( This post is NOT directed at toddler shrieking! Toddler shrieking is a normal phase of development. If you need help with toddler behavior, please see the Baby/Toddler Header at the top of this blog.)
This post is for children aged four and over who scream.
Some parents have developed the following general strategies:
- A place for screaming: Some families feel a screaming voice is an outside voice, and therefore screaming belongs outside on the grass.
- Making sure their children get their energy out in a physical way every day – please do remember that three to four hours outside is probably about right.
- They model respectful behavior for their children.
- They work hard to make sure their children are not tired, hungry, over-stimulated.
- They make sure they are spending time with their child and filling up the child’s tank in that child’s love language.
- They work with their child’s temperament if that child is aged seven or older.
To me, there are several types of screaming during the ages of four plus years:
1. Screaming during a complete melt-down. If you need help in handling temper tantrums, please see this back post: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/12/more-about-time-in-for-tinies/
2. Screaming whilst you are talking to another adult in person or on the phone because the child really wants attention.
Many times, we ask children to please not interrupt us. However, when they do, we answer their request or respond to the request! Sometimes this is necessary in cases of utmost urgency, but if your child is interrupting you with an issue that really can wait until you are done with your conversation, then you can politely request that they wait. Tell that you will be with them in just a moment.
Importantly, one can think about how and when to have adult conversations. I think adult conversation is important for mothers in order to garner support for themselves, and I encourage all mothers to take time to meet with other mothers by themselves. Play dates are often difficult to have adult conversation with four and five and six year olds as they may still need assistance with play dynamics.
With children of all ages, you can make up little stories about animals who interrupt and what happens. This is a nice sideways kind of way to address interrupting.
Children that are older than 4 or 5 often love to be in the vicinity of adult conversations/phone conversations so they can listen in and hear what their parents are saying. Many parents will schedule returning phone calls at night after their child goes to bed.
3. Screaming/whining which is really complaining. In this case, we model using our calm voice and we do not grant requests until a normal voice can be used. Do not respond to a whining, screaming voice! Explain to your child that you can help them when they use their normal voice. If they continue to whine and scream, you may need to calmly repeat this phrase more than once (and yes, this is the hard part).
Sometimes children are not aware that their voice even sounds screamy or whiny, so you can model in your calm voice how you would like to be spoken to. And please do consider instead of “Stop screaming!” to tell your child what you DO want in a nice, calm voice. “Please use a quiet voice in the house. Quiet as a mouse.”
I would love to hear your particular challenges around screaming or whining children; let’s talk about this as a circle of supportive mothers!