What to do When Your Child Yells and Screams

I have seen several questions lately on what to do about a child screaming or yelling. We are talking yelling/screaming in appropriately. Maybe this is in a house, the car, church, etc.

I typically don’t write about things until I have had adequate time to reflect back on things–in other words, I try to wait until I can speak with the wisdom that reflection brings. 

Neither Brayden nor Kaitlyn were big yellers. When it first crept up, I said, “That’s a no” and it never became a persistent issue.

Enter McKenna into my life.

If you have read this blog much, you know that she is nothing short of tenacious. She also has that youngest child personality quirk where she loves to get under the skin of people–especially her siblings. Screaming gets a fast and interesting reaction, so she loves it.

She hasn’t been consistently bad. We had our screaming moments, worked on it, they went away. They came back up, worked on it, went away. That cycle has repeated itself  a few times in her short life.

Here are some ideas for stopping screaming. I wish I could give you a five-step process for ending screaming for good, but I am still working on that myself :). So here are some tips that have worked for one or more of my kids. If you have further ideas, I am all ears!

  • That’s a No: The most simple thing I have done is the mommy face followed by “That’s a no.” 
  • Finger to Child’s Lips: Sometimes the connection is not terribly clear that screaming is not okay. So I put a finger gently to the lips and repeat quietly, “That’s a no”
  • Offer Alternative (Substitution): A lot of times, the child is screaming because she has just figured out it is possible. This is usually true of the babies under 12 months. That is why remaining calm is a good idea and firmly telling the child not to scream. But you also want to offer the opportunity to do the screaming. Take the child outside or somewhere she can scream and let her have at it. The idea is that the novelty will eventually wear off and she will move on. Screaming is not inherently wrong, so it is good to provide an alternative.
  • Time-Out: Sometimes, removing the child to a time-out might be necessary to stop the screaming. I would say this is not going to be needed for a child under 12 months old. 
  • Change of Scene/Distract: Your child might be bored and need a change of scenery. Sometimes taking her to a different room can do the trick. Sometimes distraction is what you need. McKenna’s favorite place to scream is in the car once she gets bored. This is my hardest place to do anything about the screaming. The best thing to do is distract by giving her a book, listening to a book on tape or music, etc.
  • Teach Sign Language: Many times, screaming is an effort for the child to get your attention for something. Teaching the child how to sign what she wants will help eliminate the screaming in this case. 
  • Ignoring: If the screaming is the result of simply wanting attention, sometimes ignoring will get the child to stop, but only if the child knows the screaming is not okay in the first place. 
  • Teaching to Talk Appropriately: McKenna has recently started up her yelling again, and this is what is working for her. I have been working to teach her appropriate voices. Whispers, softly, inside voice, outside voice, etc. She is learning them all.

Once again, please share your tips for curbing the yelling and screaming!

Update: See my post on the Screaming Non-Verbal Baby/Toddler for more help on what to do with a screamer and fit-thrower.

The Screaming Non-Verbal Baby/Toddler