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Our 3 1/2 month old has just learned how to make an ear-piercing screech, which appears to either mean "happy" or "tired and grumpy".

How can we dissuade her from making this noise, without "ignoring" her when she's upset?

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They make these collars that will shock you if...oh wait...I think these are for dogs. –  DA01 Aug 27 '12 at 19:57
    
The little one will go through a range of strange and annoying and even scary sounds. These will pass. For us, the worst is the constant whining if you are not doing exactly what she wants, which is helping her walk around (she's still 4 months away from actually being able to walk). –  Dave Clarke Aug 28 '12 at 7:31
    
My daughter (20 months) never screeched at all until my niece (7 months) started. She 'learned' it from the younger one and now does it basically whenever she doesn't get what she wants. My wife and I thought we had dodged a bullet, but it turned out to be a boomerang :) –  corsiKa Aug 28 '12 at 14:23
    
Like many things coming your way, you really can only reward it or ignore it and hope it goes away. If you reward it, you can be certain it won't go away for a long time! –  Marc Jul 12 at 2:52
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4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I took a slightly different approach to the other answers.

I simply ignored the screeching, and exaggerated my reactions to everything else.

If he smiled, cooed, burped, or even simply made eye contact, I would put on a big smile and talk to him, tickle him, etc..

When he made loud, painful sounds, I made sure my expression didn't flicker, and I gave him absolutely no response.

I figured that rewarding positive behavior, and ignoring negative behavior rather than actively discouraging it, would be an effective means of communication at that age, since they are so focused on watching for responses and learning how to interact. It did seem to work, as the loud screeching phase was very short for us.

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Yep, practice your Stone Face. –  Will E. Aug 29 '12 at 15:08
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Stone Face is a must have in a parent's arsenal. I thought I had it, until the day my 5 year old (now 9) brought home a chart with a bunch of faces labeled with the emotion each was meant to represent, and the one that said "mad" had a female with a "pig nose" and my son explained that it was me. I asked "why the pig nose?" And he said "'cause your nostrils flare when you're mad." Apparently my stone face needed work. So, next time you are mad, check the mirror. Perhaps an errant nostril is giving you away. –  Jax Jul 11 at 1:50
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Screeching is unfortunately a common first means of communication, and I can wholly understand why you want to discourage that.

One way to teach it is to encourage her and interact with joy when the makes all other kinds of sounds, to let her know that these are sounds that please you. When she makes these ear-piercing shrieks, show her your discomfort - distort your face, cover your ears, wail or moan, and tell her in plain spoken language "that hurt." Even at her young age, she'll eventually understand that there is a difference.

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+1. Make the little bugger laugh. –  Dave Clarke Aug 27 '12 at 21:15
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One of the things kids don't like is a loss of interaction. My son started screeching really loudly, and our reacting with discomfort only made him do it more. Children like to control things, and it's natural for them to do what they can do to make people react. There's no point in getting angry and upset as they genuinely don't understand at their age, so I decided to try and provide feedback in the form of controlling interaction. Every time he screeched I looked away until he stopped, then I looked back. That worked for awhile, but then he did it again and looking away didn't stop him, he just did it louder, so every time he screeched I walked out of the room until he stopped, then I came back in. It did not take long for him to figure it out, and within 2-3 days he stopped and I never had to do anything like that ever again.

In order for interaction control to work you have to react quickly do an association forms: as soon as he starts screeching you leave the room and go where they can't see you, and as soon as they stop you come back in. If you do it promptly and consistently they learn to associate the behavior with something they don't like, leading to them stopping the behavior. If you don't do it consistently or wait until your child's been screeching (or whatever other behavior) for 10 minutes then you'll just confuse your child.

You can't convince a 4 month old to stop a behavior using words, they just don't get it. Interaction is a powerful way to communicate what you want, give more for positive behavior and less for negative behavior. It's much more constructive then getting angry, and it works.

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Sounds tough. A bit like the cry it out method. –  Dave Clarke Aug 28 '12 at 9:28
    
@DaveClarke: it doesn't have to be. I've done similar: when junior shrieks, I get up and leave but I return one or two minutes later. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 28 '12 at 10:02
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At 4 months old, your baby is simply experimenting with their voice and sounds and trying to make different vocalizations. This is not permanent so I wouldn't worry about correcting any behaviors. Maybe if you are talking about a 2 year old screeching, then some of the answers provided here are relevant. Otherwise for an infant, it's just another developmental milestone and I would just let them learn and explore.

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