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On Call: Why Children Screech

Q. Whenever my toddler's excited or wants attention, he starts to shriek. What's wrong  -- and how do we get him to stop?

A. Screeching is pretty common among kids this age as they start to experiment with noise making and communication, so there's probably nothing wrong. It's often a way for kids who don't have many words yet to express their needs or, yes, their excitement. After all, what's the point of having a voice if you can't have fun with it?

My baby, Liam, has become quite the screecher, which is cute until it starts giving me a headache. The good news is that, eventually, most kids do stop screeching  -- or at least start to do it less. In the meantime, to get yours to pipe down:

Look for triggers. Does your child do it most when he's overstimulated? When he's tired? When he wants something? If you know what tends to start the shrieking and can figure out what he's really trying to say, you can avoid those situations (or try to plan around them).

Don't reinforce it. If screeching got me laughs, or any kind of attention for that matter, darn straight I'd do it all the time. Ignoring it may not always be possible, but give it a shot when you can.

Teach alternatives. When your child shrieks, gently tell him no. Have a sign  -- like putting your finger to your lips  -- and then show a different way for him to communicate. For instance: "Do you want to be picked up? Say 'Up, Mommy,'" or teach him to put his arms in the air when he wants to be held.

Try not to go places where screeching is a problem. That's not always realistic, of course. But if you can work around taking him to the movies, concerts, or anywhere else silence is important, life will be much less frustrating for you and for your toddler. It's normal for children this age to have a limited, though growing, vocabulary, but if you have any concerns about your son's speech development, talk with your pediatrician.