We’ve all experienced that bone-chilling sensation at the sound of a toddler’s screams. It can trigger fear, anger, or even pain in us. And we feel it so much more when it’s our own child!
If your toddler is constantly using their soprano voice, you may find yourself at a loss.
We understand what you’re going through (our eardrums are as scarred as yours), and we’ve picked up a few tips to help you find some peace in the midst of the toddler screaming phase.
Why Does My Toddler Scream So Much?
A toddler’s world is constantly expanding as they begin to explore what exists beyond their parents’ arms. They are suddenly mobile and are constantly being introduced to new tastes, sounds, and experiences.
Screaming Communicates Powerful Feelings
While toddlers are busy absorbing everything, they may not have the ability to process their experiences. Screaming may be a means of sharing overstimulation, frustration, anger, hunger, joy, or excitement. It can be an easy way to communicate their emotions when they’re unable to find the words.
It’s also one of the few things they have full control over because, let’s face it, you can’t physically stop a child from screaming. The only thing you can control is your response to their screams.
It Gets Your Attention
Our budding scientists love to explore the realms of cause and effect. They learn quickly that when they scream, they get a reaction. Whether that reaction is positive or negative doesn’t matter. Any reaction is exciting and makes them feel powerful.
A toddler’s vocal range is fascinating to them. They love to hear their own voice. Listening to their own high-pitched squeals reverberate off the walls or vanish into the wind can be thrilling.
Is Screaming Normal for Toddlers?
Most toddlers will relish testing out the upper limits of their voices. As frustrating or embarrassing as this can be for parents, it’s a normal stage of toddler development.
Sometimes it helps to speak with other parents about the phases your child is going through. If you have friends with toddlers, or if you’re part of an online birth club, ask if they’re dealing with screaming. Chances are, most parents will have stories to share.
How to Get a Toddler to Stop Screaming
Unfortunately, there’s no instant cure for toddler screaming. Getting a toddler to stop screaming requires patience and understanding.
The most important thing to remember is to stay calm. Screaming triggers all kinds of feelings in our bodies (1). Because of this, we may have to step back and evaluate our emotions before responding to our child.
Take a deep breath, and remind yourself that your child is okay. And although they may not be in control of their feelings, you can be in control of yours.
Keep your face neutral and your voice soft and low. Get down to your child’s level. Speaking gently, remind them that you’re ready to help when they are able to use a calm voice.
When your toddler stops screaming, model good communication. If they were screaming because they were upset, acknowledge their frustration. E.g., “It makes you very upset when you have to get out of the bath.”
Help them consider various solutions to their problem and encourage a more appropriate means of expression (2).
Create a Safe Space
For some children, screaming is truly a necessary outlet. It may be helpful to show your toddler where they can go when they need to let off some steam.
Some parents will allow their child to scream in their bedroom as long as the door is closed and no one is being disturbed. Others may prefer to have their child step outside to let loose. Another option is to allow your toddler to scream into a stuffed animal or pillow — whatever helps them release their frustration without harm.
Regardless of your chosen space, reassure your child that you are available when they are calm. Knowing they won’t get special attention when they scream and that you’re willing to help them may encourage them to stop screaming sooner (3).
Toddlers seem to recognize the worst times and places to use a screaming voice. Religious services or ceremonies, school concerts, restaurants, grocery stores — these are not places you take your child every day. The new experiences and expectations may trigger a meltdown, or they may try to get a rise out of you by testing the upper decibels of their voice.
Rather than ignore the noise or try to rationalize with your child in a crowd of onlookers, calmly pick them up and leave the room. (If you had a cart full of groceries, try to stash it somewhere safe on the way out, or let a store employee know that you’ll be returning so you don’t have to start from scratch afterward.)
Once outside, you can allow your toddler time to cool down. Then explain why their screams are not appropriate and offer alternatives before returning.
Toddler Screaming FAQs
If your toddler regularly sounds like they could defeat a hawk in a shrieking contest, you’re probably ready for some answers.
Is Screaming a Sign of Autism?
Because the autism spectrum is very broad, the range of indicators is wide. Meltdowns may be common for children with autism. However, these meltdowns are usually the result of a more definitive indicator, such as sensory issues or hypersensitivity, a lack of communication tools, or a change in routine.
Screaming alone is not considered to be a sign of autism (4).
Why Is My Toddler Screaming At Night?
It can be really exhausting when your sleep-master baby suddenly becomes a constant screamer in the night. (And, sadly, toddlers don’t come fitted with a snooze button.)
Most toddlers are not equipped with enough words to clearly express their needs. There are several reasons your toddler may be screaming at night.
- Illness or infection: Pain or discomfort is often most prominent at night when your child’s body finally slows down.
- Discomfort: Being too hot, too cold, or even just itchy can be enough to set off your child when they’re tired.
- Separation anxiety: Toddlers are very aware of your presence — or lack of presence — and may suddenly feel afraid of going to sleep or waking up alone (5).
- Night terrors: Although these frightening experiences generally begin around age three, some children experience them as early as eighteen months (6).
- Teething: Toddlers are continually growing new teeth. Teething pain can wake them in the night or prevent them from falling asleep when they’re tired.
If you’re able to recognize the cause of the screaming, you can work on a solution. But if your toddler’s nighttime screaming remains a mystery, contact your pediatrician to rule out any less obvious causes.
Do Babies Go Through a Screaming Phase?
Most babies will go through a screaming phase at some point. This is different from regular sporadic crying or screaming to have their needs met. A screaming phase is a period of days, weeks, or (please, no!) months in which a baby will spend an abnormal amount of time raising their tiny voice to eardrum-shattering levels.
I noticed an increase in shrieking and screaming around the same time my children discovered their voices. Babies seem to delight in the realization that they can alter the sounds they create. Their parents, however, are not always as thrilled.
If your baby seems to be screaming from discomfort rather than enjoyment, consider typical causes such as gas, teething, ear infection, or overstimulation. Talk to your pediatrician if you are not able to determine a cause or come up with a solution to their screaming.
Peace of Mind
Screaming is a frustrating phase, but it’s one most toddlers go through.
If your toddler is constantly screaming, they may be experimenting with their voice, or they may be experiencing some big emotions.
Be their calm. Don’t react to the screaming, even when you’re desperate to make them stop. Create a safe space, and if necessary, remove your child from difficult situations.
Remember, this is a phase. If you don’t turn screaming into a battle, it will fade away eventually. Until then, invest in a good set of earplugs!