When things do not go the way they want, toddlers express their frustration with high-pitched screams or cries. But hearing the constant screaming of your toddler is not easy to cope with, and your child needs to learn that screaming is not the way to go.
Study shows that hearing a child cry triggers a “prime adaptive response” in caregivers. Although it is difficult at times to cope with your toddler’s loud screaming, rapidly responding to your child in distress is an adaptive behavior that ensures offspring survival.
According to the National Association of School Psychologists, it is normal for children aged 1 ½ to 4 to express their frustration with loud screaming and tantrums, and this behaviour should pass eventually.
But if you are struggling with a screeching toddler, here are some ways to ease your stress and limit further wailing.
Why does a toddler scream so frequently?
1. Lack of words
When toddlers are overwhelmed with surging emotions from the often frustrating situations they find themselves in, the easiest way for them to express what they are feeling is to scream out loud, the way they’ve done since birth. Even though they have usually begun to accumulate more vocabulary by this age, it can be a struggle to put words together to express an upsetting situation coherently.
Toddlers are not yet mature enough to control their impulses and emotions. When they are distressed, they tend to express their emotions out loud. It is important to learn from an early age how to verbalize their feelings and thoughts, but their short patience at this stage pushes them to quick outbursts.
3. Overwhelming emotions
Toddlers’ emotions can easily overflow when they face a situation that frustrates them. Unfortunately, since birth the easiest way they have experienced to express their distress has been by crying out loud.
4. Rewarded for negative behaviours
Rewarding toddlers with reactions to their negative behaviour sets a bad precedent—it teaches them to scream whenever they need a quick response from others.
If your child tends to use a louder tone in general and frequently resorts to screaming, ask yourself whether anyone in your house uses a habitually loud tone. Toddlers pick up others’ behaviour quickly, so it is important to model a proper tone of voice even on your worst day.
How to stop your toddler from screaming so loudly?
1. Give a quick response
Sometimes that constant whining from your toddler can numb your will to respond promptly. But ignoring your child’s requests, however small they might be, can lead to the bad habit of your toddler getting progressively louder to grab your attention. Always try to respond quickly to your toddler’s requests to prevent further escalation.
2. Give a cue at their first scream
Always let your child know there is no reason to scream when they are upset. Teaching the concept of a proper tone of voice from an early age is important, such as indoor and outdoor voices, or whispering when the situation calls for it.
3. Monitor your child’s building frustration
If your child is not simply throwing a fit to get something he wants, finding out the underlying cause of his negative emotions is important. If there is an evident reason your child might be upset, it is helpful to describe their emotions and the possible reasons aloud.
For example, you might say, “You’re frustrated because you couldn’t get your shoe on your foot”, or “You’re sad that daddy didn’t see you waving when he went out the door”.
4. Do not reward screaming
Many parents fall into the pit of rewarding their child to stop that ear-piercing screech. Although at that moment you might be tempted to run to your toddler’s aid and stop that wailing, it will motivate your child to scream again, since it is working.
Instead, calmly tell them, “I will help you if you stop screaming”. As long as your toddler shows some effort to quiet down, accept it and reward them with positive comments. Since they are still young,expecting them to achieve one hundred percent silence within a short period of time will most likely backfire.
5. Teach how to express with words
Parents often say to their children, “Use words!”, but in truth, toddlers do not have many words under their belt to express all of their situations and emotions promptly. Each time your toddler expresses their frustrations or needs in a scream, explain to them with simple words how to ask for what they want.
For example, you can say to them, “Say, ‘Mommy, help me to put on my shoes, please’”, or “Next time, say, ‘mommy I can’t zip up my jacket’”.
6. Positive reinforcement
Any time your toddler chooses words without screaming, reward them with praise and a cuddle. Even if your child fails but is clearly showing effort to lower his or her voice in response to your cues, praise them for the effort. Showing your toddler a positive reaction each time they move farther away from screaming will teach them there is a better way to express their frustrations.
Next time the loud screams of your toddler reach your ear, take a deep breath to calm your nerves, and take your time before you rush to calm your child. Lower yourself to your child’s eye level and say, “If you stop screaming, mommy will help you”. Teach your child how to ask with words in that situation, and be generous with your praise if he or she is able to repeat it.
Screaming at a young age is normal behaviour, but with your guidance and patience, you can teach your child to express his or her emotions in more acceptable ways.
Helpful posts for further reading:
- 7 best ways to deal with your cranky, angry, whiny 2-year-old
- How to be a cool mom that your child will be proud of
- 10 best ways to stop being an angry mom