How to Deal with a Screaming Toddler
A screaming toddler can be a nightmare for parents, especially when you’re at the grocery store or a restaurant (I have a few tips to avoid tantrums at restaurants here). Most toddlers go through this stage – in fact, some toddlers go through this stage more than once. Both my children are little screaming maniacs right now and they’re 1 and 3 at the time of writing this.
Sometimes it may seem like your toddler is screaming just to frustrate you, but this isn’t the case. It’s usually a cry for attention, or it may be simply that they just feel like it. Screaming in a big building like a mall can generate a pretty cool echo, so it’s only natural that they’ll want to experience it.
In a lot of cases, screaming means they want something which is normally something they can’t or shouldn’t have. My son threw a hissy fit in a store the other week because he wanted out of the cart. I had to cut my shopping trip short and take him out to the car.
Dealing with a screaming toddler
Don’t retaliate – Sometimes you may want to scream right back at your child, but believe me, this doesn’t work. In the end, it turns out to be a competition to see who is louder and the outcome is nothing but some sore throats and maybe a few tears.
Distraction – A better bet is to use distraction as your weapon against a screaming child. For example, if your child spots some candy in the grocery store and starts screaming, try pointing out some healthy snack options instead. Or you can try playing a game like Eye Spy. This works well in my case, although a lot of times I have to try a few different things before I’m successful. For my little guy who is almost 2, I point things out that are new to him and get him to repeat what I’m saying. I say it with as much enthusiasm as possible so that he gets excited too.
Prepare – Planning ahead is a great idea when you have errands to run. I always have snacks in my purse along with a sippy cup. If it’s going to be a long day, I’ll also throw in a few toys. I try and keep separate toys just for our outings so that they’re always interested in them because they’re special.
Schedule – Before you head out, make sure your toddler is well-rested. A good time to go out is right after nap time or right after she wakes up in the morning. You’ll also want to make sure she’s got a full stomach. Toddlers can get pretty cranky when they start to get hungry.
Get them involved – Involving the kids as much as possible is also a great way to avoid screaming. My daughter loves to press the OK button on the ATM machine when I run to the bank. She also loves to help pick out grocery items. This keeps her mind occupied on the task at hand, and not on something else that she can’t have.
Choose family friendly places – If you’re planning on eating at a restaurant with your toddler, opt for the more family friendly places rather than a quiet or more formal setting. I always choose one particular restaurant in town when I take my kids out. It’s always packed and noisy. That way, if my kids start screaming it won’t be as noticeable. I also order a baby plate as soon as we sit so the kids can eat right away.
Indoor voice – Something as simple as asking your toddler to use their indoor voice may just do the trick. I’m always surprised at how well it works. I learned that from watching Barney! That funny purple dragon or whatever he is sure comes in handy sometimes. Or is he a dinosaur? I can never remember.
Stay calm – Keeping your voice and your tone quiet and gentle will help set a good example for your child. As much as you might want to raise your voice, maintaining a neutral tone will keep from making the situation worse. This can be extremely hard to achieve, but it’s worth it in the end. It will also take a lot of practice, but I’m sure that by the time your toddler has grown up you will have plenty of it!
Bail – If you’re out in public and nothing you’re trying seems to be working, it might be best to just leave with your toddler, even if it means leaving a grocery cart full of food in the middle of aisle 12.
Acknowledge, but don’t give in – If your child is screaming because they’re upset about something, acknowledge their feelings and help them work through it. If they’re screaming because they want something they can’t have, don’t give in just to have some peace and quiet. That’s only going to make things worse in the long run.
One thing to remember is that this stage will pass. It may be hard to think about that when you’re in the middle of a crowded place and you feel like everyone is staring at you because your child is screaming at the top of their lungs.
Chances are however, that none of those people will remember you the next day. What matters is your family, and how you deal with them at difficult times. Don’t sacrifice an opportunity to encourage good behavior for the sake of a few strangers’ opinions.