How do I get my child to… Stop Screaming!!

 

Kids make a lot of noise.  Sometimes it’s charming and sweet, like a rambunctious superhero game or belting out a song at the top of their lungs.  Sometimes it’s less endearing, or downright annoying.  If your child is a screamer, you know what I’m talking about, and I bet you’re looking for ways to stop it.

 

First, why is my kid screaming?  The answer to that is the same as anything when it comes to kids: your reaction.  They scream, you come running.  

 

Childhood is about learning which behaviours get reactions.  Some behaviours elicit positive reactions, such as using the potty, eating a plate of food, or saying something funny.    Other behaviours – like screaming – elicit negative reactions.  Either way, your child is learning that sometimes when they do something, you pay attention to them.

 

Ok, let’s set the stage.  My 2 year old is playing in the yard while I’m busy nearby.  He’s playing in his little house and all of a sudden – for no apparent reason – he starts screaming, but I know nothing is wrong.  Naturally, the sound of his screams compels me to pay attention to him.

 

My first reaction may be to scream back at him, “STOP SCREAMING!!!”  The trouble with screaming back is that it reinforces the behaviour, and sends the message that screaming (or using a loud voice) is ok because Mom does it.  Ignoring the screams isn’t much better, because children are persistent, and there are some times when screaming is appropriate, like when the child hurts themselves or is in danger.

 

Ok, I shouldn’t scream back at them, and I shouldn’t ignore it.  What DO I do then??  How do Early Childhood Educators react when children scream ‘for fun’?  Here’s a script I use at daycare and at home:

 

Kid: Screams

 

Parent Action:  Quickly approach the child.  Position yourself so you’re at eye level with them.  I find kneeling or sitting on the ground is the most effective position.  You should convey worry and concern as you approach, and when you’re speaking.

 

Parent’s Voice:  I hear you screaming.  It sounds like there’s a big serious problem.  Are you hurt?  Do you need help right away?  

 

Kid:  No, I’m just playing.

 

Parent:  When you scream like that it makes Mommy/Daddy feel scared / nervous / worried and it hurts my ears.  It’s only ok to scream like that when you’re having a big problem, like if you hurt yourself badly or if something dangerous or scary is happening.  It’s not ok to scream like that when you’re just playing, because it makes Mommy feel scared and it hurts my ears.  Do you understand?

 

It’s important to remember this script and repeat it EVERY time your child screams.  Consistency is the most important behavioural strategy.  Every time your child screams, approach them in the same way: at their level, direct eye contact, with the same script.

 

“I hear you screaming.  Are you hurt?  Do you need help right away?”  

 

I often hear parents say “ok, I tried that two days ago and she’s still screaming”.  My response is that consistency takes time.  If you asked a personal trainer how to lose weight, they might tell you to take up running.  In order to lose weight you’d need to keep running for weeks or months.  Would you go back to your trainer and say  “I ran three or four times and I’m still fat.  Running doesn’t work.”  The answer is of course no, because we understand that it can take a long time to see results.  

 

Managing troubling behaviours takes time.  Children need to hear these scripts again and again, sometimes for weeks on end before it resonates and we start to see changes.  Even then, the child may repeat the behaviour after they’ve learned the lesson, as a way of testing the boundary.  Your response to screaming – or any troubling behaviour – need to be consistent.

 

I’ve been an ECE for a long time, and I can confidently say that many common behavioural issues can be resolved with consistency, and by modeling the behaviour you want to see.  In this case, if you want your child to stop screaming your best course of action is:

 

  • Don’t scream at your kids.  
  • Respond in a consistent way.
  • Tell your child you love them every day

 

Parenting is hard, but you can do it!

 

Have you got questions about this or other troubling childhood behaviours?  Would you like to have a chat with a Registered Early Childhood Educator?  Get in touch with Carolyn at littlelighthousehomedaycare@gmail.com