Seeking Help with Screaming Toddler!

Updated on May 12, 2009
E.F. asks from Glens Falls, NY
17 answers

My 2 year old boy has recently begun screaming whenever he is unhappy about something. It might be that we are asking him to do something he does not want to do or prohibiting him from doing something he wants to do (like waking me up in the morning). He just lays down on the floor and screams and it is almost impossible to get through to him when he is screaming. We are trying to give give in to whatever the issue is but I am at a total loss on how to handle it. We have tried ignoring which does not work, we have tried to distract him with something else and are open to any ideas. I have tried to give him words to express how he is feeling but we just cannot get through to him.

Please help as I cannot take many more screaming fits.

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answers from Buffalo on

E.-take away something he loves everytime he throws a crying fit and reward him lavishly when he follows through on something. Consistancy is the key !!!!

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answers from New York on

Toddlers are the most stubborn creatures I have encountered =)
Perhaps he needs a more acceptable physical outlet. Think about it. Screaming is an easy way to release pent up emotions in a physical way. And sometimes, the element of surprise is the only thing to distract a toddler. If you were to all of a sudden do something completely unexpected, I'd bet it'd get his attention. Maybe pull out an instrument like a harmonica or recorder and blow into it really hard. When he looks at you for that 1/4 second - act fast and tell him that sometimes it makes you feel better to make music when you're frustrated. And ask him if he wants to try. Distract him by trying to do a song or asking him to sing with you. Bring his emotional level down by starting out loud and then asking him how quietly he can do it (ask him with a whispering voice). Or turn on some favorite music and tell him to dance as fast as he can (after a minute, bring him back down by asking him to dance as slow as he can). Maybe find something he can squeeze as hard as he can, like a stuffed animal. Whatever works. Keep trying. Eventually, you can work down when he has a tantrum to a point where he does something more acceptable like taking a big breath to calm down or just finding a place in the house where he goes to take a break when he's most frustrated.
No matter what, toddlers cannot be reasoned with when in a tantrum. Often, parents are able to bring them down after a tantrum, only to start it back up by discussing whatever started it. So, let it go. Distract - redirect - and then much later discuss what happened and explain why you understand he's frustrated but whatever he wanted couldn't happen b/c, etc. Or anticipate when it'll happen again and try to remind him ahead of time. Like when you put him to bed, say "Now remember, instead of waking mommy up in the morning, you are going to...." Remember toddlers are very black & white. Many times they just simply will not understand why they can't have their way no matter how much you explain. Keep it simple and be quick to praise. Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

2 ideas:
one from book The Portable Pediatrician: get earplugs and very dramatically put them in when he is screaming, and go about your activities as though you can't hear his screaming (you will actually be able to hear him; this takes some acting on your part but it is still safe!). Take the earplugs out when he calms down, uses his "big boy voice" or otherwise behaves well. This gives him no rewarding attention for screaming. Of course, I have no idea how many hours/days it'll take for it to sink in with him!

two, Parents magazine last month had, of all things, yoga poses for kids. I thought it was ridiculous until my 3-year old threw a fit, and I said, Okay, donkey pose together! (You put both hands on the floor, and put one leg as straight up/back into the air as you can, breathe, and count to 10 out loud.) And amazingly, it slowed him down, put us on the same page, and then he could explain what was bothering him. Tree pose also works -- you hold hands with your little one, stand on one foot with the other foot pressed on the inside of your knee, and either stand or hop together.

Both of these give you a chance to have a sense of humor in the midst of an irritating and long-standing situation. They put you back in charge, which gives kids comfort.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

I don't have experience (yet) with screaming but I can relate. My son, who is 17 months, went through a head-banging phase that lasted about 4 months. It was agonizing and alarming to watch, but after his pediatrician assured me it was my son's way of expressing frustration that we should ignore it, since any acknowledgement of it may lead him to head bang for attention. Fortunately he has stopped doing it.

While I am sure it's really tough to ignore the screaming, have you tried time outs? When I have to give my son multiple time outs (if he keeps repeating the naughty behavior), I keep adding minutes to it: start with 1, time out #2 is 3 mins; time out #3 is 5 mins; etc. until he gets the picture or I figure out how to remove him from the sitation (go for a walk, move him to another room, etc.).

Another thing to try is to as-calmly-as-possible tell your son that you can't understand him when he talks like that and that if he wants to tell you something he needs to calm down. Then, when he calms down, lavish the praise on him.

I think the key thing with the situation, in general, is patience and consistency. What your son is going through is likely a phase, and I hope for your sake that it's a short one! Good luck to you. I'm sure it's really hard to deal with all the screaming but rest assured it'll get better.



answers from New York on

I read all the great responses and noticed that it was mentioned twice to do timeouts in your toddlers room or crib. When I started talking to people about doing timeouts I thought my sons room or crib would be a good place as well. It was soon pointed out to me that the crib or his room would not be a good place because you don't want to associate anything "bad" like timeouts with his crib or room (a place where he sleeps or plays). Timeouts should be in a neutral area (like a corner of a room, hallway, stair etc)
Just thought I would share this cause after someone pointed this out to me I realized they were right.



answers from Jamestown on

My daughter will be three in June and she does the same thing.

When she's throwing a fit, I just look at her and ask if she's done yet. This throws her off and she pretty much stops. When I ask her to do something and she throws a fit, I say "Please help me put your toys away". Once she does, I say thank you, good girl with every toy she puts away. It seems to be working.

She's my youngest out of four so I don't fall for the tantrums.

Good luck,



answers from New York on

Hi E.-
When your son has a tantrum, it's best to ignore him. My son had the same tantrums as long as he was safe (not banging his head on the floor) then walk out of the room and tell him you'll come back when he stops screaming. By ignoring the behavior, he will stop doing it.
This worked for me, I hope it works for you.


answers from Rochester on

Most of the advice on here is pretty good, E., so I don't have a lot to add other than experience. My older boy is almost 2 1/2 and he definitely has meltdown cues now. Sometimes it is because he needs a nap or his nap was too short. One of the best things a parent of a toddler can do is to create for your child a sense of control. If your child tries to tell you something and you don't understand, ask him to show you or tell you a different way. Children need to know that their parents and caregivers care about what they are saying and try to understand. If a request is not unreasonable, try to find a way to say yes. Maybe, "You helped mommy pick up, so we are going to watch one cartoon as a treat," or, "We are going to go shopping so we can't watch a cartoon now." Just "because I said so" and standing your ground on principle does not really help a situation, but neither does giving in at the tantrum stage. That's when I would suggest picking your battles. Let your child feel that he can ask for something or to do something and help him learn to accept both yes and no. If he only hears no and goes to the tantrum phase in hopes of a yes, he will not learn boundaries and he will not learn that his needs and wants are being recognized. Keep your schedule as consistent as possible so he knows what to expect and you can fall back on that (like when you allow cartoons, what time you go outside because of the sun, etc.). There will be screaming, so feel free to keep his room as safe as possible and in the worst moments tell him that you love him but he needs to relax until he can calm himself down. If my toddler wakes up too early and just screams I tell him he needs to relax in his room until he is calm. He'll scream and kick his door for a while but when it is quiet I go and ask him if he is calm and he is usually very happy to come back downstairs. He still feels safe but he learns to work it out without giving me a headache. Sorry for the repeated advice and the rambling. Just remember, this will pass!



answers from New York on

You have terrible 2 problems!!
I have a 2 1/2 year old, but luckily, she doesnt do that often (about once every month or two). She is still in a crib, so I can take her to her rooom and put her in her crib and let her cry it out. After about 5 - 10 minutes, I get her, whether she is still crying or not. I walk into her room, and pretend nothing is wrong. I go to her, give her a hug and ask her if she is done. then she will stop crying and come back and join the rest of us. It is a form of time out, that works for toddlers.
I know what your thinking. you dont want to hear your child upset, right? I dont either, but sometimes it just needs to be done. The less they like the timeout, the less likely the screaming fits will occur.
Good luck



answers from New York on

Dear E.,

with your avoidance behavior and frustration, you are giving him power. As a parent you have to be in charge. Stay calm, pick him up, put him in the designated time out spot and walk away. If he gets up, put him back in and repeat that until he calms down and then leave him in their for 2 additional minutes (one for each year of life). Then go back and explain on your knees why this behavior is not acceptable. Hugs and kisses and done. Repeat whenever necessary.

This is Classic Super-Nanny btw, but I promise you that it works.



answers from New York on


Tell him what you want him to do. Make sure when you are giving instructions the TV is off or muted. If he starts to throw a fit, turn your back and walk away. I love what Dr. James MacDonald of Communicating Partners says, "Don't talk to bad behavior." For as long as he is throwing a fit, do not look at him, do not talk to him, do not even say, "don't do that." Do not ever try to talk to him while he is screaming. Just turn your back and walk away. No matter how long it takes...and it might take a LONG time especially the first few times...stay away until he stops. Then when he is quiet or when he comes to you without fussing, give him the same instructions you gave before. If he fusses again, do the same thing. Consistancy is the key here. Be prepared to spend some time dealing with this until he gets the message that negative behavior does not get his attention. Also work on giving him attention when he behaves appropriately.

These are tough instructions to follow, but trust me on this one. My first daughter was a tempertantrum thrower and at 16, she still is. If you think a 2-y-o tempertantrum is bad, you should see a 16 year old one. Yikes. I handled things differently with my 3 younger chidren and they they don't do this.

I hope this helps you.

T. E



answers from New York on

Hi E.,

I'm sorry; tantrums are the worst! :)

I know I'm coming late to this discussion, but I just wanted to say that by the time a child is already having a tantrum, it may be too late to modify his behavior. Two-year-olds (especially if your son is closer to his second birthday than his third) have only a rudimentary ability to handle their emotions and to communicate; a tantrum means they've hit overload.

What I really recommend is focusing on the times when your son is building up to a tantrum and giving him skills to communicate some other way. When you see your son gearing up for a tantrum, try to catch him early and say "use your words." This is also a time to get your son to find alternatives to screaming "You can't play with this, but you can play with that." Or if you want to get him to do something, try making it a game.

Finally, as much as we all need and cherish our sleep, you may need to ask yourself whether the interval between when your son wakes up and when you wake up is just too long for him at this developmental stage. Small children are often confused and disoriented upon waking, and can need comfort -- they often can't go straight from sleep to play. And for a toddler, there's no concept of "that 15-minute period is coming to an end soon." If your son is waiting for you to wake up, it could literally feel like an eternity to him, and he may not be sure you ever will wake up (not in a morbid sense, just in the sense that toddlers don't yet sequence time, so they're not confident that one event will follow the next). SO ... it's possible that not being allowed to wake you up is creating anxiety that fuels your son's tantrums for the rest of the day. Is there a super-low-impact way you can let him wake you, say by letting him play quietly with a comforting toy on the foot of your bed?

I hope some of this helps,




answers from New York on

At age 2, your son has figured out that he can control his environment, not in a manipulative way, but in an experimental way. Your message says that you are trying to give in to whatever the issue is, but I hope that is a typo!

First, don't try to reason with him once the tantrum has started. You can do one of two things- remove him or remove yourself. This is not the same as ignoring it. Literally, pick him up (w/o talking to him) and put him in a safe location (his room or his crib would work). If that is not possible, move yourself and everyone else to another room. When I worked in a therapeutic preschool setting, I used to put myself in time-out when I was frustrated with their behavior. It was "shocking" enough that it descalated their behavior b/c they wanted to know why I was upset.

When he is calm, talk with him privately and briefly- he's only two. Tell him that screaming is not okay and that he needs to use his words. Just a question... how is his language developing? If he seems a little delayed, get him evaluated through Early Intervention in your county. Severe tantrums often result from lacking a method of communication.

Finally, try to anticipate some of his typical triggers and avoid them. Keep a little notebook with information about the tantrums: time of day, what happened just before, who was there, how you reacted and look for patterns. For example, if he gets over-tired make sure you are home or near his pack-and-play around nap times. Don't change a routine if it's not necessary. Keep in mind that your return to work is wonderful, but it is a significant change.

Good luck-



answers from New York on

Did he just turn 2, or is he closer to 3? Could it be potty related? If not...let him scream. And dole out the consequences. "We do not scream, it is rude. You cannot watch TV now", etc. They're never too young to learn the rules, and you'll just have to ride out the screaming. Good luck, tantrums suck.



answers from New York on

Hi E.,
Many two year olds have tantrums. They really don't know how else to vent their frustration about things they can't control. Once they figure out that it makes you unhappy ... well, you know, misery loves company so if they are unhappy, they will make sure that you are too.
You cannot reason with a child having a tantrum and you can't reason with a 2 year old at all - which is part of why they are so easily frustrated.
Why doesn't ignoring work? Walk away. Leave the room. He won't stop immediately - he is so worked up and needs to get it out of his system. The ignoring isnt' to stop the tantrum he is having, but eventually it sinks in that this behavior will not get him what he wants, and will learn to use his words better. And it's good to empathize - "I know it's really frustrating and makes you mad that you can't go outside right now." He may not quite understand, but it helps to give him the words to define his feelings.
Good luck



answers from New York on


I'm in the same boat. My daughter will be 2 at the end of this month and for the past two days she has been having fits durning her nap time. She'll cry and then finally falls a sleep. I'm thinking she is trying to grow out her naps but I'm not sure b/c my 4yr old still takes them.

Not sure what to do...



answers from New York on

Do not give in to any tantrum. You can usually tell when a kid is winding up to a tantrum and you can tell him at that time that no matter how hard he screams he will not get whatever. He is frustrated and cant tell you what his problem is. As far as waking you, you might explain to him that mommy wants to sleep later and he should not come in your room. Maybe he's hungry or bored in the morning, so be sure he has toys and perhaps a bowl of dry cereal to munch on. If he continues to wake you, its hard to ignore, so I would plop him none too gently in his high chair and ignore him till he is quiet.
Otherwise you have to learn what he does not like and then do it when he is having a fit. If you walk out of the room does he scram harder? Then he wants the attention, so ignore him. One of my boys didnt care if I ignored him, and one day I decided to tell him he was doing it all wrong. I told him to scream harder and bang his fists harder on the floor, then I clapped and called his brothers in to watch. We all cheered him on and he hated it. From then on when he was about to go off, I would start to applaud and he would glare at me and walk away. Another of my boys hated standing in the corner, so thats what I made him do till he stopped screaming.
Whatever you decide to do be consistent and warn him that is what you are going to do. If you dont control him now it will get worse, especially if you give him what he wants to shut him up.

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