefit from for years to come.
Create a Scream Zone
Let’s be real: sometimes your screeching toddler won’t listen to your pleas for them to use their “inside voice.” Perhaps they’re just too caught up in their pretend play battle. These instances are when a dedicated scream zone can come in handy.
When your little one starts to scream, quickly pick them up and take them to the area you want to set as the scream zone. We recommend an outside area, like your backyard. Tell them that “we only scream in the yard.” Repeat this every time your little one starts to scream and won’t stop.
Over time, with plenty of repetition, your toddler will associate screaming with the zone, and they’ll choose independently to go and scream there rather than erupt at the dining room table. After all, toddlers love to feel like they’re in control. Knowing where the scream zone is, and then using it appropriately, is simply another way they can feel in control.
Handling Temper Tantrum Screaming
During temper tantrums, your toddler won’t just be screaming. They’ll be stomping, crying, and throwing their fists in the air. If your child is having a temper tantrum, you may have to take a slightly different approach than the ways we’ve talked about above to bring an end to their outburst (and screaming).
Fortunately, we’ve covered everything you need to know about temper tantrums, including what to do when your little one has one, here.
Keep in mind that no one method will be the solution for every single screaming outburst. Make sure to change it up and see which works best.
You should also inform your little one of how the day will go – after all, an unexpected event could trigger their fight or flight response.
If you’re struggling to handle your toddler’s screaming, don’t be afraid to reach out to your pediatrician for help and guidance.
Other Potential Causes of Toddler Screaming
Here, we’ll go over potential causes of screaming that are often overlooked, as well as the best ways to handle them.
A hungry toddler will undoubtedly have the urge to scream. Even if you calmly tell them that they’ll be getting food soon and to just wait it out, it won’t stop them from screaming. To them, waiting for something that they want straight away feels like an impossible, frustrating task. This is because toddlers’ brains aren’t wired like ours; their prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that manages impulse control, reasoning, and logic – hasn’t properly developed yet.
As such, the best way to prevent hunger-related screaming is by ensuring your little one is getting enough filling food at mealtime; protein and fiber-rich food like vegetables will keep them feeling fuller for longer. You should also have snacks on hand for your child to munch on throughout the day.
Teething can be an agonizing experience for your little one, and they may scream due to the pain. If teething is the cause behind their screaming fits, you should take measures to relieve their pain: you can apply a soothing teething gel or give them infant friendly pain-relief medication. For more information about teething, including the tell-tale signs, click here.
If your toddler has no sense of how loud they’re actually being, it could be a sign of a hearing problem, especially if it’s coupled with delayed speech or language development.
If you believe your little one has a hearing problem, take them to a doctor to get their ears checked over. You should also familiarize yourself with the symptoms of hearing problems in toddlers.
A sensory overload can cause your child to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and extremely irritated, and they may react to these feelings by screaming. A sensory overload occurs when your mind is unable to process and respond to everything that’s going on in your surroundings – multiple conversations happening simultaneously, flashing lights, and a busy restaurant are all things that can trigger a sensory overload.
If you suspect that your little one is experiencing a sensory overload, remove them from the situation immediately and soothe them.
All toddlers can experience sensory overload, but those with sensory processing issues are much more likely to do so. As such, if sensory overloads are a common occurrence, make sure to speak to your doctor for further guidance and support.
How NOT to Handle Toddler Screaming
No matter how many of your buttons your little one presses, you should never scream back at them or spank them. This can have several consequences, none of which benefit their well-being or development. For example, it can increase their risk of physical injury, ruin their self-esteem, and cause them to become anxious and even fearful of you.
All of the above is why, for decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has advocated against spanking, hitting, or yelling as methods of discipline. If you struggle to keep yourself calm, try out these useful calming strategies.
You should also stick to places where no one will bat an eye if your toddler does make a scene; it’s a lot harder to manage your emotions when it seems like your child is the star of the show!
Another thing you should never do is bribe or bargain with your toddler. While it may seem like a worthy trade to give in to their demand for ice cream to get them to stop screaming, you’re only teaching them one thing: that screaming gives them what they want.
Toddlers are unpredictable, and they especially love to raise the roof. While at times, it can feel almost impossible to get them to stop screaming, the methods above should give your ears the much-needed relief they deserve. And remember: the best way to get your little one through the screaming of their terrible twos is with calmness, love, and patience.
Next time you feel tempted to yell at your child, remind yourself that they’re not going out of their way to hurt you or frustrate you. Remind yourself that, as Dr Joseph Chilton Pearce once said, “we must be what we want our children to become.”