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If you’ve ever had a toddler, you are likely the lucky recipient of their “cry” phase. Notice that I didn’t say the tantrum phase. No, there is a kind of toddler screeching that has little or sometimes nothing to do with a complete meltdown because they can’t take home the Paw Patrol water bottle they’ve been lugging around at Target for 45 minutes. Here we are talking about your standard problems, often unprovoked, high-profile communication that they sometimes prefer between 2 and 4 years of age, that can stop as suddenly as it starts, but is nonetheless terrible for its duration.
Why do toddlers cry so much?
While it is sometimes obvious why toddlers scream – they wanted to put their backpacks on themselves, and you helped, you monster – sometimes it is difficult to determine a reason, whether logical or not. They may want attention, feel like they have to yell to be heard (hello third child), are frustrated or overly excited, or have simply learned that this is a reliable way to get a reaction from their otherwise employed parents.
It is important to remember that it is normal for old age and should not be fought with your own yelling. (This will only scare them, demonstrate that the loudest person wins, give them a bad example of how to deal with the urge, and generate more of it. We speak from experience.) So what can you do instead?
Let them be loud – at certain times
Toddlers are exuberant creatures and sometimes they just have to let it out. In the offspring, Lifehacker’s Facebook parent group, one parent suggested that they “practice simple songs at home and sing them around and around at different volumes”. If you give them a safe way to practice their voice without affecting them, it will help them understand better how to control their volume if necessary.
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Act play to be calm
Which toddler doesn’t love a game? First, practice together with your loud voice. (You can even run a “Let’s see who can scream the loudest” contest if you feel like it.) Then flip it over and see who can whisper best. Through repetition and constant whispering, they will understand exactly what you mean when you ask them to whisper in a library. (If they refuse because they enjoy mischievously declining requests or just for fun being loud in a quiet place, ask if they can sound like a kitten, snake, fish, or other calm animal. )
Encourage shouting outside
Go a step further with the classic “indoor voice” by bringing your toddler outside when he or she screams. Not some kind of angry break; in an “Oh, you want to use your outside voice? Let’s go outside so you can scream. If you make a commitment, the sudden change of location can surprise your child so much that they no longer have to scream. Stay optimistic, not punishment-oriented, so they can positively learn that yowling is not for the inside.
What if they want to howl while you dine al fresco? Make sure you have a separate conversation before eating outdoors so that they understand that this is different outside with so many people around.
Let it out of them
Sometimes the screams are due to excess pent-up energy. If you notice them screaming a little, take them on a quick energy release tour or do a lightning lap with jumping jacks or Simon Says in your kitchen.
Keep your own voice low
Another approach is to calm yourself down so that they will make an effort to match your voice. The louder they get, the quieter your voice gets. As a general rule, you shouldn’t yell around the house to get their attention. Go where they are whenever you can so that they don’t naturally get used to the volume in the house. (Easier said than done, we know.)
Acknowledge their feelings
Whatever emotion drives the screaming – whether it’s happiness, anger, or something in between – getting on an equal footing and confirming what they’re going through can work wonders. We all want to be seen and heard, and a simple “I know you want to go home” or “I know you want another cup of paint” can ease the urge to be angry.
Don’t give in (except sometimes)
The usual advice is not to give in to any requests or demands while we are shouting, lest we teach our children the fastest way to get what they want. And that’s 100% valid. But if the screeching is too frequent or too thoughtful, give your child another chance to communicate. If they can repeat it in a “nice voice” (inner voice or normal voice, whatever will work for you) or just less high-pitched, it may be worth giving the thing to them.
Because while the primary goal is to stop the screaming – and we are told it will stop – the secondary goal is to maintain the sanity of the parents while we wait for that blessed day.