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3-Year-Old Screamer

July 15, 1995

A reader asks:

“My three-year-old daughter often screams when she is aggravated by the other children or when she doesn’t get her way. Is this normal? Will she grow out of it?”

It is average, but not normal. She will grow out of the screaming, but it will be replaced by equally ugly adult responses to not getting her way.

It is an easy habit to break. When she starts screaming, before you find out who is at fault, without saying a word, go straight to the switch. Spank her where she stands, and then inquire concerning the problem. Explain to her that the screaming will never again be allowed. When she is convinced that screaming will never get the other children in trouble, never gain her any sympathy, but only get her a spanking, she will stop her screaming. You might just ignore any offense from the others when she screams; let it always be her fault. Consistency on your part will break that habit in just a few days. Never threaten, and never show mercy. One squeak of a scream gets a switching. If you are consistent, four to eight episodes should bring it to an end. If you are 95% consistent and find it more convenient to only warn her occasionally, or if she finds that regardless of the spanking she is occasionally able to get her way by screaming, then it should only take about eighteen years to break the habit. Well, maybe the habit will not actually be broken, but at least you will not have to listen to her scream when she gets married. It will be her husband’s problem then. But, by then, you will have realized the mistake of being only 95% consistent, and you can practice on your grandchildren. You can be sure, they will be screamers just like their mother.

- Michael Pearl

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27 comments on “3-Year-Old Screamer”

  1. My 3yo screams too! I have found that a lot of times she is just scared and overhwelmed and needs reassurance. When I hug her first, then explain that we don't scream - It works better than when I spank her. Listen to your children's hearts, not just their actions. She's not a dog that needs a choke collar. She's a precious spirit and soul who has been placed within your loving care.

  2. Dear TS,
    You are right they are not dogs. If they were, we would have them trained while they were still puppies. Why is it that we can train our dogs to listen and yet children get sympathy and warnings? It's our emotions getting in the way of what is right. Thank God for the Pearl's. I am thankful that they have the guts to share God's way with us!

  3. Dear Jessica,
    Dogs are not human. For further research consult an encyclopedia. Children can understand more than you know, and teaching them this way will lead to spousal abuse, anger issues later on and trouble socially. Look it up.

  4. I think this method works well when paired up with the 1-2-3 magic book.It began to work within a week. My son used to have screaming fits (He's 3 1/2). I paired this up with spanking and now he's stopped many behaviors. So, yes spanking does work. I have known parents that did not believe in spanking (yes I was one of them) and noticed the kids were misbehaving in and out of school.
    So I am thankful to see this article!


  5. As a parent you need to always be asseessing your child's behavior. TS, you said that your child often screams because she is scared or overwhelmed. Well that is different than if she is trying to control you or her siblings with screaming. Although having said that, children should also learn to let their parents know they are scared by telling them and not screaming about it. Another thing that I have noticed that many parents do is they coddle their childern too much and fuss too much about what scares or overwhelms them. Many times I believe parents exasperate the problem instead of helping their children understand things are not as scary as they might seem or to help them calm down or learn to handle their emotions, in other words, learn self-control which is corrected by biblical chastisement . On your comment Jessica, yes children are human and understand more and that is why we talk to them, love them, pray with them, read to them, teach them and yes also chastise them. Firmness and consistency in training or disciplining our children is love. A wishy-washy parent is not looking out for their child's best interest or really loving them. The Pearls talk about the fact that we want to reach the heart of the child and that we don't just want conformity on the outside. They also talk a lot about cultivating joy, fellowship, and many fun and exciting memories with your children. You said this "way' of raising children leads to spousal abuse, anger problems and trouble socially. If this is what you think then you are ill informed and we are not talking about the same "way". Spanking the world's way- in anger, inconsistently, only when your cup is full, not applying God's other instructions to raising and training children- can lead to the things you mentioned and many times do. The research you are talking about is the "wisdom" of this world and that is foolishness with God.

  6. What about when it is a one year old screaming? Is the switch still the appropriate tool? And what if when she is swatted her screaming escalates? Then what do you do?

  7. Help! Do you also train a child who throws fits by crying in the same way? I give her time to settle down in between each episode, once she has stopped crying and has a happy countenance I ask her again to obey. She will then start crying again....and on and on it goes. Any advice?

  8. Stephanie -- my older boy, who is now three, used to do what you describe. Sobbing like his little heart was broken and nothing was right in this world. It took a long time for us to realize he was throwing fits, and I am just now learning to get his anger and rebellion under control, so I have no help for you. However, I thought I would tell you what became of my son by now. Now, when he is angry, he throws things, screams, smacks his one-year-old brother, and glares at me something awful. He has really turned into a monster who no one wants to be around. I am now having to learn to be consistent and fair to a big, angry three-year-old, and I wish I had started when he was much younger.

    Today I was talking to him. I took my boys and the dog to the park, to burn off some energy. Two hours passed and both kids were tired. My older guy refused to hold my hand and screamed and kicked the whole way home. I held his hand and kept walking. Nothing was more embarrassing than that, but I refused to show him. I kept reminding myself, "You are Mom... you are Mom." I did tell him he would get a spanking at home.

    And he got one. When he calmed down, I looked into the boys' room and he was glaring out the door, so he got another spanking. Afterward I could see something inside him change, and he said he was sorry for his behavior. I told him being angry is not good, you can't be happy when you are angry. Then we prayed for God to help remove that ugly anger from us so we could be happy together. Now he is asleep. I have written on a paper on my wall, "Don't worry about the war... win every battle".

        1. I believe that the post to which I replied stated "don't worry about the war..." You perhaps need to read the comments more carefully. I have no "issues" with my children or family thank you. I suspect this may not be the case for you and yours however.

          1. I apologize. I will pay more attention to what the comments are referencing. I did not notice that you were responding to the post and thought you were responding to the article, which does not mention "war". This gave the appearance that you may have been projecting your own issues. Your unfounded suspicions about my family only serve to reinforce this perception.

          2. In reference to your apology (as you appear to have blocked my right to reply), I accept and suggest that greater care and calmness in response would go a long way. I would also add that any reference to family began with your comment, in which you made assertions about mine with precious little knowledge. The fact you administrate this page means that I do, at least, know something of your parenting philosophies.
            I have to say, I find your responses incredibly aggressive- though given the context, I am not entirely surprised.

  9. @Shara: I think you were the reason of your son's temper tantrum after the park outing. As a mother you should've recognized that he was tired, probably hungry and addressed those issues rather than giving him a spanking. No wonder he is an angry kid! I would be angry too if the person who is supposed to understand me, take care of my needs and teach me how to deal with my frustrations (in a loving way) punishes me for expressing my anger! It is possible to discipline your children without spanking them.
    @ Stephenie - naturally kids want to please their parents and obey them IF they have a good relationship with them. What you are describing sounds to me like a child who is either tired, hungry, sleepy or not feeling well. In that case I would just give that kid a big hug and try to figure our what is bothering her. Why do you want her to obey you right in that instant? Is it a power struggle for you? Are you trying to prove to her that you are an adult and in control? Well, she knows that already and you know that too.

    1. kanadka,
      I disagree. Just because one is tired does not give them the right to scream the house down. they can communicate they are tired by calmly telling their mother they are feeling tired. If you will note what the commenter said, she noticed her children were tired and so took them home. So she was fully aware of her childs physical state. do you scream the house down if you dont get to go to bed when you are tired? no, i would hope not. you suck it up and get on with your day. and are grateful when your head finally hits the pillow.
      we need to teach our children to take charge of their emotions, lest they become brats or crybabies. while we do need to show some compassion to our children, we can potentially set them up for a lifetime of misery if we do not help them reign in their emotions. cuddling them is not going to cultivate a well behaved, emotionally stable young adult. use wisdom and spank when appropriate. in this case, it was highly appropriate.

      1. I don't personally scream the house down no as I am 38 and not 3. It seems you are able to understand the difference between a child and an adult as I am fairly sure you wouldn't hit me if I was upset. However, just in case let me explain. A 3 year old is still learning to understand and rationalise their emotions. A 3 year old won't say "I am tired". A 3 year old will simply get frustrated with things and not be able to cope with their feelings. As an ADULT it is the parent's job to understand that and to teach their child to understand their emotional response- not to simply beat it out of them.
        Put your child to bed when your child is tired. Adopt a good bedtime routine so that the child winds down into sleep. Cuddle and love your unhappy child and watch your home turn from a war zone to a place of laughter and calm.
        I must add finally that I have never met a 3 year old who will cry less when they are hit. A tired 3 year old is, I would imagine, far more likely to get more and more upset.

  10. I'm loving the anti-smacking comments on here. See it's not just me NGJ staff! I totally agree that hitting children like this will only destroy their little souls and turn them into aggressive people who know no other way to solve problems.
    Most of the parents on here who have talked of the "need" to hit their kids have arrived at that point through shoddy parenting. They haven't played with their kids, or supervised them properly, or have expected them to behave like adults even though they are children. Put your children first-don't sit back then hurt your kids to get compliance over them.

    1. The Pearls (and many adherents to their parenting advice) have homeschooled all of their children clear through high school. I often wonder how many of their detractors spend 1/10 as much time with their own children as their supporters spend with theirs. I guarantee that their supporters KNOW whether their children are tired, hungry, etc., etc. Furthermore, they realize that those conditions are NOT the sole sparks of temper tantrums. Even as adults, we can't very well control our own underlying emotions, but we are expected to control our outward behavior, and we should expect the same from our children.

      1. There's no way that you can expect the same from your children as you expect from an adult!! That is why they are children! Children are, by definition, immature- in need of nurturing, patience, love and care. Please don't be under the illusion that homeschooling makes for either a better education or a better upbringing. Statistically more homeschooled children are more likely to be abused than those who attend school. I send my child to school to be taught by experts- people who have degrees in their various subjects. Now unless you are a homeschooling parent who has multiple degrees in multiple subjects you are, by default, not going to be giving them the breadth of education my child gets.

        1. J, it is very unwise of you to disparage someone who has studied God's Word and is speaking the truth in love via their post on their website. It is a poor reflection of your heart. Can you bear that truth? I had to once, and it hurt, but I knew it was true. I loved my kids and I occasionally had to spank them. Didn't take much and I tried to never be angry when doing it. ( I didn't always succeed, but that was about me) I am older and wiser and the Bible says that the older should teach the younger. Can you allow someone to tell you something that you don't agree with? That is what changed me. God bless.

  11. I have twin boys that are 20mo and I'm dealing with the same problem! 4-6 tantrums a day. I switch them every time and say, "No screaming", but I am not seeing a change yet. Does correction take longer when they are younger?

  12. There is a difference between a baby crying and a child screaming. Our second child was a screamer from the womb. He did not know how to cry. Proverbs 10:1 says a wise son maketh a glad father, but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother. When he was 4 months old I saw that his screaming was a lack of training on my part I began to train him. When he would scream I would pop his little diapered bottom and say, "No!". Then I would model correct crying. It took about a week of this gentle instruction for him to learn proper crying. Proper training is not only stopping the bad behavior, but giving tools to replace it with good behavior.

  13. Thank you!! My daughter has been trained to have self control and is normally very compliant. Recently she was ill and developed a painful ongoing health issue that lasted about a month. It made her crabby and, because I felt sympathetic, I didn’t switch her. Well, that was a mistake. Bit by bit she started acting worse. Crabby became a bad habit. I overlooked it because she had a legitimate pain issue going on. After about 3 weeks, she was a MONSTER. I will admit it annoyed me to hear her scream, and instead of staying calm I started screaming back. I rationalized that I had to scream to be heard over her screaming. But screaming even for the sake of being heard sparked irritation in me that I didn’t like. Then comes the guilt monster. I knew there had to be a better way. I have been trying to figure out how to reverse out of this ditch we swerved into. Then, like a swift answer to prayer, your email showed up with the heading I needed to see! Thank you, thank you for this wonderful advice!! This is exactly the solution to our problem. Lord bless!