Is there a way to get my baby to stop shrieking?
July 1, 2008 11:16 AM   Subscribe

My boy makes an unbelievably loud and high pitched shriek, for no apparent reason. Please help!

He's eleven months old. And he's not crying, it's not like he wants something--he just opens his mouth and emits this unbelievably loud and high-pitched shriek. We thought it might be teeth, we thought it might be that he wants attention, but even when we're sitting right there with him, playing or whatever, he'll let rip with one. It makes my 4-year old daughter cry and not want to eat with us, and it's not doing much for my wife and me either.

He's a good boy. He's jolly and full of energy and curiosity. But the screeching...the terrible screeching. Any advice?
posted by aLearnerRather to Human Relations (21 answers total)
The study was conducted by Dr. Philip Zeskind, a developmental psychologist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Va. Using a sophisticated acoustical analysis, he determined that the range of a normal baby's cries is from 450 to 600 cycles a second, a measurement of the frequency of the sound wave. The 600-cycle cry occurs when a baby is in sharp pain; the 450-cyle cry indicates lesser levels of discomfort. The ordinary cry of a baby is acoustically near the note A below middle C. ''As the pitch of a baby's cry increases, so does the urgency his parents feel to respond,'' Dr. Zeskind said.

But apart from such normal crying, Dr. Zeskind's research has pinpointed a distinctive ultra-high-pitched cry at about 2,000 cycles a second - something like a high-pitched whistle on a teapot - that can indicate the presence of neurological problems.

''When parents hear this cry, their heart rate shoots up,'' Dr. Zeskind said. ''It's intensely disturbing, even annoying. It's a signal that something's odd about that baby.''

The ultra high-pitched cry, which typically shifts in and out of a falsetto screech, can be heard in the first day or two of life in many infants and often disappears as the effects of the trauma of birth pass. If the cry persists into the first month of life, Dr. Zeskind found, it might it might signal problems in the infant's nervous system that should be checked by a pediatrician.

posted by phrontist at 11:21 AM on July 1, 2008 [4 favorites]

You need to find another sound that he makes and reward that one. When he does the shriek, don't react at all-- no smile, no frown, no nuthin'. Then when he does something adorable (and as you probably know with an 11-mo-old this might be spitting), give him lots of hugs and "attaboys." This is definitely behavior you want to discourage. Try making this a game with the 4-year old. "Hey Juniorette, let's see what happens if we ignore Junior when he shrieks! Remember-- no reaction!" I had a friend whose 8-month old pulled this crap, and she did the no-reaction thing. It took a coupla weeks, but either he got tired of the sound, or the strategy worked.
posted by nax at 11:22 AM on July 1, 2008

(I found that article by googling... the rest of it mentions a lot of scary sounding things correlated with it. Go see a doctor/neurologist stat.)
posted by phrontist at 11:24 AM on July 1, 2008

Have you consulted your pediatrician? There could be something medically wrong and the child is unable to communicate it in any other manner. Earaches, toothaches, etc.

I would hope it's something simple like an attention-grab as others have mentioned but god forbid it's something really serious, I'd suggest asking a physician in addition to the hive mind...
posted by arniec at 11:25 AM on July 1, 2008

What attempts have you made so far to try to stop it? Chances are he just likes the sound of it and doesn't know that he's not supposed to do it. He's at the age where I'm sure you're able to tell him right from wrong and he understands the meaning of the word 'no'. I'm guessing you've tried this. Could you take him and put him in a place he doesn't like right after he does it? Send him to bed or put him in the carseat or whatever and reinforce it with 'no screaming' in a forceful voice.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:26 AM on July 1, 2008

Does he seem distressed when he makes the noise? Or is he smiling/appearing otherwise contented? If it's the former, of course, hie thee to a pediatrician. If it's the latter, it could just be that he's delighting in his ability to make all sorts of awesome noises. (Awesome to him, anyway!)

Remember when he was three or four months old and all he could do was grab his feet and goggle open-mouthed at how incredible they were? Feet! My God! I have feet! They're the coolest thing ever! You guys, seriously, look! I have feet! This might be the same thing, only with his voicebox. Screaming! Making noise! I can scream and make noise and it's just beyond awesome! Screaming shrieking screamity scream!
posted by jesourie at 11:29 AM on July 1, 2008

I don't have kids but don't all kids do this? I hear it all the time in public places. I figured it was their way of saying, "Wow! I can make a really loud noise!" And maybe a little of, "Wow! This noise makes everyone jump; I'll do it again!"

If kids can be trained out of this maybe I'll rethink not breeding!
posted by amanda at 11:39 AM on July 1, 2008

My guess is that he's exploring his vocal range and that it a short while it will stop.
posted by Abbril at 11:51 AM on July 1, 2008

I like the idea I read the other day about going "SHHHHHHHHHH" for as long as you can, as loud as you can, right in their face.
posted by rhizome at 11:52 AM on July 1, 2008

Although I don't have kids, I'm nthing the suggestion that it's just your boy doing it because "wow, look how loud I can be! Cool!" If he looks upset, yeah, be worried, but if it's just, "hey! I screamed!" It's just...he's getting off on the fact that he can scream.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:54 AM on July 1, 2008

If it's any reassurance, my son, when he was the same age, did the EXACT SAME THING. He was a very jolly, happy, good-natured baby- but he would haul off and produce this high pitched, unbelievable ears-are-bleeding deafening screech and sometimes very frequently. I, too, think that he was exploring vocal range and that it felt good to do it...

This phase passed within a couple of months and he is completely fine but I think I might have some noise induced hearing loss.
posted by mistsandrain at 12:05 PM on July 1, 2008

An AskMe thread may not be the best way to get answers about this problem. You have people here (people with no medical background) saying it could be Tourette's, or perhaps the kid has neurological problems, etc. Pretty terrifying responses, if you ask me. There's probably nothing wrong with your kid, but why not seek the advice of an expert?

Anyway, there is no easy way to modify his behaviour at this age, so you will have to modify yours.

All I can say is that, during the first couple of years or so, my wife and I were always convinced that some little thing signaled an abnormality in our son. But he turned out fine.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:06 PM on July 1, 2008

@mistsandrain and @KokuRyu: I'm sure you're right. I was just wondering if there was some kind of Spockian remedy out there that we hadn't heard of yet (rub toothpaste on his Achilles tendons! Works every time!) that would get him to not screech at us. But perhaps not. Ah parenting.

Thanks for the responses everyone!
posted by aLearnerRather at 12:20 PM on July 1, 2008

My 13-month old daughter likes to shriek, too, for no apparent reason. We just tell her "No screaming" very firmly & try to distract her. It's a normal thing for kids to do. (Her "something's wrong" cries are distinctly different.)
posted by belladonna at 12:22 PM on July 1, 2008

I have a 13 month old. It'll pass in a few weeks if you ignore it. And if he's anything like my son, it'll be replaced by pointing at his crotch and saying "peepee"
posted by jrishel at 12:23 PM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

My almost-two-year-old son has recently also discovered a love of loud screams.

And I agree, it's best to just ignore it and find something to serve as a distraction ("Go and make daddy a (pretend) cup of tea" works well at the moment for us).

Your reaction is what makes it worthwhile for him to make the noise; take away the reaction and he'll get bored of it.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:06 PM on July 1, 2008

my friend's daughter did that around 9-10 months. i think it's just testing out the vocal chords and seeing how they work.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:11 PM on July 1, 2008

My kid did the same thing around that age. I just figured he was just seeing how loud he could yell. He would let out a really loud scream and then just giggle softly for a bit and repeat. He grew out of it.
posted by trbrts at 1:38 PM on July 1, 2008

Bring it up with your pediatrician, yes, although if this is a recent development rather than from birth, odds are it's just your child realizing that yes, they can scream, and get a big reaction from it. My kids loved to scream for a bit, too. One day when your kids aren't there, try screaming yourself; it's kind of fun.
posted by davejay at 1:43 PM on July 1, 2008

Even at 11 months, your baby will understand if you make a distinctive frowning face, and say "Ouch!" to the noise, and walk away from him, if possible. Make sure the noise doesn't produce positive effects, which would reinforce it.
posted by theora55 at 2:20 PM on July 1, 2008

Nthng theora55---several years ago I was sitting next to twin boys about that age in a restaurant and one of them was making happy loud squeals. I looked at him, put my hands over my ears, made an exaggerated pained face and said, "when you scream, it hurts my ears" and he stopped. The parents were okay with what I did.
posted by brujita at 2:30 PM on July 1, 2008

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