Toddler screaming making you want to scream? Try regular quick connection boosts and help screaming disappear.
When my daughter was around 13 months old she started screaming.
It happened mostly in the mornings when I was busy getting ready to leave the house. I knew that she was feeling disconnected because I was rushing around trying to get ready but it was unavoidable!
I needed to make her breakfast and then get dressed so we could go.
When She Screamed, I Wanted to Scream Too
I found the noise extremely triggering, it made me feel like screaming! Each time she screamed I felt more and more stressed.
My usual response was just to try and meet my daughter’s needs. So if she was screaming because the breakfast wasn’t coming quick enough, I’d grab some fruit to give her.
If she was screaming about not being able to open her toy cupboard or get a lid off a box, then I would open it for her.
Still, the screaming continued.
She seemed to be getting more and more impatient. She'd turned into a grumpy, screaming toddler in a matter of days.
She screamed about things that had never bothered her before, like running water going into her bath, or people talking loudly on the train.
I began dreading the mornings. I would usually rush to leave the house with the kitchen still a mess, and everything in chaos!
I couldn’t understand what had changed in our relationship, and why we both felt so off-track.
I Discovered Why Kids Push Our Buttons And It Was A Revelation
I'd been learning about the healing power of tears, and how a child's disconnected feelings can lead to off-track behaviour that pushes our buttons. Maybe my toddler's screaming has something to do with that?
Screaming, whining or aggression are all ways that our children signal that they need connection.
I was training to be a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor and Patty Wipfler explained to me that children often scream because they are afraid.
It may be that the situations they are screaming in seem totally normal and innocuous, but that they somehow trigger earlier times when our children felt really scared.
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For a newborn baby, there may be many situations that are fearful. It could be that their birth was difficult, that they experienced early medical interventions or just the many situations that can seem completely overwhelming to a newborn.
When we perceive we are in danger, our bodies go into fight or flight response and release stress hormones. Crying is one way that we naturally release these stress hormones when we feel safe again, and tears cried for emotional reasons are actually found to contain cortisol.
Babies and children naturally release stress from fearful experiences by crying, after the event, when they feel safe and connected to us.
Sometimes, they might not fully release the feelings. The ‘backlog’ that remains is what causes their off-track behaviour.
The Real Reason My Toddler Was Screaming…
I realised that perhaps I was interpreting my toddler’s screaming all wrong.
She wasn’t screaming because she wanted her breakfast quicker, or because she wanted me to do things for her.
She was screaming for connection.
What I Did Next Changed Everything
I got some listening time to release the stress that had been building up in me about the screaming. I got to moan, and complain, and scream a bit about how irritating it was in the mornings when I was trying to get ready and my daughter was screaming the whole time!
I was amazed to find that the day after my listening session I wasn’t bothered by the screaming anymore. It just seemed like a completely neutral sound!
And now I knew that there was a deeper reason behind the screaming, I stopped rushing around in the mornings.
Instead, when she screamed I moved in slowly and carefully picked her up, sometimes in the cradle position.
I offered eye contact and connection.
She arched her back and immediately started to cry, letting out the tension in her body.
And, for the rest of the day, every time she screamed, I would do the same thing.
I'd pick her up slowly, being sure to connect first. And then I'd stay and listen.
That day, she had lots of little cries spread out through the day, but in between the crying she played happily and independently.
This was an added bonus. My daughter had been clingy for so long, that I'd forgotten that when she was younger she often played by herself. She had been happy to go off and explore, confident that I was close by if she needed me.
Lately, I had resigned myself to the fact that all babies are just ‘clingy’.
The Screaming Stopped Completely
The next day she only screamed a couple of times and continued to play independently. We had a wonderful day of feeling close and connected, even as she explored and I tidied and cooked.
I had such a strong feeling, that this was ‘right’!
This was how it was meant to be. Rather than her being always desperate for my attention, needing to be picked up, and not being interested in exploring, I found we could (and should) have alternating periods of independent work and play, followed by close connected interaction afterwards.
In the evening my husband and I ate dinner for ten minutes while she played in a cardboard box on the other side of the room!
Her screaming immediately reduced, and within a few days of moving in close to connect it disappeared almost completely.
What It Means To Connect Closely
This period of my toddler screaming really helped me understand what it means to closely connect.
To stop the rush of trying to get things done, and instead just meet the needs of my child.
This way of slowing down to connect was something I really had to relearn.
In the rush of my busy life, this deep, mindful connection doesn’t always come easily, especially when my own feelings get in the way.
But it’s what our children need, to feel safe to show us their feelings.
It's kind of like if an upset friend came for coffee, and, rather than listening to what my friend was telling me I was busy and distracted, rushing to make the coffee and put out cookies.
With my attention on everything else, there's no chance for her to tell me her feelings.
But if I sit and listen carefully, asking if she's okay, my attention gives her space to open up, and maybe even cry.
It's not the coffee, it's not even the cookies that make our friends feel better when life feels hard, (although they may help a little). What really helps is us. Our presence, our supportive attention and the relationship we share.
It's the same with our kids.
It's all about that special moment after our child does something off-track, the thing that signals to us that they need our connection, where we can move in close, and just be there with them.
That moment, in the midst of an emotional upset, is where real connection happens.
Maybe they’ll laugh, or maybe they’ll cry like my daughter did.
But that screaming? That screaming will stop.
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Kate Orson is a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor and mother to an 8-year-old daughter. Originally from the UK she now lives in Florence, Italy, where she is available for consultations and workshops both in-person and online. You can contact her at www.kateorson.co.uk