Ask Amma

Toddler Screaming?

In Why on 26 September 2011 at 8:32 am

My 17 month old loves to scream like the roof was falling, just for the “fun” of it! She might be seeking attention, but getting it doesn’t stop the outburst. It is quite brain numbing. Are there any positive ways of dealing and making things turn for the better, while the iron is still hot?

You must have heard the interpretations of toddlers dropping / throwing things to be experiments with gravity and the laws of motion. Likewise it seems that sound has awakened the scientist in your little one. If she is screaming for “fun” in places where quiet is expected, then are there things you could during such visits that would turn her attention to other interesting things? Snacks, songs, brain-teasers? Elsewhere, can you offer enough time where she can be loud without disturbing anyone, while you manage with earmuffs? Or go outside and shout right along with her? As you try to see things from her point of view, also explain your concerns about the noise and modes of expression – she may not understand everything now, but she will understand that understanding needs to be a mutual exercise.

If, however she is screaming in anger or frustration, then it is important to look for causes – they may not be related to what is happening at the time of the screaming. Life has changed so much for babies and infant bodies may still be expecting the kind of open spaces they have had for hundreds of generations before.   Though I sought to work by consensus, I recognized that the mere fact that our front door was closed was an authoritative restriction that severely affected my daughter’s ability to move about.  She always wanted to be outside, but depended on others to open the door. Because our modern urban world requires us to go outside along with our toddlers, she did not always get the door opened either.

I have seen that when my daughter did not have control over some important aspect of her life, she would express frustration over something that seemed like “nothing” in itself. I knew what others were thinking – that this baby is spoiled, fussy, throws tantrums if things don’t go her way. To address the frustration, however, one must see what one can do to increase the baby’s sense of control and of being respected in the big picture, and not reduce it to the thing that sparked the outburst.

A final suggestion – some amount of role play, modelling polite ways to get attention can help. For example, even before my daughter could say more than a few words, I would tell her, “when you want something, you need to say amma.” Likewise for the rest of the family she learned to say nanna, ammamma, tatayya etc. So when she carried her shoes to the door wanting to go outside, instead of kicking or screaming, she would say, “amma.” We also had a kind of sign language with signs for water, potty, book, open, over, and a few others that she used regularly.

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