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How to reduce shrieking/screaming/screeching with babies and toddlers

By Jessica Martin-Weber

Originally published on our Patreon. With the support of our patrons we’re able to continue providing information to our online community. Become a patron today to gain immediate access to additional information while supporting The Leaky Boob.

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Have a screaming banshee of a child? Do they squeal when they’re happy? Feel like your eardrums are going to burst when they’re mad? Does your blood pressure shoot up when they’re excited and playing because of their shrieking? Are you totally overwhelmed with their screeching when they’re frustrated?

 

What would it be like if adults acted like screaming babies or toddlers?

This video might give you an idea on what it would be like (be prepared to laugh).

 

A parenting coaching client asked us for help with her shrieking, screaming, screeching toddler and as ours had just gone through the same stage, we had a pretty good idea of what she was going through. We gave our client what worked for our little one and some additional information and suggested action steps based on her values, parenting goals, and unique circumstances. We were thrilled when took weeks later she said the screaming had almost completely stopped and her toddler was doing much better.

Interested in a free one-on-one relationship or parenting coaching consult with the founding family of The Leaky Boob, relationship coaches, Jessica and Jeremy Martin-Weber? We’d love to, let us know here.

First of all it is important to remember that adults *usually* don’t act like this so rest assured your child is probably going to grow out of this stage at some point. Probably.

If you experience sensory overload when your child is loud and screechy, you’re not alone. And you’re not a bad parent to just wish it would stop or to want to run away. This is a very common stage of development but that doesn’t mean it is an easy one. Knowing it is normal can help when it is overwhelming and torturous. It isn’t that you don’t love your child or accept them where they are, it is that you would like to not be on edge with every big emotion they experience.

Shrieking/screeching/screaming babies/toddlers/preschoolers is really common and no, you haven’t done something wrong if your child is this way.

But there are some steps you can take to help reduce the overwhelming squawking right away.

*Note: sometimes shrieking/screaming/screeching is a part of neurodivergent expression. That’s ok, just a piece of information about your child. Together with other signs, loud high pitched vocalizations may be an indicator that further evaluation is necessary to understand and support your child’s neurotype.

 

 

Shrieking older baby/toddler tips

In the moment:

  1. Make sure nothing is really wrong (safety, check their body for possible cause of pain, diaper, hunger, overtired, etc.)
  2. Remember behavior is communication- they aren’t doing this to annoy you, they are learning how to express themselves
  3. Responding calmly and quickly helps develop a sense of security and reduces the need for escalating for a reaction
  4. Affirm that you hear them
  5. Match their energy to help them feel understood (don’t be too calm)
  6. Use words (speech and sign) that express that energy (“wow, that was really loud, you sound angry!” “I hear you, it is frustrating to drop your toy, do you need my help?” “What a shriek! You’re so excited!” “YAY! You did it!”
  7. Try different sensory input when you respond (hold their hand, gentle pressure on their arms, a soft rhythmic hum, etc.)
  8. After responding and listening, guide a gentle transition to a different activity or setting. Do not rush this or it is not respecting their process, the idea is to help them work through the moment by co-regulating with you and then shift the energy into something else. We are not redirecting or distracting.

In general (outside of the moment):

  1. Play with them using a range of sounds to model the range of tones and volumes model a range of vocal sounds, high, low, soft, loud, growling, singing, whispering, shouting, etc
  2. Introduce simple sign language and use it regularly with speaking and when  responding to screaming. Helpful signs: help, stop, more, hungry, thirsty, water, milk, eat, change, all done, please, up, down, yay (applause), hurt, etc.
  3. Assess their environment and note any patterns such as possible sensory overload, overtired, hunger, loneliness, etc.

To manage your own sensory overload:

  1. Take a deep breath before responding.
  2. Respond sooner rather than later to reduce the chance of the shrieking escalating.
  3. If possible, reduce other sensory input or stressors (i.e. turn off background noise, get more rest, remove visual noise (clutter), stay on top of your own physical needs, try noise reduction earplugs, etc.)
  4. Take breaks.
  5. Change the scenery for you and your child (go on walks, put them in the bath, try a new sensory play experience, etc.)
  6. Remind yourself that behavior is communication so you respond rather than react.

 

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For over 10 years, The Leaky Boob has been providing information on The Leaky Boob website and Facebook page helping countless families. If you find yourself compelled to give back, consider becoming a patron on our Patreon where you gain first glance of newly dropped articles amongst other firsthand perks for as little as $1. 

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Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of wereallhumanhere.com, freelance writer, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. Jessica lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest and co-parents her 8 daughters with her husband of 23 years.

 

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