The Problem: Our toddler loves to scream when she’s angry or frustrated or even just happy. I know she’s probably just exercising her voice, but it’s really wearing me down. How do I handle this?
The Expert: Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, psychologist and author
The Solution: Let’s start by understanding why toddlers scream. Once we know the different reasons for screaming, we can decide how best to handle it. Toddlers scream to release energy, get attention, when they want something, or when they are protesting. And sometimes, they just truly love the sound of their own voice and they are experimenting with volume and pitch. Remember, they have under-developed impulse control at this age so if it’s fun or gets a reaction, they will keep doing it.
You can do a number of things to respond, other than yelling even louder. Yelling is not a good idea, though tempting at times.
- Have a nonverbal cue such as hands over lips or covering your ears to gesture to your toddler that you would like her to express herself more quietly.
- Whisper back your request such as, “I want to hear your inside voice.”
- Remind your toddler of places where it is OK to scream, such as the park.
- Make facial gestures that indicate it is time to lower her voice. Toddlers love to imitate facial gestures such as widening your eyes. Be silly and exaggerated until she gets it.
- Help her exert her energy in other ways like jumping, running, or clapping.
- Turn on music to redirect the screaming toward humming or singing along.
- Ask your child to imitate animal noises instead—at least it’s more socially acceptable and usually quiets things down.
- This is a stage and it will pass. With patience, creativity, and consistent responses, you and your child will be moving right along to yet another stage.