Toddlers scream to draw their parents’ or caregivers’ attention towards themselves. However, they may also scream out of frustration, boredom, or other reasons. While it is not uncommon for toddlers’ screaming to be tantrum-related, it is important to try and determine the underlying cause and tackle it accordingly.
Read this post to know about the possible causes of screaming in toddlers, the reasons why they scream at bedtime, and tips on how to tackle the reasons behind their screaming.
Is It Normal For A Toddler To Scream?
Toddler screaming or bawling fits are quite a normal phenomenon and are part of a toddler’s emotional development. Below are some notable facts about tantrums and screaming among toddlers (1).
- The typical age for the onset of a toddler’s screaming tantrums is two to three years, but it may also occur in younger babies.
- A crying or screaming tantrum episode could last for a few seconds to several minutes.
- A tantrum per day is quite common among toddlers.
- 87% of toddlers between the ages of 18 months and 24 months throw screaming tantrums.
- 91% of toddlers between the ages of 30 months and 36 months have screaming tantrums.
Do All Toddlers Go Through A Screaming Phase?
Most toddlers may display some form of a tantrum, such as shouting, wailing, howling, screeching, and shrieking, although not all may resort to screaming tantrums. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers could display a wide range of emotions (2). Children have unique personalities, and, just like adults, no two toddlers could be alike (3). Therefore, it may not be uncommon for you to see a toddler with a calm demeanor while your child throws a tantrum frequently.
Parents must focus on determining the underlying cause of a tantrum since it could be more helpful than comparing your child to other children.
Why Do Toddlers Scream?
When you witness your toddler screaming, it’s normal to feel confused because you might not know why it’s happening. Olivia, a mother, talks about her experience of seeing her toddler screaming. She explains, “I remember initially, whenever my little boy was in the middle of a tantrum, rolling around on the floor and screaming-the-house-down kind of tantrum. I always used to think- Why are you doing this to me? What have I done wrong? At the beginning of it all, I can recall sometimes getting upset and honestly almost taking it personally. I just couldn’t get my head around how we were laughing and enjoying each other’s company a short second ago – yet now, he was treating me as an arch-enemy (i).” It can be frustrating to see your toddler screaming without knowing the cause.
Below are some of the conditions and situations that may lead to screaming tantrums among toddlers (4).
- Expressing frustration and stress: It is the most common cause for a toddler screaming or being uncontrollably noisy . Toddlers often become upset or frustrated, especially when a task or situation does not have the desired result. They become frustrated and resort to screaming or yelling due to a lack of skills to express their feelings. Some toddlers scream due to mental or physical stress, which may occur due to various reasons, including hunger, tiredness, illness, and pain.
- Inability to verbalize: Toddlers have an inadequate vocabulary and often do not know how to put their emotions into words. The toddler may also be unaware that it is socially appropriate to express emotions through words rather than scream. They also quickly learn that screaming gets them immediate attention.
- Testing out efficacy: A toddler may repeatedly scream for attention and check how far it can work to get them what they need. This may be more common when the toddler was denied something in the past and managed to attain it by repeatedly screaming at a caregiver.
- Satisfying curiosity: Some toddlers may scream only to test the reaction it elicits. It may more commonly occur when parents or other known caregivers are around since the toddler would feel safer to experiment when with familiar people.
- Screaming for fun: If screaming is not due to a motivation of eliciting response or gaining an object, it is most likely indicative of toddler screaming only to have fun. This may be more common when the toddler was denied something in the past and managed to attain it by repeatedly screaming at a caregiver.
Why Does A Toddler Scream At Bedtime?
Some toddlers resort to screaming tantrums only before bedtime. It may happen due to the following reasons.
- Not feeling well: An unwell toddler may find it difficult to sleep or might find lying down uncomfortable, leading to screaming. Several conditions could cause it, and a few common ones are teething, ear infections, and congestion.
- Not tired enough to sleep: If the toddler has too much daytime sleep or is overstimulated due to play before bedtime, then they may not feel tired enough to fall asleep. It may cause them to scream due to frustration when forced to stay in bed.
- Fear of darkness: It is common for toddlers to fear the darkness. Some toddlers may experience frequent nightmares and night terrors, making them averse to sleeping in the dark. Therefore, when asked to sleep, they may resist it by throwing a screaming tantrum.
- Separation anxiety: Many toddlers experience separation anxiety where they fear being away from their parent or a beloved caretaker. Darkness and being alone can exacerbate separation anxiety causing the toddler to resort to a screaming tantrum before bedtime.
- Discomfort from clothing or bedding: Some toddlers may resort to screaming due to discomfort caused by bedding or clothing. Extreme temperatures, such as too hot or too cold, could also cause screaming tantrums. It is most likely to occur in younger toddlers who may be unable to use words to express discomfort.
- Change in routine: A recent discontinuation in breastfeeding or change from crib to a toddler bed.
How To Stop A Toddler From Screaming?
- Check for illness: The first thing to do is check if the toddler has an underlying problem or condition causing pain. For instance, toddlers with fever, severe teething pain, and ear infections may frequently scream due to discomfort. You may consult a doctor in such cases since treating the underlying cause could stop screaming.
- Distract them: If the toddler screams to gain attention or for fun, you may discourage it by distracting them. It is fairly easy to distract a child. Point out a cute kitten or a funny-shaped cloud or an unusual mannequin at a shop window, and they might forget why they were screaming.
- Acknowledge frustration: Screaming due to frustration and disappointment could be gradually mitigated through acknowledgment. For instance, if your toddler screams at a park because it is time for them to stop playing with the slide, say, “I am sorry you have to give up the slide for others. But you may come back later.” Acknowledgment by a parent or caretaker could cut down the time spent screaming and gradually stop it.
- Set rules: Make rules and stick to them in all situations. You may also make a rule right before any situation that is likely to trigger a screaming tantrum. For instance, if going to a toy shop, set a prior rule that your toddler may have only one toy and no more. It could help prevent the toddler’s awkward screaming in demand for an extra toy at the toy store.
- Set a routine: Have a fixed routine for your toddler so that they know when to expect an activity and its duration. It is helpful to prevent tantrums among toddlers who want to spend more time playing before bedtime. Ensure your toddler has naps for a fixed duration each day to prevent oversleeping, which may interfere with nighttime sleep.
- Teach self-regulation: Older toddlers can be taught words and sentences that they may use to communicate their feelings to parents, caregivers, and peers. You may also encourage the toddler to reach out to the nearest parent or caregiver before screaming or displaying anger.
- Lead by example: If you wish your toddler to follow a certain behavior, let them learn it by observing you. Use polite words while talking and be calm when resolving issues in front of the toddlers. Toddlers are impressionable and can learn appropriate ways to react to a situation by observing their parents.
- Check your expectations: Expecting too much from your toddler could cause them to invariably not achieve the desired results, making them frustrated and inclined to throw a screaming tantrum. Each toddler is different. Therefore, set healthy boundaries and expectations that your toddler is more likely to fulfill.
- Do not bribe or buckle: Never use bribing to convince the toddler to stop screaming. Even if you buckle under the pressure once, the toddler will likely use screaming to get what they want. It will also jeopardize all your efforts in preventing screaming.
- Provide positive reinforcement: Appreciate your child each time they display positive behavior or react without screaming or throwing a tantrum. Praise them when they adhere to routine and learn to respect time limits. Positive reinforcement is an excellent way to teach the child good habits through their own experiences.
When To Call The Doctor?
You may consult a doctor about your toddler’s screaming behavior in the following scenarios (4).
- The toddler continues to scream despite your multiple interventions.
- The toddler does not understand basic instructions or rules, leading to tantrums at multiple places, such as the park and restaurant.
- Each screaming episode lasts for an hour or more.
- The toddler always physically harms themselves or others while screaming.
- The toddler has trouble talking or has poor social and communication skills when compared to peers.
- Your child is older than three years.
If your toddler screams before bedtime and seems to be unwell, consult a doctor. Toddlers who scream due to illness also display other signs and symptoms, such as fever and poor appetite.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How long does the screaming phase last in toddlers?
The screaming phase may last until two to three years of age. It starts to reduce once your child learns to communicate their needs and wants better (8).
2. Is a toddler screaming a sign of autism?
Children with autism may encounter meltdowns, screaming, and several other symptoms, such as rocking, spinning, and repetitive behaviors. Screaming or temper tantrums in toddlers without other signs do not indicate autism (9) (10).
3. What are the potential long-term effects of a toddler screaming?
Although toddler screaming is a common phenomenon and part of their development, continuous screaming may cause them to have a hoarse voice. Additionally, they may become gassy from swallowing excessive amounts of air ( 13). Moreover, if the screaming is due to an underlying discomfort, it is essential to look out for additional signs of worry to prevent related long-term effects of the condition.
4. Is there a difference between toddler screaming and tantrums?
No, screaming is one of the behaviors of toddler tantrums, and both are often accompanied by one another. Other behaviors of tantrums that toddlers may express are crying, biting, going limp, pushing, throwing things, aggression, and breath-holding ( 1).
While dealing with a toddler screaming might be frustrating, know that it is a normal aspect of your child’s emotional development and will pass as your child grows. So keep calm and figure out what’s making your child scream. If your toddler is screaming at bedtime, they may be sick, afraid of the dark, suffer from separation anxiety, or just aren’t exhausted enough to sleep. Therefore, addressing the underlying problem, such as establishing healthy rules and a steady routine, can help calm a screaming toddler. Consult a pediatrician if your toddler continues to scream despite your efforts.
Infographic: Can Words Help Calm A Screaming Toddler?
Dealing with a screaming toddler can be taxing, and at times, nothing seems to calm them down. Here is where you can use your skills as parents and let your soothing words do the work. Words hold great power that can transform a person. So why not try it with your toddler?
Check out this infographic to learn about some calming and soothing phrases to help your toddler understand and tone down.
- Throwing a screaming tantrum is quite common among toddlers.
- They usually do it to express frustration or attract attention.
- Fear of darkness, separation anxiety, and illness may make toddlers scream at bedtime.
- Adopt interventions such as teaching self-regulation, leading by example, and acknowledging frustration to stop your toddler from screaming.
A screaming toddler can be a stressful situation for parents to handle. Watch this video to learn the best way to soothe your little one and stop the screaming.
Personal Experience: Source
i. Toddler tantrums – the low down;
2. Emotional Development: 2 Year Olds; American Academy of Pediatrics
3. Ages and Stages of Development; California Department of Education
4. Temper Tantrums; Stanford Children’s Health
5. Tantrum in the Grocery Store; American Psychological Association
6. Crying Over Little Things; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
7. 10 Tips to Prevent Aggressive Toddler Behavior; American Academy of Pediatrics
8. Temper Tantrums; Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Stanford
9. Meltdowns; National Autistic Society
10. What are the Early Signs of Autism?; American Academy of Pediatrics
11. Temper Tantrums?; Nemours Children’s Health
12. How to Handle Tantrums and Meltdowns?; Child Mind Institute
13. Is My Baby Crying Too Much?; UNC Health Care