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Q&A: 15 1/2 Month Old Screamer

Fiona Marshall, Child Development Specialist


Q Help! My 15 1/2 month old son has suddenly turned into a "screamer." We are at our wits end trying to figure out the best way to handle this behavior, which started out of the blue a few weeks ago. He is a very verbal child with a vocabulary of 30+ words, but we're wondering if he's possibly frustrated, and trying to communicate through screaming. We've tried every approach we can think of - diverting his attention elsewhere, telling him "no," ignoring the behavior, giving in - but nothing seems to work. His day care teacher is even having a difficult time with this behavior, because he is getting the other kids excited and screaming, as well. Any suggestions? We're willing to try anything.

A As the fellow-mother of a screamer, you have my sympathy! Once a child disovers this wonderful way of expressing himself and attracting attention into the bargain, it can indeed be tricky to handle. However, the good news is that it will pass at some stage, so hang in there.

Screaming and toddler negativity generally can be horribly embarassing, but are a sign of a child's developing independence and feistiness of character. It's probably more worrying if your child is too good, too quiet and never makes a sound!

We tackled this one by trying to motivate and reward our child for not screaming. Remember, your child wants your love and approval more than anything, and is quite capable of learning appropriate ways to get it. We explained to her (children this age do understand) that we didn't like the screaming and that she could use words to ask for what she wanted. We also tried to give her attention when she wasn't screaming! Eventually, she grew out of it and is now a lively, fluent three and a half year old.

Staing cool and setting limits
First and foremost, try not to get emotionally involved in the problem - easier said than done, I know, but it does apply to all aspects of toddler behavior. At this stage, your child begins to test out his own powers - as well as testing you and your limits. For his own emotional well-being, your child needs to know where those limits are, and it's much easier to set them and stick to them if you remain detached as far as possible. As a general rule, it's probably best to avoid confrontations as far as possible and keep your energy for important matters.

It can be hard to set limits with a child this age, when he displays upsetting behavior such as screaming. One suggested way is to use 'time-out'. When you find yourself getting wound-up, put the child in his room or cot BRIEFLY (i.e. two to five minutes), which may help break the mood and give everyone a breather. Explain to your child that you are doing this because of the screaming behavior (not because of him) and always give him lots of hugs afterwards. This works for some parents.

Have you tried ignoring the screaming for a long period? Any toddler worth his salt is bound to test you with even more, louder yells before he finally realizes this is not the way to get attention. One good way of ignoring is to leave the room. Just melt away. Once he sees he's lost his audience, the screams may slacken.

Whatever you decide to try, enlist the support of his daycare teacher to ensure consistency.

Other ideas
Meanwhile, here are a few other suggestions to try with your child.
* As you say your child is very verbal, try and develop this. Reading to him is excellent. Good too are cassettes of nursery rhymes and songs.
* Sing with him, again using the usual nursery rhyme tapes. It may encourage him to use his voice another way!
* Develop other methods of self-expression too, such as painting, dancing, and playing on first musical instrments such as drums or xylophone.
* Buy or make him a set of small dolls (finger size) which he can use to re-play his own experiences, and make sense of them. At first he may need you to play a game with them for him - such as Mother and Father taking Baby to school - but he'll eventually copy you, and then start to create his own games, which can be highly therapeutic.
* Ensure he has enough physical exercise - swimming is good, but ordinary outdoor play is fine too.
* Make a joke of the screaming - tickle him out of it!
* Play whispering games when he starts to scream.

Finally, are there any other issues which could be getting your child over-excited, for example another baby on the way, a house move, or some other upheaval? If so, you may find the behavior resolves naturally once the crisis is over. Meanwhile, stay with your child, who as you say may well be expressing normal toddler frustration and inner turmoiln as he battles with his growing physical and mental skills; while you may not be able to change the way he is feeling, you can be there for him as he emerges from each screaming session. A hug can make the world a safe place to scream in - and may eventually replace the screams, too!

Good luck!

All best wishes,


Click here to Ask Fiona questions about your baby's development

Fiona Marshall, baby development expert, is author of several books including "101 Questions about Your Baby's Development" and contributes regularly to the parenting and health press. She also contributes to, psychology and have a special interest in epilepsy, including childhood epilepsy. Her books include postnatal depression, coping with a second child, bereavement, child and adult epilepsy - and, on a lighetr note, natural aphrodisiacs! (by no means uncommon in PND.)

Visit Fiona's website, "101 Questions about Your Baby's Development" which answers your queries about your child's progress.

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Amy May 6, 2011 04:43:11 PM ET

Screaming is magical, even adults know this. people stop what they are doing and look at you, listen to you, get you what you want so you will stop making them feel uncomfortable with all the screaming. kids know too. to get our little guy to stop screaming we reacted as calmly as possible and directly told him that screaming would not get him what he wanted. you want to go to the park, then you have to ask in a nice way. i would even remind my husband (cause he's a huge softie) in front of the child not to give in to his request until it was done without screaming and crying. after 2 to 3 episodes we got past that phase. now its just yelling one word to get our attention then he takes it down to a normal volume. i have a feeling that phase lasts until after high school!

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