Why Do Toddlers Scream & How to Handle their Tantrums?

Effective Ways to Handle Your Screaming Toddler

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We’ve all seen toddlers lose their cool in public and screaming like there’s no tomorrow while one of their parents tries desperately to calm them down. We’ve all winced and pitied at the parent, while secretly being thankful it’s not us.

Well, what happens when your own toddler decides to throw a tantrum in the same way, at home or out in public? Or you end up having to deal with a toddler screaming at night? Now, you’re the one who needs to quickly calm the child down without too much drama or disturbance and at the same time, without hurting the child in any way. So how do we manage these toddler tantrums? This article will give you quick and effective ways to handle your toddler’s screaming tantrums and calm her down. Let’s get to it!

Is It Normal for Your Toddler to Scream?

Yes, it is entirely normal for toddlers to engage in screaming behavior. Toddlers are in a crucial stage of development where they are exploring and learning to express themselves. Screaming is one way they experiment with their vocal abilities and communicate their needs or emotions. It’s important for parents and caregivers to understand that this phase is a natural part of a child’s development and is not necessarily indicative of a problem.

Do All Toddlers Undergo the Phase of Screaming?

While it’s common for many toddlers to go through a phase of experimenting with screaming, not every child necessarily exhibits this behavior. Each toddler is unique, with individual temperaments and communication styles. Some toddlers may express themselves through different means, such as gestures or words, and may not engage in frequent or intense screaming. The variation in behavior among toddlers is normal, and parents should be attentive to their child’s overall development and communication style rather than expecting universal behaviors.

Why Do Toddlers Scream?

Rarely do you see a toddler screaming for no reason. Almost always, there is a reason, and it is up to the parents to quickly decipher what that reason is. Come to the root of the problem, if we can put it that way. Here are some reasons why a toddler might scream or throw a tantrum:

1. Attention Seeking

Sometimes your child may want your full attention and the only way they see that happening is by screaming, throwing things around, and crying. They will do anything they can to get attention.

2. Playing

Your toddler might be just having fun with her own voice. She might try making sounds with her mouth by yelling, screaming, or hollering to understand her voice and how to modulate it.

3. Communicating

Toddlers are still practically babies, and sometimes they find it hard to communicate what they want through speaking. They might resort to shouting and screaming along with gestures to tell their parents what they want. After all, we all know how frustrating it is when someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying, don’t we?

4. Full of Energy

Your toddler is full of energy, and she might need an outlet to vent it out. Yelling, screaming, and throwing a tantrum might be the perfect outlet for her!

Toddler screaming

5. Angry Screamers

Your child might not be happy about something that may have happened or is happening. In fact, she could be furious about it. Maybe you have asked her to come inside when she wants to play, or you are not giving her your phone. In any case, she will shout and scream to show how angry she is.

Why Do Toddlers Scream at Bedtime?

Bedtime can sometimes be a challenging period for both toddlers and parents, marked by resistance, tantrums, and, often, screaming. Understanding why toddlers scream at bedtime can help parents navigate and address these situations more effectively.

1. Fear of Separation

Toddlers may experience separation anxiety at bedtime, fearing being away from their caregivers. This fear intensifies when they realize they’ll be alone in their room, leading to screams as a way to seek comfort and attention.

2. Overstimulation and Overtiredness

Overstimulation or overtiredness can make it difficult for toddlers to settle down. Excessive stimuli or exhaustion may cause restlessness, making it challenging for them to transition smoothly into bedtime routines.

3. Testing Boundaries

Bedtime can become a testing ground for a toddler’s growing independence. They may scream as a way to assert control or challenge bedtime rules, exploring the limits set by parents.

4. Unsettled Routine 

Changes in the bedtime routine or disruptions to the usual schedule can contribute to toddler screaming. A consistent and predictable routine provides a sense of security, and deviations may trigger protests.

5. Communication of Needs

Toddlers are still developing language skills, and screaming can be a primary means of expressing their needs or discomfort. It serves as a communication tool when they struggle to articulate their feelings or desires.

6. Nightmares or Night Terrors 

Nightmares or night terrors can provoke bedtime screaming. Toddlers might be scared by vivid dreams or have difficulty transitioning between sleep cycles, leading to sudden and intense expressions of fear.

Toddler Screaming Tantrums

Toddler tantrums is a term for the specific behaviour that toddlers exhibit. They are usually seen in kids between the ages of 1 and 3. These tantrums have certain characteristic identifiers along with a sudden change in attitude and temperament. Your child might be happy one minute, and the next minute could be screaming her lungs out. It mostly occurs when the child is at a stage when she cannot speak well to communicate her needs and hence resorts to shouting and yelling.

How to Handle a Screaming Toddler?

How can we handle a child screaming at the top of her lungs? You never know, it might even be your toddler screaming in pain. There are different reasons for your child screaming and hence, different ways to tackle each one. Let us go through these ways on how to stop a toddler from screaming, one by one:

1. Pat Them

If your toddler is screaming just to vent out additional energy, pick them up and pat them on their backs. This offers affection and helps divert their mind and regain their original behaviour. A little display of love goes a long way.

Crying toddler

2. Give Them Attention

If your toddler is screaming to get attention, leave whatever you are doing and sit with her. Acknowledge her feelings, ask what help she needs and the reason why she has decided to scream or shout (1). Try to help her instead of yelling at her, and gently make her understand that she can’t have your attention at all times.

3. Save From Embarrassment

If your toddler is constantly screaming in public, instead of getting embarrassed each time, try to find crowded places where screaming can go unnoticed. Simply avoiding such instances will spare you the embarrassment. But work with your child slowly on reducing the tantrum behaviour. This tactic is a temporary solution, but make sure it doesn’t encourage your child to scream all the time.

4. Divert Them

If your toddler suddenly gets angry and screams to vent out her anger, don’t panic or get angry yourself. Divert her attention to something else or some other activity, which will make her forget why she was crying in the first place (2). A simple “dance for me” or “sing a song for us” can help in such situations. Try to play an active part in these activities, at least till the child gets back to her normal behaviour.

5. Keep Them Occupied

A good and effective practice is to keep your toddler occupied at all times. Quick games, playground sessions, and activities with other kids will reduce opportunities for temper tantrums. 

6. Answer Softly

This is the tactic of ‘the louder she yells, the softer you respond’ whenever your toddler is throwing a tantrum. Your kid will end up matching your volume because she wants to engage. If it is in a public place, lead her away, and quietly speak to her. When she gradually stops her tantrum and displays her usual temperament, praise her. It is the positive behaviour you want to reinforce.

Mother and daughter having a conversation

7. Make a Game Out of It

Now, this is a noisy tactic and works best when you are in a private place. When your toddler is having a screaming fit, try to indulge her need to be loud by saying, “Let’s both be as loud as we can” and join her in the screaming. Then say, “Now, let’s see who can whisper the best” and stick to a whisper. Play it like a Simon Says game, where you can also add movements like jumping around or moving your hands. Your child will be willing to play along and automatically will get distracted by her screaming.

8. Give Them Some Space

Sometimes, a child just needs to let it out. Do not engage in a yelling match or a battle of wills with your child. Give her space to let her feelings out, pull herself together, and regain control on her own. Just ensure that there is nothing in the tantrum’s way that could hurt her.

9. Use a Calming Ritual

Establish a calming ritual before bedtime or during stressful situations. This could involve reading a soothing story, playing soft music, or providing a comfort object. Consistency in the ritual can signal to the toddler that it’s time to wind down, reducing the likelihood of screaming.

10. Implement Positive Reinforcement

Encourage positive behavior by implementing a reward system. Praise and reward your toddler when they exhibit calm behavior, especially in situations where they might otherwise scream (3). Positive reinforcement can reinforce desired conduct and create a positive association with good behavior.

When to Consult a Doctor?

If your toddler’s screaming behavior persists in the following situations, it is advisable to consult a doctor:

  • Despite your various attempts, your toddler continues to scream.
  • Your toddler struggles to comprehend basic instructions or rules, resulting in tantrums in various settings like parks and restaurants.
  • Each episode of screaming extends for an hour or more.
  • Your toddler consistently engages in physical harm to themselves or others during screaming episodes.
  • Your toddler experiences difficulty in talking or exhibits poorer social and communication skills compared to peers.
  • Your child is above the age of three years.

FAQs

1. Does Screaming in Toddlers Indicate Autism?

No, screaming alone in toddlers does not necessarily indicate autism. While some children with autism may engage in unusual behaviors, including screaming, it is important to consider various factors and consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation.

2. What Are the Possible Long-term Effects of Toddler’s Screaming Behavior?

Prolonged or intense screaming in toddlers may not have specific long-term effects, but it can impact parent-child relationships, communication, and family dynamics. Addressing the underlying causes and promoting effective communication strategies can help mitigate potential challenges.

3. Is It Different When Toddlers Scream or Have Tantrums?

Yes, screaming and tantrums are related but distinct behaviors. Screaming is a vocal expression, while tantrums involve a range of behaviors, including crying, kicking, and throwing objects. Tantrums are often emotional outbursts in response to frustration or not getting what the toddler wants, whereas screaming can serve various purposes, including communication or seeking attention.

There will be many such instances when your toddler is screaming uncontrollably. The key is to be calm and not lose it like your kid! So, stay firm, analyse the cause, and try to help your child through it. Show some love, check if everything is fine if your toddler screams all the time, and move onto the next steps to calm your child down.

References/Resources:

1. Crying Over Little Things; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; https://www.chop.edu/pages/crying-over-little-things

2. Tantrum in the Grocery Store; American Psychological Association; https://www.apa.org/act/resources/fact-sheets/challenging-36-months

3. 10 Tips to Prevent Aggressive Behavior in Young Children; American Academy of Pediatrics; https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/Pages/Aggressive-Behavior.aspx

4. Sisterhen. L, Wy. P; Temper Tantrums; National Library of Medicine; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544286/

5. Emotional Development: 2-Year-Olds; American Academy of Pediatrics; https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/Pages/emotional-development-2-year-olds.aspx

6. Temper Tantrums; Stanford Medicine; https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=temper-tantrums-90-P02295

7. Meltdowns – a guide for all audiences; National Autistic Society; https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/behaviour/meltdowns/all-audiences#

Also Read:

Toddler Behaviour Problems & Solutions
How to Get Your Kid to Listen to You
Effective Ways for Disciplining a Toddler
Reasons Why Toddlers Throw Things So Much

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