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Wailing and Shrieking and Screeching, Oh My!
How to Reduce the Frequency (and Volume) of Your Toddler’s Screams
“I just love the sound of my toddler screaming,” said no parent ever.
How do they manage to get so much noise to come out of such an adorable, tiny body? This is a mystery parents everywhere are trying to solve.
One thing we DO know: Living with a screamer is tough. And it’s normal, common - and actually quite healthy.
But you don’t have to invest in earplugs and headache remedies for the next three or four years. No matter what set your kid to hollering, there are several ways you can reduce the amount of it.
3 Reasons Your Toddler is Screaming
Before we can talk about what to do in a screamy situation, we need to know WHY our toddlers are screaming in the first place. While all screaming is completely and totally normal developmentally speaking, how you respond depends on the reason behind the scream.
Their Brains Are Still Developing
Sometimes toddlers don’t have many, if ANY, words at their disposal. So when they experience a big feeling, they can’t “use their words” to tell you about their anger, frustration, excitement, or joy. Instead, they’ll treat you to a variety of shrieks—typically at frequencies you didn’t know were even detectable by the human ear. #goodtimes
And, other times, your toddler actually does have the speech ability to say “I’m sad” or “This is making me feel angry” and yet? This is one of the most common frustrations we see amongst parents. “Use your words!!! I know you have them!”
Wellllllll, yes. Your toddler may have the ability to say those words, BUT the upper parts of the brain responsible for impulse control, managing emotions, communicating needs/desires, and controlling their bodies are still suuuuper under construction. This means instead of saying, “I’m feeling mad about this” your toddler is instead shrieking at you, level 100.
To Experiment with Loud Noises
Your toddler is still pretty new to the planet, and their job is to explore the world and figure out how it works. Some screaming is simply part of discovering their own voice: the pitch, the volume, and what happens when they use it.
It’s basically the equivalent of you going to the Grand Canyon and shouting, “Helloooooo” really loudly, just to see if it might echo back at you.
And part of this discovery of cause and effect? Is the effect it has on YOU. Yup, your kid craves your attention soooo much that they will keep doing anything that gets your attention, even “negative” attention. So when they let out a big yell or scream and you have a BIG reaction back? A big, “no!” or “stop!” will likely add fuel to the fire, ultimately reinforcing the screaming.
To Get What They Want
Real talk: toddlers looooove getting their way. (Can’t blame ‘em.) They want to feel large and in charge—and they aren’t afraid to scream to get you to give in to what they want.
How to Reduce Screaming
Now we know WHY the screaming, how can we curb the screaming?
By practicing and strengthening the brain!
(You need to practice impulse control to build impulse control.)
The bottom line is, so many of the skills you teach will depend on your child and their needs. By allowing your toddler to brainstorm with you, they are more likely to:
Flex that brain by playing Volume Up, Volume Down.
(Bonus: toddlers loooove games!)
First, turn up the volume.
Practice getting relly, really, REALLY loud on purpose. Yup - jumping up and down screaming and shouting!
Then, turn the volume down.
Get sooooo quiet - right down to a tiny little whisper.
You can play this game with a song (quite literally turn the volume up, then turn it down!), with animal sounds (go from the ROAR of a lion to the litttttle squeak of a mouse), or with your natural voice (shout, then whisper!).
Kids learn best through real-life experiences. When you practice getting loud then quiet IRL, you’re giving your kid a safe opportunity to build the part of their brain that helps notice and manage noise levels. Over time, this can become REAL impulse control.
Remember, like any teaching moment with your toddler, make sure you do this during a calm moment - *not* in the heat of a screaming fit or tantrum. Learning can’t happen in times of heightened emotions! But when they practice at a calm time, they strengthen that area of their brain, making that little muscle stronger and more easily accessible over time and during those (inevitable) tough moments.
And of course, know that they’re still going to be loud and scream sometimes - it’s just part of toddlerhood, and it’s actually a sign of healthy brain development. Progress over perfection, yes? Yes!
Want more strategies for curbing screaming? Thought so.
Our best-selling online course, Winning the Toddler Stage, gives you alllll the details about our go-to strategies for screaming:
Get Quiet
Okay the Feelings
Tell Them What They Can Do
Seriously: All. The. Details. And specific how-tos and scripts you can start using right now.
Winning the Toddler Stage also covers every other toddler topic under the sun: tantrums, discipline, sleeep, mealtime, screen-time, parent preference, new baby and more. It’s the essential course you need for ages 1-6, and if it doesn’t totally change your life, we’ll refund you in full. Promise.
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