Bye-Bye, Banshee baby: How to stop shrieking in infants

Somewhere in that blurry place between baby and toddler, my child picked up this eardrum shattering, headache spurring, blood curdling shrieking. It wasn't just crying or whining. His angelic little face would go beat red and squinch up as he put every ounce of power those little vocal cords had into a screech of glass-breaking decibels. He did it when he was angry, bored and on occasion startled. I didn't know why it started, but I sure as heck knew I wanted it to stop.

Why do babies shriek?

Shrieking is sort of like pre-tantruming and is caused by the same things. A baby or young toddler resorts to that awful sound because they can't express whatever it is verbally. The same way you sometimes get so mad you just want to scream all that frustration into a pillow—and maybe you do, your baby is just letting it all ring out. It's most common in older babies to young toddlers because they are on the verge of communication. They are learning to use words and know their voices can express things, but they don't know enough words to convey the things they want to get, and that's very frustrating in itself.

More importantly, how do I get my baby to stop shrieking?

This one took me awhile to figure out. First, I tried ignoring my baby's shrieks, thinking if he didn't get attention he'd stop. This didn't work. It didn't address whatever emotion was causing the shrieking in the first place so he often just became more angry and got even louder somehow. I found instead of ignoring the reaction, looking for the action that caused it was more effective. While giving into tantrums is never wise, with shrieking, identifying and then disarming the issue works wonders. For example if my baby went into siren mode after he found he'd finished his sippy cup, that meant, "I want more" so I'd say, "more mom please," point to his cup and then re-fill it. This articulated his desire for him, showed him both a verbal and physical way to express it, and resolved the problem. Ideally, those are the four things you want to shoot for.

However, not all shrieking fits are a result of something you can just resolve. Your baby may be over stimulated, angry, or sad, in which case one of these two methods usually can stop the noise.

Whisper it away:

I'd scoop my baby up into my arms, look him directly in the eye and whisper something. Babies and toddlers at this age are very curious. As a result, most kids will stop shrieking so they can hear what you're saying. Then we'd just sit and talk awhile, and he and I would try to get to the bottom of how he was feeling even if he couldn't really use words to communicate.

Turn it into a song:

Sometimes when I'd go to pick him up he'd just do that wet-noodle thing kids are so great at and flop right out of my embrace. In which case I'd break into simply song. Something he could imitate back to me and sing along with. The theme to Elmo's World was a popular choice because he also had a strange obsession with Elmo at the time.

Using these three tips, I very rarely had to hear that terrible shrieking without reprieve.

If I fail, how long does the shrieking stage typically last?

You know all babies are different and nothing may work for you. Lucky for you, shrieking tends to phase out as verbal skill progress. Of course, tantrums often replace it, but that's a whole new stage.

You may also enjoy:

Simple Ways to Improve Your Baby's Vocabulary

Tips for Handling Baby Tantrums

Physical Tantrums in Infants: Why Babies Bang Their Heads


Why Children Shriek