Toddlers Screaming & Yelling

Related pages: Tantrums ... Toddler Behavior

Archived Q&A and Reviews


11-month-old loves screaming & yelling

August 2001

Our happy 11 month old son seems to take great pleasure in yelling at the top of his lungs. At first we thought this was cute, but now he does it for hours on end and it is getting old, especially since he delights in being very loud in public places like the grocery store, doctors office, restaurants, etc. He has also become very demanding at mealtimes, yelling at us if we are not fast enough with the spoon or the bottle. We try whispering to him, and talking quietly, but he thinks this is a game and often yells even louder. Can anyone recommend ways to encourage him to use a quieter voice?

To the parent whose toddler enjoys yelling, I can only offer encouragement from having been there with my child, a screamer from about age 6 mo. to 14 mo. The yelling stopped once my child learned how to talk more and could communicate with us better. I always felt her yelling was her way of letting me know what she wanted and I would respond calmly (most of the time) with giving her what she needed (food, water, something out of her reach, etc.), and just hoped it would eventually get better. I was the mom who was the recipient of startled looks and comments, close-neighbor complaints, and sometimes embarrasement. But, the good news is that my toddler is a talker now...not a screamer. Good luck, and try not to pay too much attention to what strangers say. Your child is just enjoying the loud sound coming from him/her (as my pediatrician said).

16-month-old screaming, throwing things, pulling my hair

August 2001

Some of you may laugh, but as a first-time parent of a 16-month old boy, I'm wondering if my son's behavior is normal. Starting as of about a month ago, my son has been acting really bratty - if he doesn't get what he wants, he screams at the top of his lungs, throws things and intentionally hits me and pulls my hair. He also scratches and slaps me frequently in a playful manner. I've tried to hold his hands and explain to him in a firm voice that it is not nice to hit, scratch, etc. and that it hurts me when he does so. So far, this technique has had no effect on him, he simply continues the behavior as soon as I release his hands. Any ideas?? I don't think a timeout would work - he won't sit still and I'm sure he would just scream if I put him in his crib. On another note, he now won't sleep in his crib at all. In the past, he wouldn't fall asleep on his own, but after falling asleep with my husband or me in our bed, we could move him to his crib for the night. Now, he either wakes up and screams when we try to move him or he wakes up and screams in the middle of the night until we take him to our bed. Help!!

Your 16 mo. old sounds extremely, totally normal. For me, this was the absolute most difficult phase (so far). Timeouts do, in fact, work, even though he will try to convince you they don't because he doesn't like them. I tried to avoid using the crib as a timeout prison because I didn't want him to associate the crib with anything other than peaceful sleep, but sometimes it was the only way. Another option is telling him Mommy doesn't want to play with you when you hit and YOU take a timeout (I shut myself in the bathroom). That will really piss him off, but it works. You do, unfortunately, have to do something he doesn't like in order to make any impact. (I didn't like holding his hands because I didn't like using any kind of force at all.) Not being able to transfer him from sleeping in your arms or bed or car to the crib the way you used to was also something new at this age. Personally, I'm an advocate of letting him yell until he falls asleep but mine never really pushed me to the limit on this one. (I could stand outside his door and say Lie down, go to sleep repeatedly until he would fall asleep -- I know other toddlers are MUCH more persistent than mine in this area.) Try to keep in mind two things: at 16 months, he understands a LOT more than you think (he's not verbalizing yet but he is comprehending a LOT), and that in about four months it will get a LOT easier. Fran R

The bad news is the terrible twos actually starts around 18 months. What I found helped during that rough/hitting phase, was to take my child's hand and say, Pet Mommy Gently or the doggy, or whatever. I would either touch her leg gently, or use her hand to touch my arm gently. It takes a lot of practice. When she was gentle, I used lots of praise. At that age, they are just learning the effects their behavior has on others; I don't think the brattiness is intentional the way it is with a four-year-old. The sleeping is another matter, I gave in and did the family bed because we got more sleep that way. At four we moved her back to her room, and now at 5, she'll go to sleep on her own after two stories, and sometimes a song, or after a while to look at books in her bed. There have been some setbacks, but it's worked out.

I would like to give my sympathies as I know how horrible it can be.... As to what to do, I think the only way is to be VERY clear about what is acceptable and unacceptable to you. My husband and I tend to be on the strict side of discipline but very warm at all other times and it seems to work pretty well. We will not tolerate ANY hitting or other acting up behavior. The child is simply sent away from the communal space (even it that means picking him up physically and placing him in his room). It is the only punishment we ever use and we never refer to it as such, but rather as a cooling off place. We very quickly return to give the child ladders to rejoin the family. Good luck! Noa

I suspect, from my limited experience of one little girl, that your son is quite normal. Perhaps at this point children are wanting to exert control over any accessible part of the world. In any case, it seems to me that my daughter, now 21 months, so far lacks a fully developed sense that other people have feelings too (particularly me!), although she is fully aware that if you push buttons, things happen. Usually telling her *not* to hit/scratch/pinch/pull my hair generated an effect quite opposite the desired one, accompanied by considerable glee on her part. My preferred approach is to remind her that patting and kissing are nice, and those various behaviours are not nice. Usually she immediately switches to a pat or a kiss (the trouble with hugging as a preferred behaviour would be the unsupervised access to the hair on the back of my head, if the lesson goes awry). Good luck. Lyndsay

I am the first time mother of a 14 month old. He too has exhibited many of the behaviors you wrote about. I've asked several people about this & everyone seems to be saying the same thing. Essentially, I've been told that he's a spirited child w/ very strong sense of what he wants & that his lack of language to express himself coupled w/ his limited motor skills (i.e. he is just not developmentally able to, for example, scoop food up w/ a spoon & get it into his mouth) makes him very frustrated. This frustration usually manifests itself as screaming (bloody murder!) or hitting/pinching me. The advice that I was given by several people that I have spoken to about this have suggested prompting him with the language for what I think he is trying to express (we also show him the sign as well). This seems to be helping to cut down on some of the temper tantrums. I have also been trying to find ways to modify activities that he really wants to do, but just can't realistically or safely engage in. This too seems to be helping. When he gets upset about things, I've been trying to teach him the language for his emotions (i.e. I know it makes you mad when Mommy has to say 'No'or I know it makes you sad that we have to leave) Finally, as suggested, I am not allowing the hitting or pinching. When he does, I say, No hitting (or pinching)! & remind him that we keep our hands to our selves when we are mad as I am putting him down. I have put him in time out (in his crib or in the baby-proof family room w/ the gate up) for a few minutes & he does cry. The time out really seems to be more for me that for him. When I come back, I pick him up & explain that we say sorry when we hurt someone (& help him sign sorry), then I hug him & tell him that I love him.

Now, you may ask, is all of this working... sort of. The tantrums are fewer, he is using more language (verbal & sign) to communicate & he is hitting/pinching less. I also realize that some of this is way over his head, but it won't be for long. It is conditioning my husband & I to be consistant, patient & understanding w/ him when he is at his worst. Lastly, I can really empathize w/ how stressful this behavior can be & it can be even more difficult if it seems like your kid is the only one acting like a tyrant. Good luck. Romy

First and foremost, yes, your son is completely normal. I used to post a lot to the advice line about my son (now 3) who, around 15 months (there must be something about that age!) started pulling hair, and graduated from that to biting, regularly, and without warning or provocation. He seemed so wild and out of control, and NOTHING I read in a book or got advice about from teachers and friends and doctors worked--not time outs or holding him down or stern talk, etc. While it's clear to me now that these are phases they outgrow, I will say that the advice I got that made the most sense to me came a bit late--he was already phasing out of his most violent stage when someone suggested that in my son's case, the attempt to get him to stop the behaviour was pointless--what I needed to do was redirect it. So toward the end, I got him a biting toy, and said, If you need to bite, you can bite this--it's not okay to bite people. This really seemed to work, and I wish I had used it during the hair pulling phase--I think with kids like this you have to work with the behaviour rather than try to prevent it. Now, at three, my son still occasionally has the urge to bite when he's very upset or having a tantrum (he remains intense, and very physical in his responses, though with so much more self-control and awareness of acceptable vs unacceptable behaviour). Most of the time he stops himself before actually biting, sometimes will lightly bite himself to prevent himself from biting others, or is capable of saying, I want to bite something, and then I get him something he can chow on. He's not exactly easy-going, but I never thought he would develop this much self-awareness! So I advise considering a punching toy, a biting toy, a hair pulling toy, and distingushing for your son what it's okay to hit, bite and pull and what it's not okay to, rather than trying to get him to stop altogether. Good luck!

I won't laugh because I have been dealing with the same situation and I know it's not funny! My son is bigger than his friends and has been walking and very active since 10-1/2 months. Soon after he started walking, he started hitting/slapping/pushing. Since he's bigger than his friends, he can hurt them. He usually doesn't hurt them, but scares them and sometimes he hurts me. He is so strong. I have tried every single thing and nothings seems to be making a dent (quietly explaining that hitting hurts; using a deep strong voice to frighten him; taking him out of the room; walking away from him/ignoring him; making him stand in the corner for a time out (I was surprised that he actually did it - I thought he would just walk away too); and finally, slapping his hand (something I said I would never do). I'm sorry to say that none of it has worked. I've talked to our pediatrician about it (as well as reading about it and asking around) and it seems that there is really nothing that will make it stop at this point. According to my pediatrician, children this age just have no self-control. Even if they know they are not supposed to do something, they simply can't stop themselves (my son will sometimes yell, no, no! when he's doing something wrong, but he'll continue the behavior. I'm sorry this isn't much help. The only thing this information did to help me was to understand that it is normal and that it's something I have no control over so I stop feeling badly about it when it happens (I felt that I wasn't being a good parent because I couldn't teach him not to do this). It is still so frustrating, but not quite as demoralizing. I still stop him from doing it and try the above mentioned disciplinary tactics, of course, but I don't feel as concerned with changing his behavior.

Time for my annual ;-) plug for Rudolph Dreikurs's Children: the Challenge. Although Dreikurs doesn't approve of corporal punishment, he does have an example you might wish trying: when your child slaps you, you say (cheerfully) Oh, you want to play a slapping game, and slap back (he says, hard). Continue trading slaps until your child stops. He says if the child forgets this experience and tries it again, they'll stop much sooner the next time. The principle he is acting upon is that parents shouldn't act as though children have all the rights, which they are doing if they let the child get away with the activity. He says the important thing is the manner in which the game is carried out. I know this is just one issue you addressed, but Dreikurs has solutions for all of them. The one I mentioned above is just the first one that popped into my mind. Fran

Whatever the benefits of Dreikurs's book may be, this is not one. How in the world can you expect a child to understand that it's not okay for her to hit you when YOU hit HER? It's illogical and ineffective in the long run. Moreover, it is just plain scary for a child to be hit by her bigger, stronger, more powerful parent -- the person who is supposed to be safe and protective. You may stop the hitting in the moment, but the emotional repercussions are just not worth it. Instead, try to understand the causes for her behavior, then model the way you want her to act and help her learn self-control.

Children hit their parents for two primary reasons: testing and attention-getting. Testing is in the nature of figuring out what is and is not acceptable. Children know very well that if they behave in ways that their parents like they get approval in return. But they're dying of curiosity about just what will happen if they behave in ways their parents don't like: will they really stop loving me? They don't want their parents to stop loving them, of course, and they need to be reassured that, even when they are beastly, that won't really happen. And they need this reassurance again and again. Telling them a few times doesn't work; even if you think they should know by now, chances are they still crave proof. This is not so strange when you think about it: after all, as any therapist will tell you, most adults still want the same kind of proof of their parents' love and approval...

Children also want nothing more than to have their parents' undivided attention all the time. Hitting and doing other unacceptable things can be one way to get it -- that's why you always hear the advice to ignore misbehaviors if you possibly can, since they will be likely to go away if they are not reinforced.

If you really want to teach your child not to hit, there are a number of positive ways to do so, all of which have been suggested on this site. But you have to understand that your child's behavior is developmentally appropriate -- even if you don't like it much -- and that it will take time for you both to learn how to manage it. Change isn't going to happen quickly, and physical punishment is not going to help your cause.

Good luck. I'm dealing with the same issues with my own 2 1/2 year old, and it isn't always fun -- but at least I know it's not going to be forever! Lauren

We have friends who did the Rudolph Dreikurs' slap your child back method. The child is now 4 years old and the slapping and hitting has escalated. We used time outs and both of our children learned other ways to deal with frustration, etc. This may have more to do with the temperament of the individual children but I'd be wary of trying to teach your child to stop hitting by hitting him. Julie 

Toddler screaming in restaurants

October 2002

I am having a difficult time coping with my 19-month old screaming at the top of his lungs while in a restaurant. I can understand that he is vocalizing and cannot usually control his volume. However, instead of babbling, he screams. I don't usually mind his screaming and I try to give words to his feelings. But it seems everytime we are in a restaurant he screams bloody murder. In the quiet cafe where I like to have breakfast, other customers are leaving because my child is so loud and obnoxious. Telling him ''no screaming,'' covering his mouth with my hand, and blowing air in his face are no longer working. Am I doomed to eat at home for the next couple of years? Any suggestions besides eating in noisy places? I have checked the website regarding screaming toddlers and none of the advice there helped. Thanks. Leslie

My child is pretty mild in terms of this kind of behaviour, but we have always looked at it as undesirable social behavior/manners that we would want to discourage. Therefore, we handle it like throwing food, purposely spilling juice, etc. We don't think that ''vocalizing'' and other euphemisms are fair for the other people who have to put up with the noise from screaming. Basicly, be consistent (with whatever method you use) as you are with other undesirable behaviors. Anonymous

Having had both a child who behaved like a dream in restaurants at all ages and two who were loud and tried to run around whenever they could, I came to realize that my two roudy kids were trying to tell me that they were not ready to frequent a restaurant. Either it was too much to ask of them (they weren't ready to behave in a mannerly way) or they got hyped up from the noise and commotion that happens in even the most relaxed restuarants. Your child is probably not ready for restaurants and it is not fair to the other diners to subject them to his noisy behavior. It always seems to work best not to ask more of your child than he or she can manage. Try cutting your restaurant visits for now (take-out is a good option) and then begin again in a couple of months. It does improve, but it is up to you to make it easier for your child (not to mention other diners!). harried mom

Simple answer: don't go to restaurants. This is just a stage, and you will be able to return to restaurants again within the year, but there's no excuse for ruining other people's dining experience in the short term. Get your order to go and take it home or to the park. And when you decide to try restaurants again, be strict: the first scream gets a warning, the second one means you leave, whether or not either of you have eaten. 18 months isn't too early to learn to be considerate of others or to understand the concept of consequences. A mom whose child behaves in restaurants

My now 21-month-old went through a big screaming phase for three weeks at about 19 months. The bad news is that nothing really worked and we stopped going to restaurants for a while -- though these were our best attempts at dealing with it: 1) Telling him: ''Ouch, that really hurts mommy's ears.'' -- complete with exagerrated crying. 2) Explaining: ''Ugh, that really upsets the other people in the restaurant, see how sad they look!'' 3) We distracted him with books, cars, coloring, ice, etc... 4) We tried to be sure he was the right amount of hungry (not starving, but ready to eat), not tired, comfortable, etc... 5) Books and other parents recommended explaining that screaming is an ''outside voice'' and taking them outside to scream. This didn't work for us because we did not want to go to a restaurant only to hang-out outside.

The good news is that the screaming phase has passed. (Though restaurants remain off our destination list as the child does not sit still...) Bon Appetit and Good Luck! CKC

Sorry to say, but you probably will need to stay home a bit more often for some period of time. It just isn't fair to other patrons to expect them to put up with screaming while they are trying to enjoy their time out.

Personally, I find it much more relaxing to eat take-out while my 2 small children play happily at home than to deal with shushing & disciplining in most restaurants. We've even given in to my husband's iron-clad rule of never doing take-out sushi.

The good news is, it's not forever. It may be a shorter or longer phase (depending on your child) but there will be light at the end of the tunnel! We venture out occasionally with great success...but it wasn't always so. Jill

I remember how sad I was when my 15 month old began behaving in a loud and disruptive way in restaurants. I stopped going out with him, because I didn't feel it was fair to the other diners -- just one loud scream from him, and we'd leave. However, it didn't last long, and as soon as he got a few words under his belt we were back to our breakfasts & lunches out. This too will pass! (In the meantime, I hope you'll take pity on the other patrons....) anon

Hi, my toddler doesn't scream in restaurants, but wants to be more active than most restaurants can accomodate, so I think I understand where you're coming from. The issue isn't so much changing your toddler's behavior to fit the restaurant, but choosing restaurants that can handle your toddler's behavior. I'm not anti-discipline - I agree you should set boundaries for your child. But there is only so much you can expect from a 17 month old short of gagging and hog-tying them. I had to laugh at your description of your favorite restaurant as a ''quiet cafe.'' Quiet and toddlers don't mix! For the sake of the other patrons, and for your own mental health, that place should probably be off your list for now, at least when your toddler is with you. It sounds like it's not fun for either of you anyway. There are more kid-friendly places, but they would never be described as quite cafes! For toddlers, the noisier the better..... Perhaps you could visit your favorite quiet place on occasions when you have the luxury of a babysitter. And someday you can return with your then-preschooler, who will be old enough to understand what behavior is appropriate in quiet restaurants.
mom of wild toddler

Um, don't eat in quiet restaurants with your toddler. I know some people with very obedient, quiet, docile little children who keep going to restaurants throughout their toddler years, but that doesn't describe most kids. It certainly didn't describe ours. Our daughter ate at Chez Panisse and Rivoli and Olivetto during her first year, but from then on, we went to places like Kensington Circus or Barney's, and did a lot of take-out. If it's not screaming, it's running around, banging the silverware, throwing food, etc. There's a reason why you don't often see little kids in nice restaurants. Maybe there's some magic bullet I don't know about (or you could slip some valium into the sippy cup), but it might just be time to readjust your lifestyle a little.
Judith, once again

I don't think you are doomed to eat at home for the next two years, but you may be doomed to avoid quiet cafes/restaurants for the next few months or more. Toddlers scream because they can. Because it's fun. And it's very very very hard to reason with a 19-month old about proper manners in public. When my kids were little we either ate at noisy places or got our food to go and ate at a park or playground. Maybe other parents will have some clever ideas for you, but I think you may drive yourself, your kid & other customers crazy if you try to make a 19-month-old do something as unnatural (for them) as be quiet.

I agree with the others who've said it's just not appropriate to take a toddler to certain types of restaurants. But, restaurant or no restaurant, there is one thing you can do that usually works magic on a screaming (but not crying) toddler: whisper. Usually they'll copy you. It's a game to see how loud they can yell -- and you can make it a game to see how quietly they can 'yell'.

Ever see a parent scream at a child, ''stop screaming!''? If you think about it, it's no wonder that doesn't work! A stage whispered, ''I bet you can't hear me!'' is usually more effective. Holly