Screaming is the new spanking

My name is Francesca Castagnoli and I’m a screamer.

Admitting I’m a mom that screams, shouts and loses it in front of her kids feels like I’m revealing a dark family secret (like in the 1970s an uncle thought it was funny to use porno music as a soundtrack to our family videos). And even though I didn’t yell on the playdate where Conrad’s friend thought I was mean mom (see post below) , I have yelled. And yelling isn’t really done anymore. It’s a retro idea like leaving your kids alone in the car while you buy groceries. There was a time when it was okay for parents to do that, but not anymore. And now screaming is as taboo as spanking.

Social stigma aside, yelling makes me feel bad. I’d yell at my kids and remember a clip from SuperNanny where they would show a child who had just been balled out by his mom alone in his room. He would be looking away from the camera, crying, feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Every time they’d show the sad kid shot, I was always on that child’s side. “God that mom is such a bitch,” I’d think. But by 7pm the next day, somehow I would have cast myself as the bitchy mom yelling my head off while and my own kids were the ones crying in their room.

I had to stop. It simply wasn’t the tone I wanted to have in my house anymore. Luckily, my son’s preschool hosted parent’s workshop on how to stop the screaming cycle that has completely changed my approach to parenting. The tips were so helpful and family-life changing I just had to share them with you here:

Checking in with myself technique:
Before when I would come home from a crazy day and the kids would instantly start bickering to get my attention, I’d have to raise my voice to be heard above them. Now instead of yelling to simply be heard, I ask myself, what am I really feeling and how do I want my kids to see me? What is the vibe I want them to have tonight? Reflecting on how I feel helps me understand why I react the way I do. After a week of checking in with myself  I realized that when I come home I’m usually hungry or still stressed about work and I need to take a quick shower to transition to the chaos of home calmly. Once I tend to my needs for five to ten minutes, I’m more centered and I can be more thoughtful about how to deal with their cries for attention.

The silent scream:
During their bath, which can get fairly rambunctious, I would resort to yelling to get them to stop splashing me or to get out of the tub. Now I lean in and whisper and it works like a charm.

Act you age not shoe size:
Caught off guard by shocking behavior, say when my three-year-old breaks his brother’s Lego creation to get him to pay attention to him, or kick the dog, or climb on a chair where he’d be perched to crack his skull I’d shout at him not to do that. Now I say out loud, “What are you three!?” to remind myself that after all, my son is only three. My husband and I also use this technique when we see that the other person is about to lose it to remind each other how young children behave and no, they don’t “get it.” The beauty of this trick is that it can work for every age: your kid is lighting his soldiers on fire: What are you 9? Your kid is pregnant. What are you 16?

Give yourself a starchart:
Before I would yell and hope they wouldn’t remember, but I know that if they don’t actually remember the yelling they remember how it made them feel. Now I relish my new solution: I’ve decided to give myself a star chart and I reward myself at the end of the week with something really awesome for the house, or a long yoga class, or I make my husband get up in the morning, because I’m not the guilty party anymore.

28 Responses to “Screaming is the new spanking”

  1. MPD310 Says:

    This awesome stuff! I have heard some of the tips before (from our school, I will admit!) but this is a great reminder. I will send this around to other moms. Thanks!

  2. Yesterdays Wine Says:

    I see no reason why anyone would shout at a young child. Or any child, or grown-up, for that matter. When you’re a parent, repeating things over and over is part of the course. It’s wearisome, it grinds you down, no doubt. But if a child has clear messages about what a parent’s expectations are BEFORE a flammable event - the bath, for instance - a lot of lung power will be saved.

  3. motherbl*gger » Blog Archive » MB in NYT Says:

    [...] friend just emailed me to say that a quote from my Screaming is the new Spanking post is in the New York Times Style section today. For the record, since I did that workshop, I yell a [...]

  4. mom for 42 years Says:

    I don’t mind if you (fill in the blank with what the child wants to do) AS LONG AS (fill in the blank with what you would like to see happen) and (important) say NOTHING after this statement. (the ball is in their court now)

    ALWAYS works for me. Use a calm but clear firm voice.

    for example: I don’t mind if you take a bath now, AS LONG AS you keep the noise down (or as long as you are clean and done in 5 minutes) (or as long as you wipe up the bathroom when you are finished) (or as long as the water stays IN the tub)

    Learned this from a psychologist, works great.

  5. Laura Davenport Says:

    Wow…what an idealist world you all live in…don’t scream, don’t spank, don’t upset the child. Sorry… I scream, I spank and I invoke all sorts of consequences for poor or inappropriate behavior.

    I don’t feel guilty about these choices. I am not my child’s friend; I am my child’s parent. Discipline is a parental responsibility that unfortunately too many parents abdicate.

    Long ago I accepted the fact that I am imperfect just as my children are imperfect. None the less even imperfect children need to be taught right from wrong, to take responsibility for their Choices and the consequences of poor choices.

  6. Jim Says:


    I think your name betrays you. If your ancestors had come from some colder, more northern clime, you would torment your children with long silences and looks of carefully but not completely suppressed disappointment. Believe me there are plenty of times when I was a kid it would have been a relief if the grownups had just screamed, it at least would have gotten it out in the open and cleared the negative energy.

    There’s a scene in “A River Runs Through It” where the family is sitting around the kitchen table, saying nothing. I suppose you have to come from a certain kind of Scandanavian/WASP/lace curtain Irish family to feel the emotional undercurrent, but I’m all “Please! Somebody yell and throw things! I can’t take this anymore!”

  7. nancy drew Says:

    To be quite honest, the idea of not screaming or raising one’s voice at children sounds great. However, the reality is completely something else. Your closest relationships are with your children and if you want a lifelong honest relationship with them, it makes sense to explain why you actually did raise your voice, rather than making star charts in order to make yourself feel better. Seriously, you are a grown adult and make your own star charts?

    How will they grow up to understand emotion or passion for that matter, if communication is reduced to false pretense rather than truly expressing on’s self? I am all for not showing proverbial “road rage” like symptoms, but even a child must learn to understand how and why human emotion works. Can you imagine the child handicapped not only by a set of helicopter parents, but by a clear communication skills set?

  8. Les cris ont remplacé les fessées | MONDIALNEWS | Actualites et communiques de presse relayes par Google Search, google recherches, google blog et Google Actualites Says:

    [...] son blog, Motherblogger (mère bloggeuse) fait un coming-out moderne: je m’appelle Francesca Castagnoli et je crie [...]

  9. Kristin Says:

    I very, very rarely yelled until I had my second child. Now not a day goes by that my voice isn’t raised at least once or twice a day. I can’t believe what I sound like sometimes, but just like I think “No, I should not eat this Oreo” as I’m eating it…I think “I wish I weren’t yelling” as I do it.

    I try not to, and sometimes I’m successful. And I think it’s lovely, YW, that you can’t imagine a world in which someone couldn’t find a reason to yell. I live in another world where I sometimes can’t find a reason not to. At least not until an hour later.

    Before I was a parent I had very different ideas about what kind of parent I’d be. Before I had a second child I had very different ideas about what kind of parent I’d be with two. I’ve learned not to be surprised by what kind of parent I actually am. And I try not to make judgments about how other parents conduct themselves on an everyday basis.

  10. Val Says:

    are you the same Chessie Castagnoli who attended camp Chinqueka in 1978 or 79? I remember you and Liza Tiernan from there…we were all in the youngest girls’ cabin…..

  11. Phyllis Akins Says:

    Chessie!!!! I just read the article on the “Times” website with a link to this blog and I figured it had to be you. I mean really, how many Francesca Castagnolis with two young children could there possibly be?

    Aside from being a (mostly) reformed screamer, how are you????


  12. Scott Says:

    I am from a yelling family. I had no idea what a non-screaming family was until I met my wife. My parents were both well-respected professionals in the community…and they would only lose it at home when no one was looking.

    I didn’t think it affected me until I got a dog after college. I noticed that I would lose my temper, spank the sh*t out of her…and think it was normal.

    Then I got into therapy for other things, and started to get that it wasn’t right to spank…BUT…the yelling thing persisited…I dated a woman with 3 kids who didn’t spank them and I noticed how normal they were turning out…no bad neurosis from my perspective.

    I would have to say the yelling thing was harder to break than the spanking thing for me. Way harder. When I met my wife, she was so calm, so normal seeming. It turns out she was from a non-yelling, non-spanking family. OMG. I was told these families turned out hippies!!! What??

    Our son, when he was 6 mos old, pulled our new video camera off the table and broke it as we walked by. As he was in my arms I screamed, “OH F*CK!” And I decided RIGHT THEN AND THERE I would never do it again.

    OMG, it has been harder than anything I have ever done-but I have done it now for 5 years. My first reaction when I am stressed is to scream…but it has become less and less. Just like it did for spanking.

    I am proud that there is media coverage for this now. It is LONG overdue.

    I am certain something happened to me and my sister’s brains when we were treated like that as kids. All you have to do is see people who were NOT treated that way as children and you know.

  13. summermom Says:

    I’m amazed at some of the responses to this blog. Why is it so easy to be judgmental and self-righteous, in response to this sincere, self-revealing blog entry? Think you’re too grown-up to make star charts for yourself? Well, then, don’t make one! No need to ridicule someone else for whom it works.

    Anyway, Francesca, just wanted to say thanks for what you wrote. I feel the same way about yelling as you do, but the only thing I’ve tried so far is the checking in with myself thing, so thanks for the other ideas.

    I had one yelling parent and one non-yelling parent and you get one guess as to which one I listened to and loved more. The yelling made me disconnect and eventually be contemptuous of that parent, whereas the one who didn’t yell was the one I felt close to and wanted to please. And it’s not like I didn’t know when or why the non-yeller was upset - because it’s possible to make it very clear indeed without yelling.

  14. Tessa Auman Says:

    I am a mother of 7 and a grandmother of 5. The BEST WAY to stop childrens’ inappropriate behavior is to nip it in the bud. For example-the first time your child hits the baby, even if you’re in a very calm mood, you take a very angry, strict tone to tell him that this will not happen again in your house. The best thing is if he really realizes that you are very angry, even if he starts crying. Of course, you don’t act angy for more than a couple of minutes. Repeat this anger if he repeats the behavior, no matter what your mood. Also-Don’t ever ask your kid why he did something that you don’t permit. Stop discussing everything with your kids. Start acting like self confident adults.Learn to say no. Your kids will have more confidence in themselves and in you if your reactions are predictable, not based on your hormones or on your day at work.

  15. Motherblogger Says:

    I agree, my husband was never yelled at and he never yells. Hopefully my kids won’t either now that I’m on the path to recovery. :)

  16. Motherblogger Says:

    Thank you for your comment, the not judging part is a huge component of this, and of course the shame, which you hit on perfectly with the oreo example.

  17. Motherblogger Says:

    For the record the star chart was a symbol, a mental thing I tried to do with mixed results. The best thing that worked was the whispering–they understand my emotions immediately and clearly when I do it.

  18. Mom In Progress Says:

    I like the idea of the Star Chart - hey why not? If it works, great. I’ll give it a whirl. I grew up with a one parent that yelled and one parent that didn’t. Tough to break out of the reactive mode of yelling that I seemed to have learned during my childhood..even though I remember saying that I would never do that and remembered how unreasonable how my father sounded when he started yelling and how unsettling it was. Sigh…then, I had 2 kids. Thanks for bringing this out to the open… I’m still a work in progress.

    Thanks for the idea of checking in with yourself. I’ll try that too.
    Your blog was much better than the PEP class I took for Anger Management. It was a bit disappointing, esp. since one of the instructors started to bad mouth one of their own classes (on giving kids time-outs).

  19. Peggy Says:

    I followed the link in the NY Times article my husband sent me. I felt tears in my eyes as I read this. I’m a screamer, too, and I just screamed at my 17 month old last night. I was pretty upset that on my way to work this morning my sister told me on the phone that I shouldn’t get mad at my daughter even when I’m tired. I hanged up on her after I told her “you think yelling was a choice by me??”

    I feel extreme terrible and guilty every time after I yelled at my daughter. I didn’t know what to do with it, I even though if there was a surgery that could help me, I’d be gladly going for it! Now after I read this post, I know I’m not alone, there is something I could do, and I will.

    It makes me think that us mother-screamers shall have a gathering, just like the AA meetings. Now I think about it, yelling is like achoholic, us yelloholic will have to work hard, one day at a time to be yell-free. I’m going to print myself a starchart. Starting today, I’ll work on it one day at a time. Thank you Francesca!

  20. PrincessEdamame Says:

    Finding this was perfect timing for me. Last night I screamed myself hoarse at our 5 year old. I felt bad for doing it, an he felt bad for his behavior that caused it. But I knew that he was probably acting up because he was tired, and I should have handled it differently. It’s really reassuring to see that I’m not alone, that others have the same difficulties, that most of us are trying to change it. Thanks, ladies.

  21. Luke Says:

    Hello everyone! I am NOT a parent (yet), but a guy in my early 20’s. I’ve read all of these posts and I’d like to say that I experienced a few different kinds of parenting strategies growing up. My parents were divorced, but when the three of us were in the same room, you could see how things would play out if they were still married. Parent “A” married way too young and was not ready to be a parent, and never got over that fact. They took it out on me day in and day out. I was hit, spanked, yelled at, SCREAMED at, whenever I did something wrong, even minor. I guess she thought this would work. When I look back, I was think I was a pretty good kid. Yeah, there were times where I pulled pranks or broke something in the house and needed to be disciplined in some way (a sharp tone would have worked, or a threat of grounding). When they yelled/hit, it didn’t make me think “Oh, I was wrong for doing that.” It just made me feel like a piece of crap. Until a few years ago I had EXTREMELY low self esteem because of this. Also, getting hit and yelled at made me only want to do it more, to spite this parent, because I begun to hate them, and eventually became extremely angry myself. Sometimes my anger could far surpass them. I have some good memories with this parent, but most of the time when I think back its like looking into a muddy puddle, I can’t really see anything and I’ve mostly blocked it out. HOWEVER, parent B was amazing. Parent B treated me with RESPECT from Day 1, and because of this I did the same. This doesn’t mean they let me do whatever I want or didn’t let me know when I was wrong. What they did was get really disappointed, and tell me why. I was given actual reasons for why what I was doing wasn’t right or was making them upset. This enabled me to think about it, feeling bad at first, and apoligizing/trying to fix whatever happened, but in the future I was able to think… “Oh.. I really shouldn’t do that because it is selfish, or because its not right.” or “I respect parent B and they really think I can do great things in life, so I should study for this test.” Of course, parent B wasn’t perfect, but somehow, the most well-adjusted part of me comes from that upbringing - not the hitting/spanking/yelling/degrading/grounding part of my upbringing. And if parent B yelled (which was very rarely), I knew something was really wrong (which it always was when this happened) and I listened. It was never loud yelling, just a raise in voice showing disappointment. I have not spoken to the first parent I mentioned in a while (about 5 years) because of this, and I am a much better person for it - I used to get in fights once a week in school, yell all the time, hated myself, and didn’t have many friends. Now I’m almost out of college and doing really well for myself, I am much less stressed, and I have a buttload of friends. I saw parent B the other day and we decorated the house for Halloween, and for a moment I thought back on all the fun things parent A and I used to do.. but realized that that there weren’t THAT many.
    My advice is treat your kids with respect, explain to them why one choice is right and the other is wrong, yell at them only if you really have to, but never scream your lungs out - this is extremely scary, even to fully-grown adults. Grounding works sometimes - but doing chores is a much more effective punishment. Also, try to promote good behavior before the fact, not just deal with bad behavior or bad grades, etc the instant it happens, surprising you and upsetting you. For example, if they are a C student and you know they can do better, tell them that if they get A’s and B’s on the next report card, you’d be really proud of them (or offer to take them into a city or theme park for a day or two fun, or something along those lines). If grades or homework are a problem, help them with their homework, studying, and projects. Talk to their teachers about extra help after school. Different things work for different kids but… I don’t think there should have to be a reason to scream every day.

  22. children assessment Says:

    very interesting and informative post!!!

  23. Jenn Davis Says:

    Great post. Sounds like I’ll be meeting you on Wednesday. I guess maybe there is hope for me!

  24. waldir moreira Says:

    I don´t spank now, but I did it before. I scream sometimes, but I have been reading and learning how to handle my two kids in a better way. I know that certain wounds last forever. Our children are not our slaves, are human beings that God gave us to watch over for some time.

  25. marjnhomer Says:

    Great post. I need to find ways to stop yelling. I normally just go with the flow. I have stopped spanking and now use time outs. Hitting was never a solution in my book

  26. Cristina Says:

    I just had a screaming episode, and I came to my computer to find something that might help me to get over my extreme guilt. I appreciate your post so, so much. I had a terrible temper years ago that I completely conquered before I got married…so I thought. Having a super high-needs child has made it come back to life. And when I say “high needs”, I mean my child wakes every single hour at night; my child will only take a nap in the Ergo…things like this. Every nap is a fight. Sleeping at night is a fight. I am so sleep deprived myself that I completely lose it during these fights. Everyday I tell myself that I’m not going to lose control that day. But most days I do anyway. When I don’t, I am so proud, and I feel ridiculous because I feel that I was basically the mom that day that I should ALWAYS be. Nothing to be proud of! It’s pathetic to be proud! But I clearly need some check-in techniques. The screaming has to stop. Thank you so much for sharing them because I don’t know that I would ever have thought of taking a workshop for it - mostly because I would die from embarrassment. My husband read the “No Cry Discipline Solution” and said, “It basically said exactly what I already know and do”. Wish I could say the same…my turn to read it.

  27. mary Says:

    great article :) What and where was the class that you took? did I miss it in the article?

  28. To Scream or Not to Scream- that is the question | AboutOne Says:

    [...] tips and thank you Parenting for publishing them! By the way, you can find more from Francesca at Motherblogger. // [...]

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