Monday, October 25, 2010

One-Year-Old Screamer?

The Question:

Hi Jane,

  I am absolutely impressed with your blog.  Thank you for sharing your wisdom and knowledge with people like me who are new moms. 

So my question is this:  My 1 year old has become a screamer.  He screams to communicate and it is so embarrassing.  I spend church time, in secluded rooms, and find myself giving in to just about anything to make him stop.  It is a blood curdling scream, not just a little one.  My 2 1/2 year old never did this, so it is throwing me for a loop.  I feel like I have tried everything and exhausted every resource.  I AM EXHAUSTED.  It is flustering, and I can't seem, despite my best efforts, to get him to communicate in other ways.  Please help me if you know how.  He is only 1 as of Sept 4th, so I am not sure what to do. 

My husband and I just moved from a home to an apartment so that he could go back to school.  The neighbors can hear EVERY minute of my son's screaming . What do I do?


The Answer:

I am so sorry.  I remember returning to school with three little children and how I worried about the neighbors.  It was a lot of pressure.  And screaming is so unnerving.
But you realize, of course, that this is a temporary phase.  And it's good that you recognize that your little man is just trying to communicate.   The key is to downplay it.  If he sees you responding, he will think it's a game.  If you run over and grab him every time or look alarmed or, worst of all, give him what he wants, he'll have no reason to stop.    I would just try to downplay it and continue teaching him to say words.   Meet his needs in every way--make sure he's getting plenty of sleep and keep him fed.  Give him lots of love.  If he screams, walk away.  When he doesn't, pour it on.
That is to say, give him lots of positive attention when he isn't screaming and not much at all when he is.  If you have to remove him (because you're in church or some other public place) just don't make a big deal about the screaming.   Don't tense up and cover his mouth.   Calmly take him out and wait for him to stop.   Then make eye contact and smile and talk to him.  When he screams, be unresponsive.  I would also explain your dilemma to your neighbors and let them know that you're working with him.  Chances are, they aren't hearing anything.  Don't be exhausted by this.  Just ride it out and try to keep it low key.  At this age, your son is just trying out all of his new skills.  When he finds the ones that bring rewards, he'll gradually leave the others behind.  Children at this age are very perceptive.  He's going to stop when he realizes that screaming gets him nothing.
This is a challenge but you can do it. 
All my love,


  1. Have you considered teaching your son baby signs? That may help a little with the communication issue if your son isn't quite ready to talk.

    Anyways, I fee your pain. I had a screamer too-- Jane's advice is right on the money here. Riding out the phase is what it took for us.

  2. My little man was one on Sept 4th and we had the exact same problem! The screaming could literally bring me to tears and induce an incredible sense of discouragement - not to mention a headache.
    He is our only child and my response was to indulge and give him whatever it was that he wanted - realizing that he didn't have any other way to communicate. My husband would yell or put his hand over his mouth or give some other negative attention to the behavior out of frustration.
    The pediatrician gave the exact same advice as Jane - don't respond in any way positive or negative; ignore the behavior and it will diminish. I am happy to say that our screaming fits have almost disappeared entirely!!
    Hang on, it will pass and you will soon be worried about some other phase you didn't expect :)

  3. My baby was a screamer. He's still quite loud. He's very...BOY. Rough and tough all the time. It gets kinda hectic.

    I, too, am in an apartment, and I worried about the babies crying at night, and screaming, and waking the neighbors, but I honestly don't think they hear it. I mean, all I can really hear of them is their footsteps, but never any vocal sounds, and I've seen them in the parking lot--they are just as noisy as the next family.

    And the screaming phase does pass, just follow Jane's advice. We tried it, and it worked for us!


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