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How to Address Screeching

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“My nine-month-old has found his voice…in the form of an ear-piercing shriek! Do I just try to wait it out until he learns words, or are there ways I can teach him more mom-friendly sounds?”

There are three main reasons for children loudly screeching in their communication, and the reason your child is screeching will determine the best course of action.

He may be experimenting with his voice. Babies are just learning how to control what comes out of their mouths. They learn by experimentation with mouth shape, throat constriction, air flow, and vocal cords. And, yep, some of that experimentation will be loud!

You can tell if this is what your baby is doing by reading his face and body language. If he seems upset, there is likely another reason behind the screeching. But if he is happy or neutral, it is likely vocal experimentation.

The best thing for a baby who is learning to control his voice is to play mimicking games. Look into his eyes, smile, and copy every sound he makes. This will help him both hear what he’s doing as well as feel it. You can label sounds “loud” or “soft.” It’s great for learning in the long run, but don’t expect him to understand it just yet.

Also try making a screech yourself (playfully), then cover your ears and squinch up your face and say, “Ouch! That’s loud! It hurts my ears.” Then whisper, “Let’s talk soft.” Do this lightheartedly. You will need to do it many times over the course of weeks for it to sink in.

He may have hearing issues. Don’t freak out, but it is important to rule this out as a cause. Children with hearing loss may be very loud because they can’t hear themselves when they make soft sounds. Fluid in the ears may not show up when a child is checked for an ear infection, and this condition can make them feel like they are hearing things under water.

Play around to see if your child responds to both loud and soft sounds that you make, particularly when he can’t see what you are doing. If you suspect a hearing problem, get your child tested now, because hearing is crucial for language development.

He may have discovered that screeching gets a quick response. Shrieks sure do get our attention! It’s worth asking ourselves if we are quickly responsive to softer, less urgent noises. What about siblings? Is your baby having a hard time feeling like part of the family if he’s not loud enough?

Take some time to observe and try to see through your baby’s eyes. Is he lonely? Is he frustrated? Is a sibling teasing him when you’re not looking? Is he trying to learn a new skill that’s driving him crazy? Is he generally healthy, and is his nap schedule still working for him? Without words, it can be hard to figure out what needs or feelings are driving the yelling, but it’s worth it to do the detective work.

Finally, when baby shrieks, gently put your fingers on his lips, and say “Shhhhh,” in a soothing way. Talk to him quietly, and he will bring his volume down to match yours.


Photo by Aaron Gilson

Tagged in: Discipline