How do I get my 4-year-old to stop screaming?
A friend of mine posted this question on social media recently. The response she received was a compilation of tried and true suggestions from other seasoned mamas. Solutions such as “ignore him” and “time out” were offered up along with reminders that “this too shall pass.”
My response was, by far, the least popular.
What did I have the gall to suggest to this worn out, at-her-wits-end mama of a screaming preschooler? My reply was simple. “Don’t let him scream.”
We all know that consistency is the key in parenting, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s one of the hardest skills to master. I’m not always in the right frame of mind to deal appropriately with bad behavior. I’m not always in a convenient place to deal with my child one-on-one in a safe and nurturing environment. And I’m certainly not always excited and eager to teach an important life lesson when I’m at the end of a long day that I just want to end.
Consistency is a lofty notion that seems unattainable in the real world. You have to always be ready, and the truth is that I’m rarely ready to do what I know needs to be done.
So, is all hope of a well-mannered child lost? Are we doomed to fail our children because we’ve surpassed the point of exhaustion?
Not at all.
It’s hard to stop something once it has started. This is just as true for our children’s habits as it is for a snowball rolling down a hill. If our children get what they want just one time after throwing a tantrum, we can count on them throwing tantrums again in the future. If we let them talk back without a consequence just once, we can count on this becoming a normal behavior for them. So, the smartest thing we can do is to keep bad behavior from ever starting in the first place.
How do we do that? We cultivate a culture of respect in our homes. In our families. In our children.
Respect is rarely developed in children without prompting. It’s not natural to want to submit to authority. That’s one reason that Basic Training is such a difficult journey for most members of the military. Aside from the physical demands placed on new recruits, they are required to learn respect for their branch of service, their flag, their country, their battle buddies, and those in authority over them. Respect is demanded and required of them. Every. Single. Day. And when graduation day arrives, that respect has become a part of them, and they begin to feel a certain respect for themselves, as well.
What more could we want for our children?
As a mother of five kids (ranging in age from 8 to 16), I know that perfect consistency is impossible. But well-behaved children are not. One truth that I’ve learned along the way is that if we discipline our children enough when they are young, we won’t have to discipline them much when they’re older. I couldn’t tell you when the last time was that I had to ask my kids to stop fighting, to stop throwing a fit, to stop yelling at me. Respect is part of the culture of our home because we were intentional about making it as such.
Please don’t confuse my definition of respect and discipline with acts of aggression. Making our children’s lives miserable is not the goal. Nor is creating little robots with perfect manners. Our job as parents is to raise our children to be the very best versions of themselves that they can be. That doesn’t mean the smartest or the strongest or the most well behaved. Just the best versions of who they are. We want them to feel loved. We want them to feel safe. We want them to have opportunities to express themselves, to develop skills, to learn, to grow, and to try new things. And if they can do these things without screaming at the top of their lungs, we’ve done a really great job.
So, what if you already have a screamer? A back-talker? A tantrum thrower? Is it too late?
Not at all. You just have to decide what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in your home. Decide on what your response will be. And stick with it.
Disrespectful behavior should not be negotiable. Teaching our little ones to respect others will cultivate an attitude of self-respect in them that will take them far in life. And aren’t our children worth the effort and energy on our end that is required to consistently cultivate this culture in our homes? It’s definitely an investment worth making.
So, how do you get your 4-year-old to stop screaming? You teach him that screaming isn’t acceptable, and that it’s not allowed. Ever. And then you make sure that it’s not. There are many things that we have to put up with in our lives — PCSing, base housing, deployments, the line at the commissary. But our children screaming to get their way is not one of them.
It’s OK, mama. You’ve got this.