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.

More Answers

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!

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