Few people enjoy hearing kids screaming during play, though many parents who don’t like hearing this kind of noise from their own children will claim there’s nothing they can do about it.

Parents must ask themselves: “If my child is in serious trouble (e.g., dog attack, abduction attempt) and screams as a result, will I recognize this or will I think she’s just letting out another play-scream?”

“Parental disciplining of children appears to have declined,” says Gloria S. Rothenberg, PhD, clinical psychologist and school psychologist practicing in New York with over 25 years’ experience working with children and families.

“Many parents confuse setting limits with inhibiting their child’s self-esteem. But children do need guidance to learn self-control and how to modulate their behavior to fit the situation.”

Screaming during play becomes a problem when:

1) Neighbors are subjected to it

2) It occurs in a public lobby or waiting area, and

3) It’s indistinguishable from the screams a child would emit if threatened with bodily harm.

Remember, neighbors do not want to hear your children screaming any more than you want to hear your neighbors’ dog frequently barking or your neighbors’ cranked-up disco music.

Screaming indicates lack of self-restraint in kids.

Dr. Rothenberg says, “I often recommend that parents play some of the old-fashioned games with their kids like Simon Says, Red Light-Green Light, Freeze Tag, Musical Chairs because they have to listen, pay attention, and practice starting, stopping and controlling their bodies during these games.

“It would be easy to incorporate vocal elements into some of these games to practice control of volume.”

However, just a few passes with an authoritative “Do Not Scream,” may be enough to do the trick.

After all, when’s the last time you heard a parent announce with authority and downward inflection, “Do NOT scream”?

Instead, they either do absolutely nothing, or elicit a feeble “Shhhhh,” that sounds more like the air being gently let out of a tire, than an order to stop yelling.

The “Shhhhh” approach never works.

Have you ever witnessed this work? It fails. Imagine that you’re a child who delights in yelling and shrieking, and Mommy leans towards you with this sea-breezy “Shhhhh.” Why on earth would this make you quiet down?

For Kids Outside Screaming

Shutterstock/Anastasiia Markus

March outdoors and call the kids over to you. With strong authority in your voice, inform them that the next one who loudly yells will have to come inside and do some cleaning or stand in a corner for timeout.

Then follow through if you hear a violation. If you can’t tell who the culprit was and nobody will fess up, then tell the group the next time you hear screaming, playtime is over for everybody.

Then follow through, no matter how beautiful the day is. This need happen only a few times before the message sticks good and hard.

Another warning could be that you’ll remove their playthings (water guns, balls or whatever else they’re playing with). Then follow through.

Dr. Rothenberg suggests, “A traffic light metaphor provides an easy, simple way to give kids feedback and warnings when they are getting a bit unruly.

“A green light, as displayed by a card or drawing, means an appropriate level of noise; a yellow light signals a warning that volume is getting too high and needs to tone down; a red light means the noise level is excessive and play stops for a specified period.”

The key to teaching kids to stop screaming during play is to follow through on your warnings.

This means you mean serious business, and very soon, your kids will be playing without all the needless racket.

Instruct them that screaming is permitted only if there’s an emergency, and then explain what constitutes an emergency (dog attack, abduction attempt, fire). Otherwise, “No screaming is permitted.”

And say it like you mean it. Screaming during play is a learned behavior rather than an automatic reflex, so the idea that children cannot be trained to eliminate screaming during play is flawed.

Little girls have been known to let out ear-splitting shrieks simply while being pulled along in a wheeled wagon by an older child, or when they simply pedal their bicycles around in a cul-de-sac or get squirted with a water gun.

Again, this is learned behavior rather than a reflexive reaction from, for instance, pain sustained after falling off a bike and onto hard concrete.

A strong clue that screaming is learned behavior is the fact that it’s uncommon for little boys to scream while playing — even when being chased by older boys in a game of tag or sprayed with a water hose.

Ask the kids what they think you mean by “screaming,” especially younger kids.

Make sure they understand what you mean by “screaming,” or “shrieking.”

Offer rewards for a “No Scream Event,” meaning, if the entire time the children are playing and nobody screams, they all get a nice surprise.

Do you know any women who scream and shriek over events that don’t justify all the vocal noise, such as winning a small prize (or even a large prize, for that matter), seeing a spider or mouse, being on an airplane with a little turbulence, finally fitting into a pair of “skinny jeans,” stepping on a scale and seeing a 10 pound weight loss, or seeing a favorite celebrity unexpectedly appear on a TV show?

Chances are pretty good that these adults were allowed to scream as children during play.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 
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