Picture this, you are shopping for groceries or having lunch at a restaurant, and suddenly a sharp shrieking sound rents the air. You turn to look and find a mortified parent trying to calm down a screaming toddler while under the gaze of dozens of on-lookers.
Now comes the plot twist. A year or more later, the roles have changed and you are no longer an on-looker. You are now the mortified parent. How do you deal with toddler screaming? Also, why do toddlers scream more often in public places?
Let’s explore some helpful solutions to toddler screaming, shall we?
Here is the headline; as disconcerting or annoying as it is, screaming is a toddler’s attempt at self-expression. Is it a healthy method of expression? Probably not but it means that with some help, they can learn better ways to express their needs and emotions.
As a mom, I admit, it may not be as easy it sounds but this approach transformed my house into a more peaceful haven.
According to pediatric experts, toddler screaming typically starts around 18 months to 2 years and up. Yes, there is some truth to the famous legend of the ‘terrible twos’.  That said, regardless of age, it is helpful to understand why your child might be screaming so often. Some common reasons include:
- The joy of discovery- At the toddler stage, kids are more aware and begin to learn lots of stuff but their language skills are still limited, especially if you are planning to raise bilingual children. When they discover that they can use their voices to demand your attention, screaming becomes their new go-to solution.
- Seeking connection- in an effort to keep our kids comfortable, we often get so caught up that we forget to nurture our bond with them. As a result, they scream because they have learned that it will get you to try and soothe them. The whole episode is their way of saying, “Mom/Dad, I need some closeness and affection.”
- Poor voice control- as toddlers begin to speak they go through a phase where they are still getting used to their voices. They are not fully aware of how loud their voices or screams are but over time and with some guidance they understand how to regulate it.
- Tantrums and bad behavior- it is important to differentiate between screaming and tantrums. If your child screams while kicking, biting, throwing toys, or rolling themselves on the floor, that’s a classic toddler tantrum. Consider adopting some disciplinary steps alongside teaching them how to express themselves better.
The truth is there is no universal solution on how to get a toddler to stop screaming. Bribing them with treats will only serve to enable their screaming habit. Instead, next time you are dealing with a screaming child, you could try:
When your child starts to audition for the screaming Olympics, come down to their level and make eye contact to get their attention. In a calm but authoritative voice, ask them to stop screaming and use a more polite or nicer voice to ask for what they need.
I found numerous gems of wisdom on choosing the right words when speaking to my kids from Joanna Faber’s and Julie King’s, ‘How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen’. You can check it out here.
It is counter-productive to ask a toddler to stop screaming while you are also screaming. Kids mimic their parents and those around them. 
If you are calm even when your toddler screams for no reason, they begin to learn that their behavior is not acceptable. However, speaking from experience, this will be the ultimate test on everything you have learned about how to discipline your child without yelling.
Each time your child screams, use a gesture as you ask them to stop. The gesture could be placing a finger over your lips or shaking your head from side to side in disapproval. This will become a shorthand between you that lets them know that they are not using the right voice to express themselves.
I have been the mortified parent trying to handle a screaming kid in public on many occasions. I often tried to soothe my child and apologize to those around me without addressing the bad behavior to avoid any more embarrassment. This only exacerbated the problem as my child kept pulling the same stunts over and over.
Now, when my children scream, I try verbal communication and connection. If that does not work, I move on to healthy disciplinary techniques. This has helped them learn to try and ask for what they need as opposed to yelling.
A whispering game is a great way to help a screaming toddler to learn the difference between indoor and outdoor voices. Start by speaking to them in whispers and asking them if they can match it. Whoever can whisper the longest throughout the day wins. You could rope in the rest of the household to participate too.
The goal here is not to drown out the noise of the child screaming but to distract them into doing something more positive. I have found this especially helpful in younger children for whom verbal communication may not be effective.
A 1-year old screaming child, for instance, may quickly get distracted by their favorite jingle and may feel comforted if you dance or sing along with them.
Positive reinforcement is simply affirming your child when they do the right thing. For example, if they start to scream and see you gesturing at them to stop, they are likely to correct themselves.
You could affirm this by saying, ‘Good job, I’m proud of you for using the right voice’. This affirmation encourages toddlers to keep doing the right thing.
It is extremely important that your child learns that it is okay to express themselves freely but in the right way and in the right spaces. You can help them learn this by associating certain places with certain expressions.
Take screaming, for example. It can be an effective way for your child to vent when they feel frustrated or overjoyed. So, each time they are experiencing such emotions, take them outside to a safe space and let them know that it is okay to let it all out. If you do this a couple of times, toddlers often catch on and instinctively know where to go when they need a moment.
While implementing this with my babies, I borrowed lots of tips from ‘Calm-Down Time’ by Elizabeth Verdick. In the book, she explains some helpful ways through which kids can understand and work through their emotions. Her choice of words is also very child-friendly. You can find the book here.
Your toddler screaming all the time does not mean that they hate you or that you are a bad parent. It is only a phase and often they truly do not know any better.
Why do toddlers scream high-pitched?
They are still adapting to their voices and different methods of expression. With time they learn how to regulate their pitch.
Is screaming normal for a 3-year old?
Yes, it is. You should, however, look into it if they seem to be in pain or do not seem to be outgrowing their screaming phase even after exploring different ways to help them move past it.
Why is my toddler screaming at night?
It is normal for toddlers to get fussy at bedtime. Try leaving a light on or playing a soothing lullaby. If the screams are abrupt in the middle of the night, try using a baby monitor to see what might be startling them.
Should I ignore my screaming toddler?
Often, this is not effective in getting children to stop screaming. They might even escalate their screaming to get your attention. Try practising the above tips to help you deal with your screaming child but remember, extreme parenting styles such as hovering over your kid or ignoring them aren’t effective nor do they bring much benefits.
Is screaming a sign of autism?
Autism has a wide spectrum comprising a wide variety of symptoms. It is best to seek medical advice for a more definitive diagnosis.
The screaming phase will likely test your patience to its limits. Each time you feel yourself getting to the edge, take a deep breath and call to mind all the techniques you have learned. Keep in mind that everything you are doing is to help your child become a better person that handles their emotions in a healthy way.
I’d love to hear your perspectives and how you are faring with managing toddler screaming among your little ones.
PS: Parenting is a long game; your lessons are not in vain.