Dealing with a screeching, red-faced toddler is probably not the dream parenting moment you envisioned during that first thrilling ultrasound. Just about every toddler will let out an ear-piercing scream at some point, though a few ambitious tots will let out high-pitched screams seemingly whenever the wind changes direction. Resisting the urge to scream back is tough, but your patience is more likely to end the racket and regain peace and quiet.
Why She's Screaming
Toddlers are constantly pushing the limits and seeing what they can get away with. At the same time, your toddler is starting to notice just how powerless she is in most settings. When the tall people say "no," she doesn't have much choice but to listen. Screaming is her way of making herself heard and, in some cases, expressing her frustration. She's probably noticed that the higher and more obnoxious the scream, the more attention it gets her. She might also just use her screams to express happiness or boredom. The good news? According to Askdrsears.com, screaming is most common in a toddler between 18 months and 2 years old, so she should be mostly past the behavior before long.
Making It Stop
Turning on your heels and running out of the house won't make your toddler stop screaming, and neither will bursting into tears (although they might make you feel a little better). Keeping your cool will better serve you in this situation. Teach her that a quieter voice will get your attention instead of screams. Say "I can't understand screams, but I'll talk to you when you're using a voice like mine." If she's screaming because she's frustrated, try distracting her with another toy or give her a quick snuggle. Distraction can also quiet a toddler who's screaming for no particular reason. If she's screaming in a public place, take her outdoors or into the car until she's done.
Preventing Future Screams
If a fail-proof way existed to prevent toddlers from screaming, you would have heard about it. The magic bullet doesn't exist, but you know your own child's cues well enough to keep tantrums to a minimum. Keep activities low-key when you know she's tired or cranky, such as before bedtime or on days when she's skipped a nap. If possible, keep her at home and cozy up with books and quiet toys rather than taking her to run errands or to play dates. During calm times, demonstrate the differences between a quiet voice and a loud voice, and the differences between a loud voice and screaming. Encourage your toddler to use her quiet voice indoors and reserve her loud voice for outdoor activities like running around at a park. Praise her for using the appropriate volume at the appropriate time.
In most cases, your toddler's ear-piercing screams are a completely normal, albeit obnoxious, part of development and are no major cause for concern. However, if her tantrums escalate to the point that she's flailing around or holding her breath, she's entering a danger zone. Establish a "time with" spot -- a gentler alternative to "time out" -- like a quiet corner of your home where you can sit and hold your toddler until she calms down. If over the course of many months your toddler's screams seem to be getting worse instead of better, consider visiting your pediatrician. Screaming can be one of the first warning signs of autism or a behavioral disorder.