Crazy Screaming at a Child - How Bad?

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walrusMy friend, R. called me this morning, upset, with a classic "how bad" question. Here's what happened: Out in the yard, her 3-year-old threw a stick. At her face. And it connected...with her nose. "Ow!" she said, tears coming to her eyes (nose pain, as you may well know, can be severe). "Damn it! That really hurt!" She could feel her nose swelling up and getting all red and hot. "Why did you do that!?" Her baby's answer: "I wanted you to get out my way faster." (Ow again!)

"Listen to me," she screamed, aware her volume was getting really high, "You're going to have to play with Daddy for the rest of the afternoon, because Mommy IS REALLY ANGRY NOW." And now, of course, she feels terrible about the screaming. And the swearing.

Who among us hasn't gotten so frustrated we're moved to a crazy screaming fit? Almost every mama I know has a similar story. Just how damaging is totally-bananas screaming and honestly, how can we make ourselves stop? I called my friend Rosanne Tobey, L.P.C., Director of Calm and Sense Therapy, to find out..."The swearing is not good but otherwise this doesn't sound so bad," says Tobey. Well, I said, I got the feeling from our talk that R. really was screaming, and most moms I know have screamed at their kids in a maniacal way (no one is proud of this but let's be honest, it happens). How bad is it?

"First of all, he's three and won't remember this. It's not in any way an excuse for pad parenting, but just an explanation why this will last longer in her mind than in his. I'm going to rate this lower on the 'How Bad' scale because she got whacked in the face with a stick, and in that situation, most moms would yell the way that she did. I mean, us moms are also human."

And Tobey actually had some praise for R. (see R.? Not so bad, right?): "I actually think it's good that this mom said 'You have to play with Daddy now.' She was at a breaking point and saw that she was not going to be able to handle her child to the best of her abilities, so she basically said to Daddy: 'It's your turn.' Brilliant. That's one of the best benefits of the two-parent home. Then she can go put ice on her nose and calm down."

But won't the child feel really bad about being screamed at? "The child probably felt pretty bad about it. But it's not just what you do in the moment, it's what you follow up with." Um, hmm. Go on...

Here is Tobey's four-step-recovery plan for when you've lost your marbles all over your kids:

Apologize. Think of the wonderful skills you're modeling when you do this. Children tend to be very forgiving.

Take care of the child's feelings. "Acknowledge and validate the child's feelings," says Tobey. "What's important is that the child doesn't feel cursed out and standing on their own and wondering, what just happened? He probably did not realize how much the stick would hurt or how upset Mommy would get."

Explain your feelings. But don't be defensive, just be matter of fact, "Mommy was very upset, and that stick really hurt my nose very much."

Teach them what's correct for next time. "People think that the idea is to extinguish bad behavior but it's really to teach them the right way." Show him how to ask people to move. This won't be a one-time deal but you're helping him choose how he acts next time.

So, answer the question: How bad is it to scream like a maniac at your own child? "I'm going to be lighter on her because she was hurt and it sounds like this isn't how she usually is. I mean, if we can't be human and be mothers at the same time, how can we expect to succeed at this?"

Have you made a parenting blunder and want to know: How Bad? Send it to and you might find out. Or comment below with your own Crazy Screaming story...

Sabrina Weill is editor-in-chief of

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.