Ask a Storytime Ninja: Screaming Children

Welcome to the second May installment of Ask a Storytime Ninja! Want to be a featured ninja or have a question for our ninjas? Go here.

Think this month’s ninjas missed something? Share in the comments.

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This week’s question:

How do you deal with parents or grandparents who will not deal with a child who is screaming or running around often during storytime. The screaming is the biggest problem, even had other families complain about this behavior. Storytime is advertised as 3-5 yr olds and most this behavior is younger siblings, but I have a couple families where it is both the age appropriate and younger. Do you say anything while it is going on during storytime or address it only in private after? 

Answers from May’s featured ninjas:

From Abby:  I have had this situation and it’s definitely a tough one. One thing that might help is making a general statement to your whole group when you start that if your child becomes distracted or becomes a distraction to others, please feel free to take them out for a little break and come back when they’re ready to try again. This gives adults permission to “interrupt” and take their child out or to leave the room knowing that you won’t take it as an insult. If it’s a recurring problem with the same families, I would talk to them after storytime and see if you can brainstorm some solutions together. You and the parents/grandparents both have the same goal – a successful early learning experience for the children in your program. 

From Meagan:  I had a family like this at my previous job and it really became a huge problem.  I know of some librarians that have called families outside of storytime just to say something about a child’s behavior but that really isn’t something for me.  What I did what got a puppet, Stanley, and had Stanley tell the rules for storytime.  Stanley also told the group that if anyone is having a bad day or storytime isn’t working for them then they are more than welcome to step outside and try again another day. I think if you just give that option to parents/caregivers it really makes them feel better about having to step out.  If a child is screaming and running around and the parent/caregiver still isn’t’ doing anything than I would recommend just asking them to step outside so that everyone can enjoy storytime.  I know it seems scary and mean but it is really distracting to the other kids and families and then they aren’t getting the most out of storytime. I really think the most important part is being comfortable– I wasn’t comfortable with the calling but felt better when I used Stanley to help set ground rules.  Do what is best for you!

Jennie asked for some clarification and her following response is based on this additional information from the question asker:  This is just screaming to be screaming, especially if grandmother touches the child or tries to corral the child or asks the child to do anything the child does not want to do not at all crying-screaming and in a large room so it really echoes.  The storytime when I finally spoke up and asked her to please take the child out to the hallway until the child is under control is advertised as Preschool Storytime and this child is under 2 and it has happened in this setting 2x before and even when she came to the age appropriate storytime she screamed.  And yes, I do an announcement of rules before each storytime (which are: I am aware children this age may wander, I only ask if they get in front of the flannel board or if the child is crying please feel free to walk into the hallway until the they are ready to try again) and this grandmother has heard this many times as she has been coming with an older one. I have had other families express concern about screaming and how much it disrupts and that they will not keep coming if this keeps up.  The grandmother complained to my director and called a board member when I had finally asked her to please take the screaming child out to the hallway but we hope you will please come back in when the child is ready to.  I wanted to have some advice from other librarians that have handled this.

Jennie’s answer: Ok, hindsight being 20/20 maybe talking to them outside of storytime might have been more ideal, but I have handled similar situations the same way you did, especially because you’ve gone over all the rules at the beginning and it hasn’t had an effect.

Because the grandmother complained, I would make sure the director knows everything you say here, especially the part about other families expressing concerns and how it may force them to stop coming to storytime. If the behavior continues, I would also ask the director to come and observe what’s happening. I’d probably also make a big show of introducing the director as a “special guest” so that the parents who see an issue with what’s happening can talk to him/her afterwards with their concerns about the screaming child.


About Kendra

Children's Librarian in the Northwest. Lover of toddlers, twitter, and TV (T's, too, apparently!).

Posted on May 13, 2014, in Ask a Storytime Ninja and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I have a wonderful storytime group, but I, too, have a child who comes with his grandmother and wails or flails or is just generally way too rowdy. It’s a tough situation because I can tell that she genuinely wants to work on his behavior, but doesn’t know how. I started mentioning during “rule time” that it’s okay to take a child aside and help them re-settle, and sometimes she tries this, but he just doesn’t listen to her. We’ve all seen him dragged him aside, crying, and then he returns to the same behavior–sometimes even hitting his poor grandma. Honestly, it’s been going on for so long that everyone in the group seems to have nothing but compassion for her. We’ve all taken a village stance with this boy and try to wrangle him in a fun, positive way. I re-direct him by doing more songs and activities where he can be loud and the other moms sometimes try to engage him and reward him for being a good listener. Sometimes it helps and it sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s just not in me to ask her to remove him completely when he’s uncontrollable, especially because she’s so apologetic and helpless.

  2. It would be ideal if everyone followed the rules, but since it sounds like you are a little stuck with this family situation, (and asking them to take a calm down break isn’t working,) how about trying to deal directly with the toddler? Is there anything specific setting him off that can be easily changed in the environment or in your program that you can control? Can you age-down a few aspects of your program to help him be comfortable? Is the screaming for attention or power? (Toddlers love both!) Or could it be a sensory overload problem? Preventing the screaming would be ideal – is there a preemptive reward he would respond to like stickers or getting to hold a special library lovey when he is being quiet? Harvey Karp’s Happiest Toddler on the Block has some fabulous suggestions for helping toddlers cope, including showing the toddler empathy while gently mimicking their behavior. It is amazingly effective – he has books and DVDs, but a quick web search will bring up enough info to get the general gist – here is one great summation of this technique:

    Good luck. It is a tough situation, but maybe trying a different route will make a difference!

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