Family Life

Help! My Toddler Won’t Stop Screaming!

Screaming Toddler with Title
There are just some days in my house when my toddler won't stop screaming...

The last three Mondays have had the 80’s hit song “Manic Monday” playing in the deep corners of my mind on repeat (when I’m not reciting scriptures and prayers in a desperate attempt to not blow my lid entirely in response to all the toddler screaming).

Between screaming, waking up in the wee hours of the morning, nap refusals, illness, and about a million other mishaps– I have wondered if I am destined to have the Mondayest of Mondays for the rest of my foreseeable Mondays…

On my most recent crazy hazy day, in an attempt to encourage me, a friend gave me a tomato that she grew in her garden… and I sat on it while putting Leona in her car seat….  You’ve had days like this… I know I can’t be alone.

And yet, I am determined of two things:

1. That I will not be one of the screaming ones in the middles of these days; and 2. That my kids will be absolutely positive at the end of these days that their mama loves them with the unfailing love that will prayerfully point them toward the agape love of the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

So, with scripture after scripture, prayer after prayer (and maybe a Starbucks coffee or two), I persevere through these days. I’ve learned that on days like this I NEED a few activities in my back pocket that will free up my hands and my mind so that I am able to take a few deep breaths and reconnect to my ideals, my convictions, and fan into flame the Spirit to take over where I am weak.

Here are my go-to activities to catch a break from the screaming and inject a little peace into the days that feel like they might never end…

1. Bath Time

Confession: There have been days when my daughter has had 3 baths in one 12 hour period… I’m here to tell you that 3 is not too many and if you need to put that toddler in some water 3 times in one day, more power to ya, sister. You are not alone.

Putting screaming toddlers in water is akin to J.K. Rowling’s Petrificus Totalus spell in the world of Harry Potter– neutralizing their angst against you and the rest of the world and overwhelming them with the perfect combo of Zen and fun, buying you 10 or 15 minutes of ear-rest.

My daughter will sit in the tub several times a day– she loves to be sans diaper and clothing (“nakey” in our house), she loves to splash, and she loves to pour water. 

My recommendation is to be flexible here. Sometimes she pours the water out of the tub… Now, the control freak in me is super annoyed by this… BUT, I’ve decided that it’s a worthwhile cost to the break I get from her crabby day. If your toddler is determined to do something that is a big “no-no” in your house while in the bath, use this as an opportunity to practice some positive redirection: “Here, try this…” instead of a firm, “No.” Research shows that this form of re-direction is actually more effective for children under two, and will save you a meltdown… Maybe.

2. Dance Party

In my house, the dance party serves a two-fold purpose: Number one, it absolutely neutralizes the toddler screams (at least for a few minutes). She stops her fit, picks up a stuffed animal, and starts grooving with the moves of a 1970’s flower child being “moved by the music.”

But number two– it also improves my mood as well. Research shows that listening to music improves psychological well-being, and also increases feelings of social connectedness. When my toddler is having a screaming day, we need all the help we can get in the social connectedness department to help me keep parenting from a place of love and connection rather than frustration and control.

3. Go for a Drive

The caveat here is that if your child hates the car, it might be a huge flop. BUT, if your kiddo can tolerate the car even for a little bit, this will buy you 10-30 minutes of time where you aren’t being touched or having to physically redirect. My two kiddos are pretty much 50-50 on how tolerant they are in the car, but if they start to fuss I just decide to make it a shorter drive.

This is one of my favorite ways to get on a call or listen to a podcast (via AirPods, of course) when I need some grownup thoughts to break up the cacophony of discontentment and frustration.

4. Water/Mud play outside

Let’s be real, this is essentially an outside bath. And, if you play your cards right, this can roll right into an actual bath to wash off all of the mud and/or grass from the outside play.

Depending on your yard situation, you can do this water/mud play sans clothing, or in a reusable swim diaper to minimize clean up or desires to control.

I have a bin that lives outside with various toys that are on their last leg (aka, I don’t care if they get ruined), and I just fill this up with water when I’m needing to catch a break. The beauty of being outside is that usually anything outside can get dirty, so it reduces the number of redirections needed.

Often times in these screaming days, our toddlers are trying to tell us that they need less interruptions in their play. Therefore, anything that reduces redirections allows for our kiddos to get deep into the play without you and I managing our stress over needing to clean up whatever it is they’re destroying in that particular moment.

5. Playdough

Playdough is a great activity for any day of the week– usually we roll out the Playdough at least once a day, sometimes more! I have a collection of Playdough that lives inside– with some fun toys that allow for some great sensory play, as well as a bucket of “outside Playdough.” 

If you’re like my husband, you can get a little protective over the Playdough colors mixing or getting gunk inside of them. That’s why I have a bucket of Playdough that is specifically for “outside.” AKA– this Playdough is not subject to our adult-control-freak minds, and is free to have dirt, other colors, sticks, and/or bugs shoved inside of it for the sake of exploration. 

My daughter will usually play with Playdough for at least 15-20 minutes, and even longer if I give her free-range outside!

6. Go for a walk

When I can’t get a handle on things inside, sometimes it’s best to just get our little feet moving. Somehow, being outside on a walk helps toddlers to curb their meltdowns a bit, become curious in the outside world, and just overall chill out. 

Worst case scenario, if the screaming continues, at least you’re outside where the noise at least dissipates rather than echoing and magnifying off the walls of your home. 

An added benefit to a walk is that the exercise usually gets little minds and hearts tuckered out and ready for nap or bedtime, which is always a welcome reprieve on the screaming days

The honest truth is that none of these methods will be fool-proof.

Toddlers are in the unique developmental stage of needing LOT’S of autonomy, having BIG feelings, and not knowing what to do with any of it. I often remind myself that I also don’t like to be told no, but I have almost 30 years of practice hearing it. Our little ones are doing the hard work of building brain synapses, pruning them to include only the essential ones, learning language, developing cognitively and physically, and so much more.

While this doesn’t make the screaming any less overwhelming, it may call to mind some perspective that can help us enact our coping skills, speak with gentleness and kindness, and not end up in a knock-down-drag-out brawl with our babies.

Because the days of screaming are full of overwhelm, I created this printable for you to have somewhere handy when you need it. No thinking, just run through this list of activities as many times as you need to in order to make it to bedtime without totally breaking down.

Head on over to my Instagram, @faith.in.the.thickofit to join the community and remind yourself that you’re not alone! Let’s stick together in the thick of it, mama!

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