27 answers

Compulsive, Constant Screaming in 15-Month Old

I really need some help. My first child is a 15 month old little boy. He is totally normal in terms of developmental stages, growth, everything. Normal birth. I used all of the attachment parenting techniques, nursed him, etc. He was a total joy until recently. About 6 weeks ago he began screaming. These are loud, high-pitched, long-lasting screams that are so disturbing that our entire family seems to be stressed out, anxious and nervous all the time. He screams throughout the day and night, for any and every reason – when he is happy (yes happy), upset, if he wants something, if he doesn't want something, if he gets frustrated, in the middle of the night when he wakes up, first thing in the morning when he wakes, after waking up from every nap, constantly and consistently throughout the day. This is so upsetting - we are a quiet household and don't yell and NEVER scream so I can't imagine where he got this. But now I find myself yelling at him to stop screaming!!!! So now I think I reinforce it. He is so wonderful and charming during those moments when he is not screaming, but those moments are short-lived.
I have tried everything. I whisper when he screams, I ask him what he wants, and only give it to him when I model the correct way to ask for it (Please Mommy), I have tried ignoring it, which escalates it, I have tried to distract him but everything makes him scream like this. Since he was 6 months old, I have taught him over twenty signs (and he uses them) and I thought this would have prevented this kind of thing.
I thought maybe it was teething so I started tanking him up with ibuprofen - that didn't work either. All of the on-line information about screaming is geared towards older children – around 2 or 3 years old. But this began when he was 14 months!!! so the time-out and consequences solution doesn't really apply to him yet. This is now his primary, and sometimes only, means of communicating everything. He barely even uses his signs anymore – only AFTER he has screamed first.
This seems to have started around the same time he began weaning. I got pregnant and he seemed to just stop asking to nurse, so I let it fade over the last month or so. Nothing dramatic – no trauma – It just happened naturally. He doesn’t use a pacifier – he does drink a lot of milk from his bottle throughout the day, though. One other thing is this: He used to do something that a couple of mom friends of mine have called "hypersonic yelling". This was when he was about 7 or 8 months old. He would yell, not scream, with a loud pitch that would resonate on this very deep level in my body and soul, and totally and completely rattle me. I say this at the risk of sounding melodramatic, but that is the best way I can describe it. Of course, I'd go through the list of everything he could want/need, and though I know I am a first-time mom, couldn't imagine that I was missing anything. And this was also, a daily, constant, compulsive thing with him.
I'm a stay at home mom. I am beginning to lose my mind – I am a pretty stable and emotionally grounded person, but now I cry every day and sometimes feel like I can’t stand my own son. It is just killing me. As I write this my husband is downstairs on the verge of screaming at him while he has screamed for the last two hours.
Can you please offer some kind of guidance? I fear he may have some kind of neurological problem or hearing problem.
Thank you for reading.
A. Robinson

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

I appreciate the input everyone provided here. It is good to know there is a resource like this out there. I am very pleased to report that the screaming has completely stopped. Almost at exactly the same time I posted this desperate email, my little guy seemed to have broken through whatever was upsetting him. Our most recent theory was that he was hungry - not having exactly figured out that he needed to eat more than usual in order to get the nutrients he was no longer getting through breast milk. my nanny gave him a large meal that he happened to love, and from then on, my husband and I challenged ourselves to give him anything we could to get him to eat. I don't know if this was the magic bullet, but it certainly was good timing. And now that he has stopped the compulsive screaming, we were able to work with him to redirect the screaming to get what he wanted, by insisting that he say Mama or Daddy before we give it to him. Once the screaming stopped, we had the sanity to actually be good parents again. After three days, he has stopped screaming, and now only says Mama, in order to get my attention or to get something. I have my little boy back. It's wonderful and I am enjoying him again as I used to - he is in great spirits and has even begun talking a lot more now. THis is all in a matter of days.
So I am positive that it was a phase (thank you to all the moms who encouraged me to just hang in there until it passed), and not a sensory problem, a hearing problem or autism.
Aside from all of the attempts to sell me products and services, I was happy to have had the support through mamasource.
What a journey.

Featured Answers

It sounds like you have a spirited boy. There is a book called "Raising the Spirited Child". Spirited kids are the "Mores"...more persistent, observant, sensitive, and so on. The book may give you a different way of looking at things and give you some great strategies. :)

1 mom found this helpful

Have you looked into a good family Chiropractor? He may have something going on with his body function that he can't verbalize and may not even be painful just something that is causing him to scream like this. If you are in the Charleston, SC area I recommend Atlantic Coast Family Chiropractic in Summerville on Trolley Rd. She has a website and specializes in children. She is understanding and patient with kids. Both of my daughters and my 12 year old sister have gone there.

Have you taken him to the doctor regarding this matter. He may have a hearing problem or even some kind of chronic ear infection. My children did not always run a fever with ear infections.

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Hi A.,
I definitely can relate. I have a 22 month old daughter and a 7 year old son. My son was calm as the moon and I thought all children were supposed to be that way until I had my daughter. She is very very demanding. She screams most of the day for her every need and want. She wants me to hold her all day. She was hitting but stopped that after I continuously put her in time out, which by the way, does work even when you feel like they are too young to understand they do eventually get it as they grow.
What I started noticing is her behavior was much better when we were out of the house and staying busy. She is very energetic. So we stay busy. I enrolled her in a MMO twice a week for her to have interactions with other children and to give me a break!!!! They say she is an angel there but very loud! We are all working on helping her express herself without yelling and screaming. She saves most of her naughty behavior for me. Some days you cant even look at her. Every day when she wakes up she screams and doesnt want you to get her out of her crib so Ive been waiting a few minutes before goign in. She fights me with every diaper and they way I look at it is she is not my boss!!! I have other responsibilities besides her and I have been putting my foot down. When she starts throwing a screaming fit and calmly tell her I will help her when she stops yelling. I walk away. To give myself a breather too. She doesnt get it yet but I know she will if I stay consistant. She has turned our house upside down and right side up but with that said, she is bright and full of energy but there are days when all of our nerves are frazzled beyond belief including my son. We just try to work together. But it is part of her personality. My son wasnt like that. So what Ive learned is it is nothing 'YOU' are doing.....it is just learing to cope with their personalities. PArt of it is trying to communicate and at that age it is very difficult for them and just wait until they hit 4.....they should get better then. My son was angel but he still had his moments and I know once they hit 4 things start to look up.
Chloe (my daughter) I call 'my sunshine with a 100% chance of rain'!!!

1 mom found this helpful

It sounds like you have a spirited boy. There is a book called "Raising the Spirited Child". Spirited kids are the "Mores"...more persistent, observant, sensitive, and so on. The book may give you a different way of looking at things and give you some great strategies. :)

1 mom found this helpful

I see you've gotten some good thoughts already, but I thought I'd throw in something I saw on "The View" (of all places, I know). They had one of those TV nannies on and three moms with their young children. One mom described this same behavior in her son. She was clearly distressed over the problem. The nanny suggested that this shrieking was a method of communication -- that the boy was experiencing a need to express himself and didn't have adequate means to do so. Nanny said that this is a phase that should pass as he gains vocabulary, but pointed out that there is another issue compounding the situation. Obviously, the mom was stressed out (completely understandable). It was written all over her face. Nanny said that the boy sees his mom's distress and maybe feels fearful and worried because of what he reads from her expression -- adding to a complex emotion he knows no way to communicate. Nanny suggested that the mom do what she can to direct with a pleasant expression -- be purposeful in reassuring her son with a smile whenever he is quiet and using restraint when he is not. (not to say that you can't redirect, but not allow your dismay to become a fixture on your face)
My son (11 months), though not displaying the frequency that you described, has days when he screams or shrieks for no apparent reason. I try to keep this advice in mind -- it at least gives me a frame of mind to persevere even when I want to pull my hair out.

1 mom found this helpful

Oh my gosh, I am so sorry to hear what you're going through. I would RUN, not walk to the doctor and have him thoroughly checked out. If he's fine, I would do everything you can to get help so that you can get out for a bit every single day without fail - get a friend, parent babysitter, or someone to get you a break (don't worry, this will help you son because the break will enable you to help him better. Remember the airplane - your oxygen mask first!) At 15 months he should be using words, not screams. Every time he screams, say "use the words," "use the words." You should do another post to say where you are and see if anyone reading could give you an hour of their time so you can get out for a walk -- in Savannah? I will! Hang tough - what an extreme challenge.

Oh BLESS YOUR HEART! I have no advice, no help I can offer other than to let you know that my prayers are with you!!!! You sound like a really good momma and I wish you the best. You didn't mention about taking him to a doctor or specialist. It sounds like you have tried everything else. I would also suggest you taking time away from him and from the house. You've got to do stuff for YOU or else you really will loose it.
Good luck to you....

Hello, A..
First, I'm sorry. That sounds more than nerve wracking. I wanted to echo what one mom advised concerning holding him close while he's screaming. Yes, I realize that will bring him closer to your ears, but, if it works, it may be worth it.

The reason I think this may work is that, #1, if he's excited, either in a good or bad way, holding him tightly will slow his heart rate, bring his blood pressure down and therefore calm him; #2, it won't cause him to think that bad behavior makes him unlovable as time outs sometimes can (if a time out means separation from others, that is); and #3, if this behavior is a result of his missing the closeness of nursing, holding him could give him that closeness he's missing.

I have no idea if I'm right, but I'd be very interested to see if it will work with your little one.

Hi A.,
I am a Chiropractor so I will agree that he can benefit from our care. However, just from what you have written I believe you have more than a behavior problem on hand. Your son is showing signs of Autism, not bad behavior. How long was it after his last vaccines until he started the increased screaming? This is VERY common! Get Jenny McCarthys book Mother Warriors. You will find a lot of support in this book and advise. If it is Autism, you can help him!!! Do not give up on him. Chiropractic and DAN ( defeat autism now) have had great success through this! There is so much you can do to help him. Please let me know if I can offer any more. God Bless!

A., I am so sorry your whole family is going through this! I feel for you and your husband as well as for your son. I have to agree with some of the other moms--- I'd definitely see the doctor to rule out any problems, including hearing issues, and if nothing's found to be wrong physically, I'd also check with a counselor or child psychologist to make sure there are no other issues. Beyond that, I'd guess it's just a phase, but while you deal with whatever the problem is, don't forget to take care of yourself. You (and your husband, if he needs it) need to have some time away from your son-- trade child care with a friend, enlist a neighbor or family member, or put him in preschool for a few hours a week, just to preserve your sanity-- you'll be a better mommy for him if you're refreshed and in a good mood. And you could even consider counseling or a mom's group to get your problems off of your chest--sometimes just knowing you're not alone can work wonders. Good luck with this challenging time!

Have you looked into a good family Chiropractor? He may have something going on with his body function that he can't verbalize and may not even be painful just something that is causing him to scream like this. If you are in the Charleston, SC area I recommend Atlantic Coast Family Chiropractic in Summerville on Trolley Rd. She has a website and specializes in children. She is understanding and patient with kids. Both of my daughters and my 12 year old sister have gone there.

It sounds to me like your doing everything you know to do. I think every child at some point goes through that high pitch screeching phase. I can tell that you are really disturbed about this. I personally don't think anything is wrong with your child, but I am not a doctor. Take him to the ped. and get him checked to make sure nothing is bothering him (ears etc.). If he were my child and everything checked out at the docs office okay, I would put him in some kind of early childhood setting so he could have the chance to be around other children and I could get some peace. Remember, children can sense when parents are on edge and are tired of them. It happens to the best parents. Sometimes we all need time away from our children that way we learn to appreciate them more.

Obviously, I would go to the pediatrician first but I will say that sounds somewhat familiar so I'll tell you why but don't worry yet.

My nephew does that and he's been diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder. It's related to but doesn't always indicate Autism. He sees an occupational therapist and is doing a lot better.

His behavior is not "normal", though,(in children, what's "normal"?) and it's taking a toll on you so I would pursue getting to the bottom of this.

Good luck!

Hi A.,
I am sorry, I cannot imagine. I am like you that the screaming will just wear you down and make you want to jump! Two things:
1) I would look very closely at gut problems. Many children who are expeincing digestive problems scream because of the pain. He may not be able to express it, kind of like really horrible menstrul cramps, but I imagine the acidity causes something I have never had. Many parents find that within days of removing offending foods, the screaming will calm. You may have a lot of healing to do, but at least he will get out of pain. Milk and wheat (milk is usually the big one, but not always) are the biggest culprits for gut pain. Search online for "ten weeks to GFCF" for a plan. No, I am not implying he is autistic - pleeease! I just know the gut problems inside and out and this is a great plan to use. You may want to add an chewable enzyme (zyme prime is yummy and very good) at each meal as well.
2) If you are a praying woman, pray for direction. With my kids problems that I just can't think because of something, this prayer tends to bring peace to me (even if not my life) so I can see the clear direction that needs to be taken.
I could write for hours, be glad to help more if you want.

For the most part, I think your son is totally normal with his screaming. Do take him to the DR for a good look over if you haven't already, just to be on the safe side. You also might want to consider taking him off the bottle totally. This could be putting air in his tummy and causing gas bubbles and pain.

As for the screaming it's self, this is, for the most part, a phase. He has found a voice this way and he uses it every chance he gets for everything. He also gets a reaction from it from other family members as well as you, especially when you scream back at him. Now it has become a great game of who can scream the most, the loudest, etc. And don't think that he can't pick up on daddy feeling stressed or nervous about his screaming as well which is great for your son because now he feels he has some sort of control over the both of you by making you scream and walk on pins and needles.

Start off by looking at him and saying, that is not how you talk to mommy/daddy, when you are ready to talk nice I will listen. That is not how you ask for milk/juice/food, when you are ready to ask nice, I will listen. And then give him a bit to ask properly. If he doesn't, go about your business till he does.
Consider trying to get him to talk instead of using sign (after he gets a bit older, have him do both at the same time), he could be trying to be verbal and this is how he has figured out a way to do it. You could also start teaching him time out (one min for now) for when he screams. Last but not least..You must ignore his screaming! Ya, I know, you said you did that already, but do it it again and don't give in this time. Don't talk to him, don't look at him, don't even be in the same room as him when he does it if that's what it takes for you to ignore it. And that goes for everybody. Just don't react-plain and simple!
It's a bad habit that he has devoloped and it is up to you to stop it. There is nothing you've done wrong that caused this either. He is just being a toddler!

Good luck!

Have you taken him to the doctor regarding this matter. He may have a hearing problem or even some kind of chronic ear infection. My children did not always run a fever with ear infections.

Hi, A.. You may want to try signing with him. He may be trying to communicate and doesn't have the words yet to talk. My son, before he was 12 months old would scream a lot at the dinner table. After we taught him some signs, it stopped. He could communicate what he wants. He's 18 months old, and has a great vocabulary and quite a bit of words, but he still signs when he can't communicate a word or if we can't understand him. I would suggest getting some baby signing materials. I am a speech pathologist and teach baby sign classes in the Douglasville/Villa Rica area. You can email me at: ____@____.com or look at our website, www.kreativekidsusa.com. We start our signing classes at any time throughout the year, I just wait until I have enough people interested. Just a thought.

I would take him to see his Dr and maybe have his hearing checked


So sorry to hear about your difficulties. I would definitely see a child psychologist (get a referral from your doctor) and get help immediately. Hopefully your insurance will pay for this. It could be something simple like an allergy that causing him to scream. Since you are a first time mother (I am too), it is always okay to get a professional opinion on something like this. I would also recommend that you visit a psychiatrist and get on some antidepressants like Prozac to help you cope through this stressful time in your life. It will get better and you need some assistance. Your husband and you would benefit greatly from time away from home. Perhaps you could take turns for an hour out of the house - take a walk, etc. Just hang in there and reach out like you are doing right now.

I know that you may not want to hear this but he is showing early signs of Autism. A friend of mine had a son who did the exact same thing and it turned out that he has Autism. I would definitely try to make an appt with your ped. so that can see how is acting and etc.

I am not a doctor but experiences alot of the same thing with my now 9 year old. My husband would actually be waiting outside for me to come home as the baby screamed to the top of his lungs. After placing my son in a wonderful home daycare my provider noticed the behaviors as well. To make along story short my son had very small ear drums which later resulted in tubed being placed in his hear. By his ear drums being so small he constantly kept an ear infection which stopped him from hearing my voice. This problem resulted in a break of communication and bonding. By now your son should be responding to your verbal cues and developing his first words. If he cannot hear you thaen of course his sppech development will be delayed and he will scream to communicate. My son has since also been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Your son is too young for the ADD/ADHD testing but I would suggest starting with the ears; if ignored it can cause permanant hearing loss as well. Good Luck and pray.

wow. what to say, the only other thing that came to mind for me was that since it coincides with weaning maybe try holding him very closely for a while to calm him. i will be praying for you. you might want to get a hearing test done. i have raised me my three year old daughter the same as you and this is what i do for her when she has screaming fits which peaked and then subsided when her brother was born almost 9 months ago. i will be praying for you, i know it is frustrating and draining. you are doing a great job! press on. it sounds like you are a great mother, you will get through this! you will, and you will all be okay.

This is normal. My daughter did this because she learned it would get her attention, albeit negative attention. If he isn't in pain just ignore him, it will pass.

My daughter just learned that she can make her 4 month old cousin cry if she screams loud enough, so she does it then laughs. Your son is starting to learn that he can control or affect things by his behavior. Just find ways for you and your family to relax.

First, discuss this with his pediatrician, but meantime, my first impression upon reading your post was, "Oh my, somewhere along the line they have inadvertently reinforced his screaming." You say your household is normally extremely quiet. Perhaps he is needing more stimulation from noise. Do you play music during the day or have the TV on with appropriate children shows to view? Is he noise deprived and trying to make up the difference in his baby way? It is extremely hard to do, but if you provide him with good noise like music or a movie or show with child appropriate sounds, and he continues to scream all the time, get some earplugs and ignore him! Respond to him ONLY when he communicates appropriately. Re-train him in this way to know that screaming gets NO attention and I'm betting he will stop using it. Do not even speak to him or look at him when he is doing this screaming routine. (just make sure he is okay, but that's it!). It won't be easy, but just keep your eyes on the end result. No attention -- not positive, not negative -- NO attention to him when he is screaming. Use the earplugs. It might take several days to a week, but I am betting this will put an end to his new behavior. I can tell just from your writing that you are a sweet, kind person and not accustomed to such as this. Good luck to you. I do want to ask if he is using words at all, though. If not, then have his hearing checked, too. This is very important to do. Hopefully, he's not screaming because he cannot hear himself making sounds otherwise.

Wow, you sound like you are having quite a time! Whew! I've had three boys (1 not that old yet) and never had this. Well, I remember they would scream for fun at times, but nothing like that.

The only thing that I can even think besides what some of the others already mentioned is: do you react to the screams? If so, then it's fun for him to see the reaction. "I wonder, if I do this, what will my mom/dad do?" I would have to let him scream, but first put him in a safe environment and let him 'let it out'. He needs to see his mom's face with no reaction except perhaps maybe a sad face and then you walk away. Of course peek in on him from time to time, but I would definitely don't let him see you sweat.

Wow A. - I thought I was the only one that had this problem. My son is 17 months old and does the exact same thing. I suffer from horrible migraines and I think this contributes to them ALOT. My son screams so long and for long periods of times sometimes that he holds and grabs his ears like his own scream is hurting his ears. And I can see why! The pediatrician said this is just a phase esp in young children that don't talk yet. We have an older son that started talking at 9 months and this one only says a few words right now. It's very disturbing to our household too and I find myself doing the same thing - screaming at him to stop screaming. I wish I had some advice for you but I don't. I can just atleast let you know that you are not alone and hopefully this will be a behavior that goes away SOON! For the both of us!

M. B

I think he's just expressing himself. You mentioned that he has signed since he was an infant. How many verbal words does he have at this point? If he's not really talking, he might just be screaming to express emotions he doesn't have the words for.

You also mentioned that you model things like "Please, Mommy" to him. How does he respond? Does he try to repeat what you said?

My nephew was a late talker and did the same thing. It was his way of "getting it out", whether it was happiness, sadness, anger, whatever. As he learned and used more words, the screaming became less and less. I guess my advice would be to really begin work on getting him to use his words and see if it lessens the screaming.

Hope this helps.

K. in GA

Hi A.,

You don't mention if you've had a discussion with your pediatrician or not. That would be my first step.

Distress like you describe could be a symptom of many things, such as diet, sensory issues, or even something more concerning.

If the pediatrician is no help, I would also suggest a developmental pediatrican for an evaluation. My son saw Dr. Sonia George Bussey for evaluation when he was a 4-5 for sensory, motor skill issues. She's a wonderful doctor and great with kids. My son LOVED her.

Good luck!

My heart goes out to you bc it must be hard to feel so frustrated with your own child. I am a first time mom and have not experienced this and this may sound like a dumb suggestion but have you checked with his pediatrician and what did he/she say? It almost sounds like he could be in pain from something? I wish you the best of luck!

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