Dear Diana: I am a service coordinator for Help Me Grow, which is a nationally recognized, federally funded home-based program. We provide health and developmental services for expectant parents, newborns, infants and toddlers to help children start school healthy and ready to learn.
I am currently working with a 2-year-old who screams at a high pitch when she doesn’t get her way.
There is extended family in the home, including parents and grandparents. Her family constantly tells her to stop screaming. They also say that her mother was the same way, and screamed all the time, so maybe she will outgrow it.
I’m hoping for suggestions to change her behavior, since “it was that way with mom.”
Dear HMG Service Coordinator: Children scream for a variety of reasons. Although always distressing to hear, the underlying cause can usually be identified. Screaming may stem from sensory issues or sensory overload. She may scream from distress, or it may now be a learned behavior because she is successful in attracting attention for her inappropriate behavior.
Sensory processing disorder
This little girl’s screaming may be linked to a sensory issue, where she satiates a need by screaming because she can actually “feel” her voice. Identify any hyper or hypo sensitivity to water or food temperature, clothing, socks, shoes, or tags, her hair, loud noises (does she startle easily), or food texture and taste (mushy/crunchy, or salty/sweet). Ask if she has an unusually high tolerance for pain.
Many children are hyper or hypo sensitive in one or more areas, and display their distress through what seems to be inappropriate behavior. If she does show signs of SPD she should be evaluated by an occupational therapist to determine her level of concern.
Over-stimulation screaming can also be a child’s way of communicating distress without language. Extended family under one roof may result in an over stimulating environment, which can lead to sensory overload. Perhaps she is receiving input from too many adults with varying or opposing approaches.
If SPD is ruled out and it is determined to be purely behavioral, then everyone needs to respond with consistency. Telling a child to stop screaming will never stop that behavior. A replacement behavior needs to be taught, with love.
Adults should bend down, touch briefly and whisper loudly, “Come to me when you can whisper.” Then give a kiss on her head so she can “feel” unconditional love, even while screaming.
Don’t answer or engage with her when she screams. Don’t give in when you can’t take the screaming because that will empower her to continue.
With patient teaching she should respond well to the positive, consistent attention she receives from whispering.
Page 2 of 2 - Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting coach who lives in Stark County, Ohio. She is author of “Parenting with a Purpose.” Send your child-rearing questions to FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton, OH 44702. Find parenting resources at her website, www.yourperfectchild.com.