My 10 month old son screams (high pitch and loud) when:

  • older sister takes away his toy
  • when he wants our attention
  • when he doesn't get his way
  • when we've taken away something that we don't want him to have
  • when we put him in his crib and he wants out
  • when we're holding him and he wants us to put him down so he can crawl/walk

It seems like that some times this is warranted, like when his sister takes away his toy.

How do I let him know that screaming is not the right thing to do in certain situations?

I've tried to actually whisper to him when he starts his high pitched squealing so that he would stop so that he can hear me. However that doesn't always work.

4 Answers 4


I agree that there are two intelligent beings here tying to influence the other. The problem is that one of them doesn't have the vocabulary yet to voice the transgression and frustration he feels. He is not being a manipulative little dictator at this stage; he's just expressing what he feels in a way that comes naturally to him. There is a double concern here: to respond to his needs in an appropriate way so that trust is maintained, and to teach him how to express his needs in a more socially acceptable manner. A real and important goal is to teach him to start managing his frustration. (I confess right now that I am not of the school advocating ignoring his screams; I think trust is too important.)

In one of these examples, the need is to train his sister to stop taking his toys. (If someone walked up to you and calmly took your iPhone and started walking away, would you not feel like yelling?) He can't "share" at this age. You choose the method you do that; depending on her age, one thing that might work is substituting a good toy, but if he still objects, then no trade. To try to silence him in this situation is to tell him, in effect, that his feelings are invalid. (Remember the iPhone.) They aren't.

At all times, you can try to teach him words. Say "down" every time you put him down, whether he's crying or not. Say "up" every time you pick him up, including out of his crib. Say "not now" (or, if never, "no") if he screams for something he's not going to get (e.g. at nap time), then allow him to scream or offer him things to distract him. You can explain "later", but follow through (his memory isn't long-lasting yet). When he is actually using words, then hold him to a higher level of accountability to use his words instead of screaming.

I'm truly sorry if this sounds preachy. At this age, this is relatively normal. Help him to learn words and gestures, and respond to those with attention. Only when he can express himself otherwise should you take on training him not to scream.


It's important to remember that there are two intelligent human beings in this transaction, each trying to train the other. He's trying to train you to jump into action when he screeches.

If you want to reinforce this behavior, reward it by giving him what he's screaming for. If you want to extinguish it, you'll have to ignore it and reward other, less annoying ways of getting your attention.

You have to give him alternatives, and that means a quick response when he uses some acceptable method in order to move him to that new method. Since he's so young, you can't actually give him instruction, you'll have to watch for something he does that would work for you. He has to have something that works to replace the screeching, and the screeching can't ever work.


Your son has learned cause and effect. If he doesn't like something (being put to bed, wants down, wants his way, etc) then he makes this noise. You respond by giving him what he wants.

To break this behavior, stop the reward. It is called extinction. If you put him to bed, and he screams, ignore it. If he makes a different noise, respond. At ten months, he's not old enough to use words, but he is more than able to learn a new cause-effect system.

The exact same solution is used to deal with whining later.


So in essence your question is analogous to : How would Pavlov's dogs go about having the good doctor change that annoying high pitched (whistle) he conditioned them with to something more pleasant to their ear, perhaps a small silver bell for example.

To which the good doctor would have replied that he is but a 6 month old infant while you are a self aware, educated human adult with years of life experience who is salivating all over his expensive lab equipment.

Consider modifying family members response to unwanted stimuli (stop drooling at whistle: don't change son's environment when he produces high pitched scream) till he realizes that a new signal needs to be invented to get you drooling again and do his bidding. Try settling on one of the more pleasant noises or behaviors he will exhibit that's more pleasant for your indoctrination. (That is if you want to condition yourself again). ;)

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