Toddlers love to hear the sound of their own voices. And yes, as annoying at it is, toddlers love to shriek-often at the top of their little lungs! Often in public places like grocery stores and restaurants, much to their parent’s dismay.
Toddlers may scream for a variety of reasons. Some kids just get louder and squeal because they are excited or happy. Some kids shriek because they are over-stimulated or overwhelmed by a situation or environment. Some little ones yell because they are angry or frustrated. And some toddlers use those loud piercing screams because they are simply trying to get your attention.
So what can you do about your screaming toddler? First, it helps to determine, which of the above reasons is eliciting the screaming episode. Here are a few tips.
- No matter how loud your child is screaming, STAY CALM. If you get agitated yourself (yes, I know it IS AGITATING), and you yell, you’ll simply get into a power struggle of screaming with your toddler!
- Use a calm, neutral, matter of fact voice and if you feel your child is over-stimulated or over-tired, acknowledge their feelings and reassure them with “I know you want to leave, we will be done shopping as soon as Mommy buys the milk and then we’ll go to the car and go home.”
- If your child screams when angry or frustrated, again acknowledge how they feel “I know you’re mad your block tower fell down, it’s ok, let’s build it up again!” or “I know it’s hard to throw the ball in the basket like your big brother, let me help you.”
- Play games at home with “loud” and “quiet”, two concepts that most toddlers still don’t understand. But, toddlers DO like to imitate whispering. So practice things like “The lion is LOUD when he is outside, but he is QUIET when he plays inside.” You can begin to teach, loud/quiet by clapping hands loud, then quiet or stomping feet loud, then quiet. Again reinforce that LOUD activities are for outside when playing and QUIET activities are for inside or when at church, grocery store, restaurants. It takes practice!
- If your child is not overwhelmed by loud, noisy places, then you can try to pick more crowded busy times to shop or eat at loud, noisy restaurants so that when your child screams it can be ignored, not only by you, but by most customers so you aren’t getting the dreaded “can’t you make him stop?” stare from other patrons.
- Most toddlers WANT to be out shopping with you or out at a restaurant with the family, so we want to teach them that screaming is NOT an appropriate behavior in this setting. Pick a practice day when the task of shopping only requires maybe a few items or the stop at McDonald’s is only for a snack. If your child screams, reinforce the quiet voice, and give a warning that if they scream you will leave the store or restaurant. Then, STICK to your guns. If she screams, you LEAVE. You have to mean what you say and toddlers learn pretty quickly that if I scream I do NOT get to eat out or go to the store with Daddy.
- Keep in mind if your child is tired, over-stimulated, hungry or not feeling well, this will contribute to any behavior escalating, even screaming.
- Plan errands for times your child is not hungry, tired or ill and keep them occupied and/or distracted by making them your helper at the grocery store. Your child needs to learn that she will get attention or be rewarded when she does NOT scream. So if you made your 15 minute trip to the store and no screams were involved lavish the praise on her with “You did GREAT, you used your quiet indoor voice the whole time Mommy shopped today. You’re such a big girl!”
- Many toddlers scream because they do not yet have adequate language for their age. If your child is 2 or older and does not have at least 50 single words and/or is not yet putting two words together to get his wants and needs met, consider calling for an Early Intervention speech evaluation.
- If your toddler screams and you respond to the screaming by giving them attention (positive or negative), or by giving them what they want, the screaming will continue. Prompt your child in a matter of fact tone with (again do not resort to yelling back, remain calm) “Use your words” or “Mommy can’t hear you until you use your quiet voice” or “Daddy will play ball with you when you use your inside voice”.
- Use If/Then statements with your toddler. “If you use your quiet voice, then I will turn on your TV show” or “If you use your indoor voice, then I will get you more milk”.