When Toddlers Scream

hi, janet.  i’m a former actor, current Ph.D. student and mom of a 15-month-old.  your website and your advice have been really inspirational as his father and i navigate early parenthood . . . mostly joyfully, although we get as tired as anyone.  i thought this question might have relevance for your audience, so if you get a chance to consider it, many thanks. 

Miles is a pretty easy going kid, and really loves to communicate.  now that he has some language (and signs), his exuberance at making his thoughts and wishes known is growing by the day.  when we “get it”–like if he wants water, and we get him some–he grins and laughs, and starts nodding enthusiastically while he says, “yeah!  yeah!”

i’m writing because recently he’s started screaming.  like, really loud, high pitched screams.  often it’s the first sign of any discomfort or dissatisfaction–like, he’s in his high chair, about to munch on some toast, and suddenly–screaming.  i’ve been looking him in the eye and saying, calmly, “that’s too loud for inside.  it’s hurts my ears.”  or, “i can tell you’re upset, but that’s too loud.  tell me what’s wrong?”  it’s so unlike his newly expressive language; i can’t tell if he’s just experimenting with sound, or frustrated that there’s something he doesn’t know how to tell us, or limit-seeking or what.  sometimes the screaming is part of impatience for food or the frustrated desire for something we won’t let him have, but other times it seems kind of random. 

of course, our faces must also betray the natural shock of the sudden noise, and sometimes a very disapproving, “Miles, no!” slips out. especially for my husband, who has particularly sensitive ears.  i figure it’s okay for Miles to know that the screaming upsets me–i mean, he’s not a dummy; i’m sure he knows we don’t like it–but i want to discourage this in a way that’s respectful, firm and effective.  (oh, janet, sometimes it’s REALLY loud.  really.  loud.  it’s like it stops time.  my husband referred to it as “wearing a helmet made of scream.”)   and unlike when he’s experimented with whacking us in the face or climbing on furniture, i can’t physically block him from doing this. 

are we going about this in a healthy way?  is there something else we could try?

many, many thanks.  for all you do!



Hi Lindsay,

First, know that screaming is common toddler behavior and can be caused by any of these things you are postulating: “experimenting with sound, or frustrated that there’s something he doesn’t know how to tell us, or limit-seeking”. But it would only be ‘limit-seeking’ in that it’s a test to see the effect his behavior has on you and your husband… a test of his power.  That definitely doesn’t mean you should try to limit him from doing it as you would behaviors like the “whacking”.

Anyway, as you say, that’s impossible. You can’t “physically block him from doing this.” And, though it hurts your ears, it’s not unsafe for him. It’s an earsplitting way to express himself, but it doesn’t come under the heading of Unacceptable Behavior. Not for a 15-month old. They key is to react to the scream as little as possible, preferably not at all.

With screaming (or shouting or whining), I believe it best to remain unfazed, but stay present and just wait. Instead of asking “What’s wrong?”, I would just say as calmly as possible, “When you’re done, I can try to help you”. Have that be your attitude: I’m here for you. I’m waiting. I’m not going to get wound up. Sometimes you won’t say anything, you’ll just wait.

Since the screaming is becoming habitual, I wouldn’t even get into acknowledging what the scream is about unless you’re sure. Then, when he’s done you might say, “You didn’t want me to buckle your car seat. You wanted to do it yourself.” “It’s hard to wait when you’re so hungry.” Or, “You had some strong feelings about that.”

I know, I know, I know it’s hard not to react when it’s so loud and catches you by surprise. Go ahead and hold your ears, but do it calmly. It’s okay if you have a little reaction, but then try to compose yourself so Miles doesn’t feel too uncomfortably powerful. The sooner it becomes an uninteresting, ineffective, unthreatening (to your sanity) thing to do, the sooner he’ll be able to stop doing it, or at least do it less often.

Some of these screams could also be early tantrums, releasing some of the healthy feelings of frustration he’s having while learning and growing rapidly. His enthusiasm around language development and the way you are handling it sounds wonderful, but there will be times (as you say) when he can’t communicate the things he wants to tell you, which will lead to frustration and possibly screaming or tantrums. The accelerated learning that happens in the toddler years is exciting for a child, but hard, too, and sometimes Miles might need to express how hard he’s working.

Educator Patty Wipfler clarifies this beautifully in her video about “tantrum triggers”.


And here’s one of my podcasts on this subject:

Remember, this too shall pass and probably sooner than you think. For perspective, Miles probably wouldn’t do this with a caregiver he didn’t know as well or feel as comfortable with. He screams with those he loves. Sort of a backhanded-compliment? Later on, you’ll no doubt look back wistfully at these days…and if you’re as sentimental as I am, you might even miss those screams (hmmm…but probably not).


I share many more suggestions for handling toddler behavior in
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame

(Photo by A. Witt on Flickr)


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. love this.
    we’re past the screaming stage (and i sort of look back at it wistfully!) but this can totally be applied to anything and is such an awesome reminder. thank you.

    and thanks for the HiH video too – patty wipfler is great.
    (and, of course, you are too!)


    1. I use a boat horn. It stops them cold!!!

  2. I am ever grateful our girls have not tried this. We do the adult approach you suggest of helping them name their need/want/thought etc so maybe that helps head it off…or more likely we are LUCKY. Always enjoy your posts!

  3. Our almost one year old just started the screaming thing a couple weeks ago. I pretty much ignored it, and it has already decreased dramatically. My sister was visiting and she was surprised at my reaction, but I explained to her that’s he’s still figuring himself out. 🙂

  4. What do you do when it is a 4 year old who still screams? Otherwise an intelligent and healthy and normal mostly well behaved little boy, but he will quickly get to scream proportions whenever he is excited or not thinking well, and as his mom puts is, he just LIKES to scream. A whistling, squealing kind of scream that people get almost doubled over by.

    1. The people getting “doubled over” is the key. He’s found a powerful tool and he’ll probably want to use it as long as it’s working for him. Think lion roaring. It’s probably a good sign — a strong personality. Also, 4 is a “power” age, like the 2s, it’s a time when children commonly test their power and our limits. So, I would allow him to scream and not rush over and try to help or come unglued. If he’s in public, I would treat it as a tantrum, say calmly, “It’s time to go home” and follow through.

  5. Hi, Janet!

    I’m Valia from Greece again! Just felt the need to thank you for you posts and this time for the great video! Before reading your valuable advice I had the tendency to distract my 15-month-old daughter whenever she would cry or scream so as to express her anger – of course, the outcome was not at all satisfactory! I have been trying really hard to follow your advice and I think that it finally works now! Anyway, thank you once more… Whenever I feel disappointed or that I am losing control, I receive a post of yours just to remind me what is the hard but most proper think to do for the love of my life!

    1. Hi Valia! Thanks for the great feedback. Nothing could make me happier than being able to help when you “feel disappointed” or as if you are losing control. 🙂

  6. avatar Jessica Z. says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! My 13-month-old does this, too. And I was handling it the same way (“that hurts my ears, please tell me what is wrong”). I was inclined to ignore it but was afraid it wouldn’t be respectful, but now I will follow those instincts. Now that I think about it, the screaming is already dramatically reduced, so perhaps there is something to it being a stage. Anyway, thanks for the always helpful responses. I am struggling through sleep issues with our toddler right now and am trying to frame a question — but I’m looking around your site and forum to see if you’ve responded to a question about how to respectfully address infants/toddlers who have trouble getting the sleep thing before asking a redundant question!

    1. avatar Emily Teeguarden says:

      Hi Jessica Z.
      If you research a Homeopathic remedy called:
      Coffea Cruda, you will find it very helpful for calming a child that is getting a 2nd wind just as sleeptime is approaching.

      The beauty of Homeopathy for children & infants is there will never be an issue at all of overdosing or side effects ever!!!

      See Dr. Dana Ullmna’s books or site and ABC Homeopathy online for more info on H. & for treating the many challenges of raising happy healthy well adjusted children with the beauty of natural Homeopathy!

      It’s worked wonders for many friends and my children concerning sleep issues!

      Good Luck!


  7. I cannot believe this got posted – I was literally about to send in this same question, but I do have a follow-up. I really agree with your advice and will follow it at home and most places readily, but what about restaurants? I have a very happy baby who screams out of pure joy. He’s only 11 months old, so there’s only so much I can do, but do you have any suggestions for when this occurs in restaurants and I want to keep other people’s feelings in mind? I was at a bagel store yesterday morning and I just kept saying “Daniel, I won’t let you scream in restaurants” and giving him the Look, but of course that’s ridiculous because despite “not letting” them there’s not a darned thing I can do about it. I often find that if I just give him more food he will quit for a while, and then if it gets bad I just leave, but is there anything else I should do?

    1. Hi Laura! How about an outdoor table, or better yet, takeout and a picnic in the park? But when the weather sucks and you’re stuck in a restaurant, your best bet is probably the feed and run you’re doing.

      Keep in mind that even a reponse as seemingly subtle as the Look and “Daniel, I won’t let you scream in restaurants” can make screaming something interesting to do. He’s well aware that you disapprove…and may then be wondering “what are you going to do about it?” 11 months is when these kinds of tests commonly begin… and they are an important and healthy part of development. But our responses do have great impact. Reacting negatively to the scream can make it into a little mini-drama that your boy is compelled to replay. If his scream experiment doesn’t bring about a meaningful result, he can let it go and move on.

  8. thank you for this, janet! (i should have attached a photo of our screaming Miles so you could use the image–and maybe a sound file, too). the idea of him feeling uncomfortably powerful is very compelling–i don’t want that for him, and it makes sense to measure our reactions to make him feel safer. it could be my imagination, but the screaming already seems to have lessened over the last couple of days, so . . . here’s hoping. he *is* doing such an admirable job with the hard work of toddlerhood; i’m very proud of him.

    1. Oh, yes! The photo and sound track would have been a great addition. Miles is a lucky guy to have a mom with such sensitivity and empathy: he *is* doing such an admirable job with the hard work of toddlerhood; i’m very proud of him. Thanks again for your email and questions.

  9. Thanks as always for such an insightful and wonderful post! We went through the same thing when my son was 14 months old, and he started his screeching phase while we were on a large family vacation in Hawaii for Christmas. We were constantly trapped in public places with a screeching toddler, and it was QUITE challenging! His screaming tended to be about exercising his vocal abilities and expressing excitement, which made it challenging to react to, as I didn’t want him to feel like we were quenching his “verbalization” of all of his new experiences. The “this too shall pass” comment is so true, we just kept reminding ourselves that this was a new phase, not a permanent situation, and *tried* to exercise calm impartialness when we could, or removed him from the restaurant/lounge area/coffee shop etc. when needed. By the time he was almost 16 months old, the phase had passed and now, I do somehow look back on it fondly 🙂

  10. When our 2yo started screaming awhile back, I think we caught her by surprise. We said, ‘no screaming in the house… you can yell in the house, you can sing in the house, you can giggle in the house, you can use lots of words in the house… but we don’t scream in the house. Do you want to yell, or sing, or giggle, or use some words?’ It distracted her from whatever had upset her and the moment was past. We still say this when she starts to scream and I’m amazed that it still works! I think perhaps she likes it that there is only one thing that’s a no-no but she gets so many other choices. When she DOES choose something else we tell her that was very smart and a good choice.

    1. avatar Emily Teeguarden says:

      Congratulations Robin! so far I like your families method & response to your child’s screaming the best ~ Bravo!

      The other choices your offered your child are fun & do-able for a Toddler or older child, and it is extremely important to lay the groundwork for what is acceptable in your families dwelling and what is not acceptable!

      When Laura M. above stated that her adorable 11 month old boy screamed out of pure joy anywhere and in cafe’s etc. it can be extremely challenging to other patrons who would like to enjoy & digest their food in peace. That is part of what one pays for when you dine out, the ambiance. When a baby/ child begins to do the Shrill Scream thing and more, one thought comes to my mind : “These parents & their caregivers did not immediately let their child know that this is not acceptable, when the child FIRST started to do it, the FIRST time on the first day! My friend from Guatemala said that when a baby/child does something that you do not want them to continue to repeat again . . . they gently say: No,no, no, no no in a loving singing way and then they speak softly and begin to sing a sweet song to distract the child from the unacceptable behavior and sure enough the child is carried away from the screaming and follows the song like a pied piper scenario. I have seen this work for every negative behavior! The KEY here:
      you have to implement it, the moment the screaming or tantrum or other behavior first begins or the child will then think that this is O.K.!!! my parents have no control over me and I will do whatever I want whenever I want!

      But . . . Isn’t so much harder to undue and re-teach a child to stop a negative unruly, disrespectful behavior that they have down pat, then to immediately, gently and lovingly refuse to accept a behavior from the beginning. Of course lots of praise and fun distractions should follow the song or maybe a nap! i.e.:
      outside play, creative painting, real clay, bread dough, water play, a good book shared . . . etc. truly helps replace the
      focus on repeating these unacceptable behaviors.
      I have been in too many restaurants or other places where parents let their children run around, scream piercingly, as though it’s like a scene from the film of the young wild Helen Keller. Why they would think it would be O.K. to bring their undisciplined children to ruin others dinners or events, seem strange and rude to me. I sincerely think they are so used to their child’s ” abusive unruly behavior ” they don’t know that there is another way ~ that having a truly quiet and pleasurable meal or outing with ones family, friends & children! ~ is the norm for many families world wide. Have we not all watched in awe and joy at a family having a lovely time together and children listening to their parents the first time they were directed concerning some behavior so that their joyful time would stay on track and all could continue their pleasant time together. How is this possible you might ask? I believe they didn’t let it continue and redirected it when it FIRST began.
      Here is wishing you all, the insight to do similar redirection like Robin has found with her child . . . as it works & very well indeed!

  11. avatar Elanne Kresser says:

    Thanks Janet.
    I’ve found that screaming has waxed and waned with my daughter. It will settle down for awhile and then bam, she’s teething, or she’s developed some new awareness and it’s the return of the ear splitting scream. We compare it to the moment in the movie Splash when Darryl Hannah says her name and all the windows break. Our daughter is feisty, passionate, and wants what she wants NOW! The hardest part for me is in public or around other parents who’s children either haven’t been into screaming (and I have to say I don’t think this is a parenting issue, some children are more easy-going in their nature than others) or haven’t reached the screaming stage yet. I fear judgement and sometimes find myself reacting more than I know is beneficial so that I look like I”m doing something about it. Painful to admit, but true. Your reminder that this is not unacceptable behavior for a toddler is super helpful. If there is one thing that has come along that has made me realize I have to do what I think is right no matter what other people think of me, it’s parenting!

  12. Thank you! Thank you! My 3 year old is a screamer. She screams when she gets really upset, angry, overwhelmend, or frustrated. It’s the kind of scream you might be able to hear all the way in California! I keep wondering when she will grow out of it. My biggest issue has been that when we are out in public (even in our back yard), she will scream over and over, and onlookers assume she is mortally wounded! So, we are trying to equip her with an alternative. For now, we just keep telling her, “You can scream into a pillow or into your hands. You can’t scream out loud. People think you’re hurt.” It seems to be a neccesary emotional outlet for her, but oh. my. word! I am ready for her to find another outlet. 🙂 And I say this with all the love and respect for her in the world. Any other advice would be appreciated!! 🙂 Thank you, as always…Emily

  13. Thank you for this! Those are the tactics we used when my now 2 1/2 year old was going through that phase and it worked wonderfully! Hopefully it will again with the next one.
    I do have some off-topic type questions that maybe I should just email (although I have been putting that off for a while now).
    We are going through some challenges with my 2 1/2 year old (almost 3 actually.. wow!) She whines almost EVERYTHING she says. Granted we have a 7 month old in the house now and that is a huge adjustment for her. We have been trying to be respectful to her and just tell her that we can’t understand her when she whines and to please use her other voice. Sometimes that helps. Sometimes not so much.
    Another thing: she purposefully hurts her brother. I know this is totally normal, and I say ‘I won’t let you do that’ while restraining her (although a lot of times she will laugh when i do this, and I am not sure how to handle that)- but I am not always able to be right there and she will just sometimes walk up and kick him in the head. So far the way we handle it is to say ‘We won’t let you hurt your brother and now you cannot play in this room with us please go play somewhere else for a while’. (although this feels too close to ‘TIMEOUT!’ which I don’t like). Also, my hubby does not think we are doing enough to really make her believe that hurting her brother is not ok. She is usually the most docile kid in a group… so this always throws us. Anyway, I have been trying to stay calm and make sure she knows she does not have power over us to make us react, but the whining and the hurting are starting to really get to me! What to do?!
    There are other things I wanted to ask about, but now I feel silly having written this novel, so I will leave it at that! Thank you!!

  14. Oh my goodness I was literally researching screaming toddler late into the night last night. We have a screamer and it’s only gotten worse as he has gotten older. He started shrieking here and there before he turned one and it was easy to ignore and brush off as him learning sounds and testing out his voice. The intensity has ebbed and flowed for months. We thought we were actually coming out of the screaming phase as he is so verbal these days and can repeat much of what we say back to us now at 20 months. The problem is that as he got older we tried to explain that screaming was not ok, we said “that hurts my ears, ” “I cannot let you scream.” etc. hoping he would understand this now because he will say “noooo” in a soft tone when we explain it. I think that really backfired because we were able to say “I cannot let you touch the stove, or hit the dog etc, but he knows he has full control over his mouth. Obviously there is nothing we can do about the screaming and he knows that so he continues. Our responses have varied enough that I now feel doomed no matter what I try. We’ve tried just walking away or putting him somewhere safe and telling him we will be right back, but we cannot around him when he screams because honestly, it is so loud it sounds like there is wind in my ears from the waves of sound. I need a break and cannot remain as calm as I would like when he repeats it over and over with a grin of delight. Now I see that was just egging him on for more. He is just getting to the point where every little thing sets him off and we get a couple of shrieks. Overall he recovers well and has only had major melt downs in end of the day situations or similar to the ones explained in the video, when I return from work and Grandma goes home. I can see that from another angle now. I am going to try to stay and wait and have my husband watch the video too. Thank you so much for this post. I am hoping we can flush out these feelings soon and lighten his load. It’s been so very stressful because our older neighbors (condo living) have commented on our “loud mouth” and it’s hard not to feel that added stress and want to stop it fast when it starts.

  15. Dear Ms. Lansbury:
    As a mother to a two year old, your blog has been a God send to me. I am so thankful to have discovered your blog through the Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond Facebook page.
    My son is a screamer and this is a tremendous help in understanding and guidance on how my husband and I should handle. I feel so much better now.

  16. I honestly feel like this post was written especially for me. I have been in tears again today, because of my struggle with my 2yo screaming.

    At first he was just squealing out of excitement at seeing a bus or a truck, which are some of his favourite things, but it has escalated into loud screeching, and not just from excitement. He has started doing it out of frustration, and then there have been times when I haven’t known why – maybe to get a reaction, maybe just because he likes the noise. I know that a lot of it is due to delayed speech – I can’t wait for him to get more words so there is less need for it.

    Up until now, I have been trying to respond to it calmly and empathise with his frustration or acknowledge his excitement. It’s when there has been no apparent reason and he keeps doing it that I have found it hard to stay calm and have gotten to the point where I have yelled at him to stop because I couldn’t take it anymore. That happened again today while shopping and I broke down in the car, because I can’t go on like this anymore.

    When I got home and put him down for a nap, I logged onto Facebook and found this. I cannot tell you what a godsend this is. It has been so helpful to me.

    I am pretty sure I allowed myself to get caught in a power game with him during dinner last night, when he started screeching again and I decided I would walk away to take a breath each time, in an effort to keep myself calm because it was starting to get to me. I ended up doing that several times and in the end realised I needed to stop.

    The fact that I can’t physically stop him from doing it has been making me feel powerless, because I felt like that’s what I needed to do so I didn’t go crazy from having to listen to it. That is not helping him get through this stage. I need to take control of my response to this and be more understanding of what is going on for him and what he needs from me to get past it. I was trying to take care of myself by avoiding it (a typical anxiety response for me) rather than facing it and not giving it the power to rattle me that I have been.

    Thank you Janet, more than I can say.

    And Jen, I totally understand what you’ve been through and how you feel and it really helped me to read about someone who has had the same struggle as me. I have also struggled to stay and listen to the screeching and have also tried walking away and putting him in another room. Hopefully this new perspective and advice will help turn things around for both of us. Best of luck to you.

  17. So we’ve been doing the stay and wait for a week now and we DO see a difference. Mostly in ourselves in not feeling the stress of feeling that we have to stop it. Trying to make it stop and being unable to was so stressful! Now I am sure it made it go on longer. He still has some bouts that last longer than we would like, but we we are able to stay calm and let him “unload his emotional backpack.” There are times where he really does just need to scream and then he’s all better and bounces back.

    We got home from a trip last night and he was tired, hungry and probably overwhelmed from travel. As soon as we got in the house he started just losing it. Running around screaming, crying, just upset. Did not want to be held, but did not want to be put down or anything else. Brought his shoes back to me and threw them at my feet after I had taken them off. We stayed close and the longer it lasted, we began unpacking and he followed us around stopping here and there when something caught his interest, and then starting up again. We told him we knew he was tired, teething, hungry and sad we had to leave Granny’s farm. As he calmed, I ran him a bath and he watched the water and got excited to get in. He took a bath and had dinner with no issues and passed out cold for the night at 6pm. This morning when he woke up he was cheerful and happy. After he had fallen asleep last night my husband and I talked about how much better we felt after that “fit” which was probably his most intense, longest scream fest to date. He said our son really unloaded his emotional backpack and it was great that we didn’t feel guilty for losing our cool trying to stop it. It felt really successful.

    1. Wow, sounds awesome, Jennifer! Thanks for sharing this success story.

  18. Janet, I’m very grateful for the wisdom in this post, and it makes a lot of sense to me. My question is about the advice to “stay present and just wait” when there are two children to care for. In my situation (with a 12- and 13-month-old) the non-screaming child finds the screaming upsetting, and generally wants to move to another room. Or, at times, there is something (food, diaper change) that the non-screaming child needs.

    Is staying physically next to the screaming child an important part of the equation, or can I stay within his vicinity and let him know that I’ll try to help him once he’s done?

    1. Sundari – I think staying within the vicinity is fine. You sound sensitive and respectful to me.

  19. avatar Nicole Luchsinger says:

    Hi Janet,

    I am another parent of a very loud screaming little girl. When she is happy, upset, want’s something etc. She just turned one today. She has been doing this for a couple weeks and it is really starting to wear on me. I will definitely try some of the methods you suggested.

    I am wondering your opinion on a situation that happened today that has me a little peeved. It was my little ones birthday today and my step sister invited us to go out to lunch. I have been to this restaurant many times and they are very kid friendly even let me change baby’s diaper in owners office once.

    Today it was just us and a table of 3 older ladies. My little one was doing her thing and at one point they were giving us dirty looks. My sister said “excuse me” and they said something about the noise. She then told them “she’s only one”. The ladies continued to give us dirty looks told us they have had one year olds etc. Even when they left they gave dirty looks at us from outside and shook their heads. I kind of wish I would have gone up to them and said “shame on you”….or something. What should I do? Should I not go out? We are going to be on a plane in a couple weeks and I am dreading how it will go. Maybe some of the other parents with screamers have dealt with this as well.

    Thanks for the help!


    1. Hi Nicole – I would probably limit my indoor outings while my child was passing through a screaming phase…and try to be sensitive to the noise level in the presence of others. I can understand your annoyance, but would not appreciate hearing screaming in a restaurant either…

  20. avatar Sherra Kinder says:

    Yes, Janet, this is a beautiful video. She spoke it so clearly, even though I am not familiar with stay listening, I get the wonderful concept. Thank you so much for your wonderful blog. Excellent. Resourceful. Practical! Thank you!

  21. My apologies in advance, but I disagree with your advice when it comes to screaming in public places. Public places are intended for the public to enjoy. That’s why we have banned public smoking. It diminishes enjoyment for non-smokers and has negative health effects. A screaming child causes stress for nearly everyone. Negative stress, in addition to diminishing enjoyment, has negative health effects. Therefore, by not controlling your child’s public tantrum, your are causing harm to those around you.

    The child is not to blame. Infants and toddlers have yet to develop the skills necessary to understand the consequences of their behavior. However, as parents, you do. You are training your child on how to respond to people’s screams and tantrums. Analogously, when someone get’s a gun and shoots-up a theatre, we don’t ignore it until it goes away We look for means to prevent it. When your child is causing harm to others, such as stressful screaming in public, you need to do something about it. Pacifism is not always the appropriate response. I wish it were that easy. But, the place to let your child scream is away from public places.

    1. Medlori, I agree with you. If my child was passing through a screaming stage, I would limit my public outings with her for a while. And if she was having a screaming fit or tantrum, I would take her home or at least outside with me…

    2. Right on! As adults it is our responsibility to teach our children what is acceptable, and what is not. After years of listening to children and babies grow up in my condo courtyard, a frightened and exhausted couple that tiptoe around their shreiking toddler just moved in. It’s pathetic to watch them. Either that child has food allergies, is a crack-baby, or will grow up thinking is normal to be a self-centred, sociopath, or bully. Already other kids act ‘weirded-out’ around her, and will either choose to put a stop to it on their own initiative, or ostracize her. Parents with such low self-esteem will continue to be walked on, will themselves will become ostracized, and are not doing the child any favours. Our children should only feel like the centre of the universe for as long as acceptable. We will love them forever, but parents and neighbours have rights too. Neighbours need to know parents are at least trying to change unacceptable behaviour, or they will give up on the parents too. When their is no physical reason for the shrieking, usually a short, sharp, shock; i.e.: yell-back in their face the same way the very first time, or a glare and disapproving tone of voice right away. At least try making a distraction game of ‘growling low like a bear instead’ or something less disturbing, for voicing a complaint. If parents don’t teach them, someone else eventually will. The younger the better and easier.

  22. There is one thing to make sure and rule out with a screaming kid – and that is that the child’s ears are ok.

    Unbeknownst to his parents (and undetected by the pediatrician), my nephew had lingering ear infections in both ears and often screamed ear-piercingly. the parents followed their pediatricians similar advise as above (which is great in probably 99% of the cases), but it didn’t change a thing for my nephew.
    As we now know, he screamed because it gave him pressure relief from his ear infections. His screaming stopped immediately, once the infection was treated.

    1. Oh, gosh, thanks for sharing your important point, Heidi.

  23. Janet,
    I want to thank you for this site.

    I have three little girls ages 5, 3 1/2 and two. They have become bratty, whiney and out of control. Over the past month or so, I have been experiencing some of my lowest parenting moments, self doubt and feelings that I am damaging my children more than helping them and have even thought of packing up and leaving them with their grandparents.

    I have been reading your posts daily. Your wisdom has already helped me get back to my beliefs about children and childhood, take back some parental control and find joy in my girls once again.

    Thank you!

  24. My son just turned 16 months and he is a very happy baby. Learning words very quickly answering back with yes or no. But anywhere I go with him he screams. I kinda put it aside and do the “shhhh” sound and let him know he needs to talk and not scream. But he is a very happy testy boy. He will do it to get a reaction out of me but I havent been letting it. He still does it. He will scream inbetween eating bites of food. I dont know what else to do and this article did help alot but there are still some things I dont know how to handle. The hitting and biting, hair pulling. I have a full time job now since becoming a single mother and the attachment is getting worse. He never wants me to leave, I always tell him I will be back in a couple hours I have to go to work so I can buy you toys and diapers and give him a kiss and hug. Please help me with advice to make things better!. I hate seeing him get sad when I go to leave!

  25. Hi there,

    I live in a townhouse/ housing community where neighbours are quite close to each other. My neighbours 3 year old girl screams with a high-pitched shrill every time the dad plays with her and her older brother in the small garden. It happens a lot which is great (from a family bonding) perspective but it drives me crazy, I work and study from home and I also want to relax in my home. Is it a phase that will pass soon? I don’t hear the older boy at all, just the high pitched screaming 3 year old girl

  26. In other words in today’s compact urban areas “outside voice” is very disturbing to neighbours, and how do neighbours address this? please help

  27. Please help with some feedback on my other comments soon to keep me sane! Thanks

  28. Hi I came across your post while looking for reason as to why my youngest son acts the way he does. He can be completely fine then all the sudden he starts crying and screaming for no reason I try to ask him ehat is wrong and all he does is get louder and hits me. He is 2 eill be 3 in july. I have a7 year old son and I never had this pproblem with him. I am going crazy and feel like im not doing what I should be doing. And what makes it even harder is that we live in a apartment so its hard to just let him go on because we do not want to upset our neighbors. Please Please please please gelp me before I lose my sanity.

    1. Hi Lacinda! He has found a “power tool”, so the key is to remove the power. Underreact. If you must say something (because of the neighbors) make it very subtle… “Hmmmm… that’s a tiny bit loud, don’t you think?” Lalala. If you can do this consistently for a day or two, the screams will subside. But for now, you son is noticing that this is a way to make himself heard.

  29. As to my other post, he does not act like this while we are out and about. He just had a check up today and he is healthy no ear infection or anything, so I am completely lost as to what is going on with him

  30. his Janet thank you I will definitely give this
    a try for the next few days and I will let you know how it is working. Thank you soo much.

  31. Hi Janet,
    My daughter is 11 months and has already found this power tool. The ways you’ve mentioned above can probably be understood by older children but how do I do this for an infant? I’m totally losing my mind. I sometimes tell her it’s too loud and I can’t understand and sometimes I just yell out her name and ask her to stop, then she starts crying. Of course I feel terrible after but the screaming enters my brain and I just can’t think at that point.
    I mostly respond by asking what is that she wants but she either whines or screams.
    In addition to this I feel if I don’t respond to her need then she might feel I’m ignoring her and do it more or develop some other emotional issues.
    Looking for answers here..

  32. avatar Rachel Perez says:

    My 2 year old screams when upset so this advice has been a breath of fresh air to me. I become so frazzled by his meltdowns in public. I was just talking to my husband about his screaming and how it makes me upset and overwhelmed.

  33. I enjoy your advice, and the positive posts from the parents who are able to stay calm in screaming situations. But it just seems unrealistic at times. I have been searching for a solution on how to handle my “screamer” for nearly 2 years now. My son is almost 2 1/2 and screams at me all the time. I am not a perfect, calm mom, like most of the parents that comment seem to be, and I’ve struggled with PPD and anxiety since he was born. The high pitched screams drive me into full blown anxiety/anger attacks. It’s like a switch is flipped in my brain. And he knows it…. I know he’s just looking for that reaction now. I wish it was as easy for some of us to just ignore the behavior, or wait through it. But it’s not.

    1. I have the same thing going on. So much so that I’ve even stopped trying to reason it out. I yell back and I keep telling long after she’s shut up. That’s how far this screaming has pushed me. I’m actually regretting having a kid.

  34. Hi Janet,
    Love your blog and books. My husband and I have found them invaluable in helping with our strong-willed 17 month old. We feel like we do well remaining unruffled when our son screams around us, but we’re wondering what the best way is to handle him screaming around his “baby BFF”. They spend 40 hours a week together, and our son has taken to screaming when his friend (15 months) takes toys from him. It understandably upsets her, and I always sportscast and ask if she needs a hug or would like to be picked up afterwards. I know my son is going through a normal phase and I don’t see it (or him) as naughty or mean, but where I struggle is with the reaction and judgement of the other parents. They seem to feel like I should be handling it differently and have taken to swooping in to “rescue” their child before I can intervene. Any advice?

  35. Hi Janet – Oh my gosh, I’m in a similar state as Lindsay. My 15mo is kind of happy go lucky guy but when his mood goes bad, it’s realllly bad. His screaming and crying and those tantrums are just increasing exponentially. Thank you so much for advices, times when I start to lose cool, your words ring in my head be calm and don’t react and it does help to bring the situation little calm(for myself)

  36. I really needed this post right now. We are struggling with our 3 yo and meltdowns. I always try to handle them gently then acknowledge the upset afterwards. When I’m acknowledging I usually wait until she calms down and then talk about it with her. This sometimes reminds her of her frustration and starts the meltdown over. Is there a better way to handle this?

  37. Very interesting read. We’ve been at our wits end trying to figure out how to handle our 10mth olds incessant ear-piercing screams. We tend to shove his dummy in his mouth especially when out in public, just to dull the noise. He’s cutting his top 2 teeth right now and it’s taking forever. He isn’t crawling either, so I was wondering if it’s the frustration of not moving. But I’m struggling to figure out what he asking me for, whether it’s dummy or food or attention. It’s nearly impossible to ignore and we’ve said no, quite firmly at times, hoping that would teach him it’s not ok to scream at the top of your lungs. So how do you wait and be present with a 10 mth old?

  38. avatar Freda Williams says:

    I have the problem with a just turned one year old (although the ear piercing screaming has been going on for at least 2-3 months now)I can control my reaction but the other 4-5 children in my care not so much (ages 2-5) It often happens at mealtimes when she wants what they have but it is something that is not age appropriate (raw apple, ketchup–lol) or she has food on her tray and she is pointing to the most constipating food we are eating and wanting more of that instead of the pear or peas she has already) She is really not taking to signing at all despite doing it for months now. Would it be appropriate to remove her from the eating area until the problem can be solved (sometimes I just need enough time for something to cool off or finish for her instead of letting her scream in the chair with the kids reacting to it and inadvertently egging her on?

  39. My daughter and 15mo old granddaughter have moved in with us for a little while, after leaving an emotionally abusive man who has anger problems and constantly screamed at my daughter. The baby screams high pitched, booked curdling screams constantly. In the car, in the house outside, inside ugh.. The pediatrician. Suggested it was caused from the baby’s father constantly screaming. We have ignored her, to!d her firmly no and tried putting her in her crib until she quiets down all to no avail! My husband and I are not used to little ones and the screaming is driving us insane! The little o e has been through so much with her idiot father, I’m Wondering if she should b addressed differently because of the situation? She definitely has separation anxiety from my daughter,as she quite simply has a breakdown (sobbing and screaming) if my daughter is out of her sight! So glad she left him, we want to b supportive.we’ve both taken to earplugs though lol any advise would b wonderful!

    1. As difficult as it might seem, I would respond with more patience and empathy. Your granddaughter is sharing and processing the intense, scary feelings she has absorbed. When she screams, try to imagine she is releasing some toxic things from her body. So, I would not be reactive to the screaming. Focus on trying to calmly accept, maybe even nod your head to let her know that she is safe sharing her stories with you. It also might help you to use some noise cancelling headphones, which will mute the sound. But don’t shut her out. She needs your help and the screams are therapeutic for her if you can be accepting and calm around them.

  40. there is a child in the apartments i live in that screams all day long. it drives me nuts. what if the parents are following advice by you or the like and simply allowing this to go on until he gets over it. or what if this kid is getting hit and screaming because of that. what do you suggest i do? i have no clue where it lives or what is going on. do i ignore it as well and wait till it gets over it because its going on a year now.

  41. Hi, My son is 2 years and 3 months old. he screams when he is happy, excited, upset and I feel his screaming has peaked this past month. What is concerning is when he in a playgroup and does not want his friend to touch his toys or wants his way he immediately starts screaming, loud and shrill. If I whisper in his ears to stop it he would eventually, but it takes a while. I am very concerned about this. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this. Thanks.

  42. avatar Sarah Jo Bushinger says:

    Thank you for this. I need help with my 15 month old’s “separation anxiety” at least thats what we think it is. He doesn’t do it so much with me but with his daycare provider. He has been going to her since 9 weeks old. The last 2 months he has a screaming crying fit if she leaves the room even for a second. He is VERY LOUD and it disrupts the other kids. He is worse about it when the other kids are around. She has 5 grandsons she also takes care of. The other day she was sitting right next to him with her daughter and out of the blue had a screaming fit. She tries to ignore him. Its very frustrating for her. She has also been taking him into a quiet room and putting him the pack n play for a bit until he calms down. She tells him “Ok I’ll come back once you calm down.” He usually calms down and she can hear him talking and playing so she goes in to get him out and hes fine. I’m terrified that I’m going to lose her as his daycare provider if this doesn’t stop. She has a new granddaughter on the way and I’m not sure she can continue watching my son if this behavior doesn’t improve and she has a newborn in her care. Do you have any advice for us? I’m desperate.

  43. avatar Sara Cabin says:

    Thank you for posting about this topic, Janet! Our son started the (extremely) loud screaming stage at around 10 months. He is now 2-1/2 years old and is still screaming. I’ve tried ignoring it, but it’s reeeeeeeeally difficult to do. I taught him how to do a “quiet scream”, which has helped but not to the point of making the loud scream go away. I believe that his screaming is due to wanting attention (he’s a twin, so he has to share the spotlight often) and/or testing boundaries. Would your advice also hold true for a 2-1/2 year old?

  44. avatar Cassandra says:

    Hi Janet

    I have been following for awhile and trying to use your advice when dealing with my twins and I see some improvement, however the screaming issue is a huge one for me and it’s really taking its toll! My twins are 2yr 5months and my son screams all the time, ear splitting shrill and long screams. It is sometimes because he wants something or usual things but quite a lot of the time it is because his twin sister has taken his toy or she has hit him or pushed him. I have no idea what to do with this behaviour.

    On one hand I want him to develop and stand up for himself without me constantly interfering but also sometimes I have to stop what’s happening.

    Aside from this point, they have turned screaming into a game, he will scream and then she will scream and they will repeat this until I can’t stand it anymore and come over and try to stop them but it just eggs them on!

    If I try to distract him from screaming it turns into a tantrum and he throws stuff aswell as screams!

    Any advice would be appreciated, my husband and I are losing our minds over this issue!


  45. Janet,
    I happened to find this site when googling to learn what to do for my granddaughter. I am a bit worried as I’ve never seen a one year old do this. I know she is frustrated and upset. She stomps a foot, puts her arms out like carrying a box, spreads her fingers as wide as she can, opens her eyes wide as can be and just lets out a short but loud and determined scream. Then stops, if near someone or something (usually her younger sister, 14mos apart) she will throw an item or hit someone or something. Sometimes after that she does it all over again.
    I know she has very limited attention from her mother, who has issues of her own, she is 99% cared for by her Nana when with her mom (lives together) and 99.5% cared for by myself and my husband when staying with us. They get shuffled between us and Nana’s every 3 weeks or so. There dad is military and over seas for a year now. She and her dad were besties you might say when together.
    I know this is not the greatest situation for the girls, we are working on remedying that, but will take time. She has now shown her 7mos old sister how to scream higher than a high C. Dad found out the hard way while Skype them with earbuds in.
    She also taught her how to get to the gate we have and scream to get attention. They both receive negative attention most of time from their mom, if any at all.
    How do you work with her to find out what is wrong. It just comes out of no where. Playing happily then bang! She knows very little words, but I’ve been working with her on that. We actually got “grandpa” out of her I was in the other room and thought it was her auntie. In the tub with those tub letters she can say and pick out the letters E and A, in her name. She is wanting to learn, and loves attention gets here. I just am worried this is reaction to something her mom may have done or said and she just remembered and knows it is safe here to let it out.
    You probably know the feeling as do I, so frustrated you just let out a scream to hopefully release the stress.
    How can I help her other than holding, hugging, kissing, ask what happend etc when she hasn’t learned enough words to tell me?


    1. Karil – One common source of stress is the adjustment to having a sibling. It’s sounds like she is an expressive girl and is impulsively releasing her stress about that and other things by screaming. So, I would accept and even welcome this behavior while (obviously) trying as calmly as you can to block her from hitting, etc. Accept the feelings as they come by acknowledging, “Wow, you didn’t like ____ (whatever it is that happened that she’s reacting to). I hear that.” Really hear it and show her that it’s okay with you. I wouldn’t rush to hug or kiss or even hold her, because that will tend to communicate that you are trying to calm her down rather than accept the feelings she’s expressing (and needs to be able to express). I would wait for her to be the one to initiate a hug. Just wait and hold space for her to share these explosions with you. That will help her to feel better.

  46. Hi Janet. I follow your page and just came across this article…hoping you’ll see the comment even though it’s an old article. I began using respectful discipline with my now 12 year old and have been very successful with it (after not as much success with my 21 year old being raised more “old school”). My question is about my youngest little guy, who is 20 months. He has always been relatively loud and shrieks a lot…loudly. He shrieks happily, excitedly, etc., and he shrieks when he’s mad, sad, frustrated, etc. A very very loud shriek. He’s started to shriek at other young kids when we are out. Like he’ll go right up to their face and shriek at them. Sometimes it’s friendly and sometimes I think he wants them to move away, but it’s really off-putting to other kids (and their parents)and I’m not sure how to handle it. We try to talk to him about using his loud voice outside, but then when we’re outside and he runs up and shrieks in someone’s face…well, not so great. Would love some advice.

  47. I’m generally happy to allow screaming as a form of expression, etc., but what about other members of the family? We have a 3 month old baby in addition to our two year old. Her screaming is fairly transparently a reaction to adjusting to life with a new sibling, and we try our best to be understanding and to spend time with her and maintain her routine, and to hear and acknowledge her feelings. She’s extremely verbal, which perhaps makes the screaming extra difficult to understand, as unlike many two year olds, she DOES have the words to tell us what she needs. The issue with the screaming is that it startles and frightens her baby sister, which more often than not results in me trying to calm an upset infant, while infant’s crying provides a rewarding backdrop for even louder toddler screaming. Sometimes it’s all I can do to close my eyes and just try to repeat your word, “Unflappable” in my head over and over again.

  48. My grandson screams. I don’t see why this is acceptable behavior. A gentle “No. No.No.” from me works to quiet him but my daughter feels he is just finding his voice. I refuse to go to stores with them because I feel people have a right to do their shopping without the distraction of a screaming child. Pretty sure he will “find his voice” but in my mind not at the expense of other peoples rights to a quiet shopping experience.

  49. Hi Janet ! Thank you soooo much for all your advice! I would love your perspective on a three year old, highly verbal who decides to scream to stop me reading. I would ignore it but he does it so loud next to me and my small baby who gets so distressed. I said I love him so much and in a really kind way that I would put him outside the bedroom door until hes finished. Not in a punishing way. Can you think of any other way? As I have made a habit of not taking care of my own needs doing things I like to do in the day even for 15 minutes, and I’m trying to transition to taking that time each day for myself and he wants to control what I’m doing. He can play for huge periods alone that’s why I consider it a control issue. All the best!

  50. avatar Stanford McCorkle says:

    Janet, I appreciate your willingness to share your experience, strength, & hope. Lindsay and husband… I can relate to the “scream helmet”. When I am centered, I know I am capable of taking healthy ACTions. I am positive that Milo’s (my son) screaming is not handled in a healthy way at daycare. I’m curious if you have anything to share and would be willing to comment on the effect that the differences in the way screaming is handled at home vs daycare might have on Milo’s perspective on the effectiveness of his screaming.

    -Stanford M.

    ps – my apologies if this comment sent more than once. I am having internet issues and was unsure of the success of it posting the first time. Computers… 🙂

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