My 4 year old has a very high-pitched scream. It used to cause pain in my ears when she first started doing it (when she was 2 if I remember right?) but it doesn't anymore; I think the high-pitched portion of my hearing got killed off. Back when she first started she would scream several times a day for various reasons (listed below), then there's been a bit of a lull, and now at 4.5 years old she's starting to do it a lot again.
These screams aren't associated with tantrums. They often are associated with her being frustrated, but not always. Some are screams of excitement/enjoyment, and occasionally some are more along the lines of natural communication, like she sees screaming is just one form of voice, along with talking, singing, and humming. They usually only last for one to a few seconds.
To be clear, these are loud, high-pitched, "sounds like something's wrong" kind of screams. When she does it when happy while playing outside, I worry that neighbors will think something is seriously wrong, that's the kind of screaming she does even when it's a scream of joy.
I don't react well when she screams. Initially it was because of the pain the screams caused, but now it's because I want her to not use screaming as a part of her normal communication. I only recently started telling her to, yes, please scream if she gets hurt or something really bad happens. Back when she first started screaming, I would reactively cover my ears because of the pain they caused, which is behavior that I've seen both my children mirror sometimes. I no longer do that because, as I said, the screams no longer cause pain in my ears. Lately my reaction to her screaming has mostly been a stern "please, stop screaming", but even more recently both my wife and I have almost unconsciously been escalating our reactions and the consequences for her when she engages in what I'm mentally terming "inappropriate screaming."
She is capable of expressing herself in ways other than screaming. We have seen it many times, more times than the screaming honestly. (Until very recently, screaming in frustration only happened a minority fraction of the times she got frustrated). Her vocabulary is good for her age, and she has described her feelings and frustrations to us with words, especially with our encouragement. But again, her screaming is more than just a reaction to frustration, it seems to be just another word in her vocabulary that she uses to express frustration, joy, happiness, boredom, etc.
How can I teach her appropriate times for screaming? How can I react better to her screaming so it's not such a gut reaction on my end? Is this even an appropriate age to try to be teaching appropriate screaming? At the very least, I hope I can help her scream more quietly while she's outside so she doesn't inadvertently cry wolf to the neighbors. I don't want them (or me) to ignore screams we should be paying attention to because it doesn't sound any different than her normal communication.