I Want To Scream!

Dear Raising Small Souls,

Sometimes I get so mad at my kids! Yesterday, we were getting ready for a family reunion that our family will be hosting next week. My thirteen-year-old daughter suggested that we create place cards and matching centerpieces for the party. Although this will be an informal affair held in our backyard and I felt the cards to be unnecessary, I could see that this was important to her, so I told her that this was a fantastic idea and drove her to the craft store to purchase supplies.

Then my sixteen-year-old son informed her that the decorations and place cards were a “dumb idea”. It infuriates me when he teases his sister, and I calmly told him that if he has nothing nice to say he should not say anything at all.

Naturally, my daughter was insulted; and she then proceeded to throw all the colored papers, pipe-cleaners, ribbons, and the rest of the craft supplies around the living room and stomp upstairs in a huff.

Then I lost it… after all, I had just been defending my daughter and she made my living room’s atmosphere into a physical and emotional mess! I started screaming at both of my children, which quickly escalated into a major shouting match.

My daughter said that she hates her family and will not attend the party. My son complained that nobody cares about him or ever asks for his opinion about how things should be.

This is when my husband entered the house, and he looked at me with a mixture of disappointment and anger and asked me what on earth was going on.

I just want to scream! And this is not a lone incident in my family… what should I do? Please help!




Dear Ready to Scream,

First of all, please prepare a cup of your favorite coffee or tea, turn on a CD of soothing music, and make yourself comfortable on the couch.

Now, let’s backtrack a bit, and see what precisely went wrong.

The fist problem was that your son made an offensive comment to your daughter.

You sympathized with your daughter and thus reprehended your son, which, in retrospect, did not fix anything. The lesson that can be gleaned here is that criticizing the insulter does not ease anyone’s pain.

What could have been done differently?

Your children are mature enough to handle their own communications without your intervention. If you hadn’t gotten involved, your daughter may have told her brother to mind his own business and that perhaps that would have been the end of it.

If your daughter had good communication skills, she could have told him that she did appreciation being spoken to in that manner.

If she had advanced communication skills, she could have sandwiched her critique between two positive comments, such as; “Thank you for sharing your opinion. I’d like it if you’d speak to me in a nicer manner, but I want to know why you think the decorations are a stupid idea.”

Where would your daughter have learned such excellent communication skills? From you! If you had intervened in their youth using the sandwich method of good news, bad news, good news, then they would have grown up knowing how to do it.

Assuming that you did not model a helpful method of rebuke, don’t worry, it’s never too late.

In place of a helpful criticism, however, you gave a hurtful retort to your son. The lesson that can be gleaned here is that we handle criticism with criticism. Thus, it is not a surprise that your daughter reacted by escalating the anger and resentment. Obviously, that is not a lesson you want to consciously impart to your children.

Let’s examine some ways to express negative emotions in a healthy and safe way.

Your children are going to learn how to communicate effectively by being taught by your words and actions. When you model how to handle disappointment and anger in a calm and healthy manner, your children will learn these essential life skills.

Although your husband entered the scene at the end of the situation, he appears to be contributing to the negative style of communication by reacting with anger rather than offering support and empathy.

When you are able to handle disrespect with respect, and insults with calmness, your children will be influenced to communicate in an effective and positive manner.

What would have been a good reaction to your son’s nasty “that’s a stupid idea?”

In a calm and collected ton, you could have responded, “Oh, is there something that is bothering you about your sister’s party decorations?” By demonstrating interest in his point of view, you have the upper hand to then offer constructive criticism such as, “What would be a more effective way to tell your sister how you feel about the place cards?”

If you are ever unsure how to respond in the heat of the moment, simply think about the sandwich method- you can’t go too wrong using it! Good comment, bad comment, and another good comment.

Good luck! (We all need it!)



  1. I must say that I find your answer very condescending in the extreme. To say that Mrs “Ready to Scream” did not bring up her children properly is offensive and derogatory. This mother is doing her best and sometimes conflict can not be avoided. Certainly a 13 year old girl and 16 year old boy who are both going through puberty do not think clearly at all times, and emotions can get the better of them. I agree with you that it is up to the mother to create a calming influence, but I would not for one minute claim that she has failed to teach her children excellent communication methods. I applaud her for seeking advice, but feel she has been sadly let down in the way it was presented.

  2. Concerned Mom says:

    Your advise is sound. Although The expression “In a Perfect World” comes to mind when I read your reply. I have to agree with Rachel you are being extremly harsh in your judgement that Mrs “Ready to Scream did not bring bring up her children proberly. The whole response makes me think I would thing twice before I came to you to get advise. I feel that maybe you were hard on her. Hind site is 20/20 and it is really eazy to give advise on something that has already happened.
    I wish I could be as calm with my teens as you explain and I am sure at times I have been but this seemed to border on a degrading and harsh response.

  3. Beverly says:

    I didn’t find you answer helpful either. I didn’t find the response of the Mother all that critical.
    But, I wouldn’t have reacted that way. I wouldn’t have yelled at anyone. I would have called my daughter back downstairs ( after about 10 minutes of cool down time) and informed her that she needed to pick up her mess before her father got home, and get ready to reimburse me for the decorations that were ruined.

    In real life circimstances, we have to clean up after ourselves or provide replacements for things that we ruin, and real lessons can be conveyed by following this type of real consequences follow-through in your home.

    There is no need for anger either. After you ask the daughter to clean up, ask her if she can figure out why Mom may be upset at this point. Don’t give her any hints either. She should be able to fill in the blanks about ruining things recently purchased, over-reacting to her brother’s comments, throwing things, having a tantrum as if she was a three year old,etc. If she doesn’t, you’ve got some homework to do.

    My husband comes in with the same attitude when something is happening at my house and I just tell him, “You’ll have to trust me on this one, I’ll handle it,and tell you all about it when I’am done”. He just needs a cool down time from work.

  4. To the last person who commented:
    Ellen did NOT tell the woman that she didn’t bring her kids up properly!!! I don’t know where you got that idea from.
    She suggested that the mother responded INCORRECTLY and should not have gotten involved. (I’m not sure I agree in this case but it is a far cry from what you claimed she did). She suggested, rightly, that our kids mimic our behavior and that it’s up to us to respond properly. That makes sense.
    About this particular case, I probably also would have said to my son that he said something offensive. Nothing wrong with teaching kids right and wrong. I wouldn’t take sides, though, as in saying which way the table should be set.
    Anyway, I just jumped in to tell Ellen that she said NOTHING wrong to “Ready to Scream”.

  5. Oh yeah. And I agree that she should have made her daughter clean up her mess. THAT is unacceptable.

  6. To all parents struggling with “wanting to scream”
    I strongly recommend that you look into the Love and Logic model of disciplining and raising respectful and responsible children who are accountable for their actions and decisions (You can google “Love and Logic” and many local public libraries have Love and Logic books/CDs as well). It has worked wonders for my husband and me. So often we used to raise our voices and get upset; now we speak calmly and let the children learn how to think for themselves and deal with the situations they are in. What’s amazing about the “toolbox of techniques” is that they work for kids as young as 2 years old all the way to the teenage years (and are even sound techniques for adult relationships too)! Love and Logic makes sense and is easy to implement. It teaches parents how to deal with pretty much any situation without breaking a sweat. I’ve read many books on parenting/disciplining and I can’t say enough about this.
    Best of luck (to us all!)

  7. Pauline says:

    Perhaps the response could have been better put. It implied that “Ready to Scream’ is lacking in many ways. The response should be more encouraging. We all know that most parents under today’s stress levels would have acted in a more negative manner. This mother tried her best and we should help each other by giving good encouragement and parenting advice.

  8. concerned caregiver says:

    all i can say is OH MY GOD where and how were you women raised? i am a caregiver in a daycare setting and i have to deal with many peoples children on a daily basis. and i know coming from a caregiver this may not be a proper response but have you all forgotten the term “spare the rod and spoil the child”?i know for me as a child growing up i had my moments wher adolesant insanity hit me but, my parents never let me get away with behaviour like that. to Mrs. I’m Ready to Scream i as a former hormonal teenager sympathize with your plite. your son was doing what he could to antagonize his sister, your daughter let him get the better of her. both of them need to appologise to the other and your son should be given the task of working on the decorations and place cards with your daughter as supervisor. and she could have the final say as to wether or not they are good. your husband needs to back off and wait to hear what has happened before jumping to conclusions or sending out accusations. if it is an on going problem of lack of communication skills with the whole family then may i suggest a family counselor? this is meant as no slight to you or your child rearing skills but in my family we had similar problems and having the counselor there was a major help in getting our problems out in the open and it really helped us all in how we communicate with each other to this day.

  9. I think Ellen is partly right in her advice that we should, as parents model a respectful tone of voice in our reprimanding and dealing with our children but what about setting up boundaries for our kids and teens and letting them know in no uncertain terms that disrespect will not be tollerated. In the real world we need to show respect for others in all situations. in order to get along with others,be it in a work situation or a shop or on the phone to a government department, we need to offer respect at ALL times or we simply do not get what we want. The son and daughter in this situation both need to be reminded of this fact. I have a thirteen year old son and when he is disrespectful to a family member I just respectfully remind him to be nice. If his behaviour continues, he is told to go into his room as people do not want to be around negative people. He would recieve a much less loving response in the real world so we need to prime our kids to live in the real world and teach them about consequences. As for this good lady’s daughter, being made responsible for the cost of the craft supplies and cleaning up the mess should deffinately happen. I am not sure we as parents are set on this earth to ease our kids pain all the time. Our kids need to learn that their negative and disrespectful behaviour does cause pain to others, even their parents at times!
    To sum up, I think that this good lady who wants to scream actually did the right thing in reprimanding her son although a major ‘time out’ needed to be put in place before the screaming match accured. No parent is or can be perfect and kids need to know that too. It is a life long journey learning to deal with all the imperfect people in this world and no-one can ever perfect the art. We just need to try our best as ‘ready to scream’ lady seems to be doing already. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  10. I think the main point here is that negative begats negative, and it seems to be a part of this family’s history.

    I think the advice Ellen gives is sound overall – but I agree that it could have been a little more realistic. How could you begin to expect that a 13 year old would have advanced communication skills that most adults haven’t mastered.

    Never-the-less, Ready to Scream is in the position to be able to change the way her family communicates, and that is a good thing.

    The first step is to stop reacting. The second step is positive reframing. You daughter could have used more appreciation from you. How many 13 year olds would want to go out of their way to do something so special? Telling your son that you are sure her decorations will be beautiful would have made her feel proud, and he probably would have shut up and walked away. Or maybe you could have asked him what special contribution he was going to make.

    We adults sometimes get so wrapped up in all the things we need to do, and often forget about fragile feelings. I’m sure she must have sensed your annoyance before this incident occurred. You were already at the boiling point because of the pressure you felt you were under because of the extra time you spent on this project that you thought was unnecessary. There was already a lot of tension. I’m only guessing here, but I know that when I’m tense, it affects my daughter – and things don’t go well. And when it happens, it’s always because I’ve taken on too much.

    If this is as you say – a pattern, then you need to find a way to organize things better so you’re not all under so much pressure all of the time. Then it will be easier to take a deep breath and practice some of the techniques that Ellen has suggested.

    Just my 2 cents –


  11. I have one 14 year old daughter and two younger sons 8 and 5. Sibling relationships can be difficult (and WONDERFUL). I read a funny piece of information not too long ago that really helped me: according to recent research, our relationships with our siblings do more to mold our character than even our relationships with our parents. Siblings my youngers boys ages tend to “fight” on average 4 times an hour. Why should that bring a smile to my face? Because I didn’t feel like such a failure that it kept happening and instead focused on giving them the skills to use when it happens. I’ve got the 5 steps to Resolve Conflict taped to their dresser, and an emotional thermometer drawn on the bathroom wall (let’s see, do I feel like “A danger to myself and others” or merely “Whoa! Walk away and regroup!” ) And I told my kids (at a time when we were all sitting around feeling pretty good) that their conflicts gave them a great chance to practice; they are learning with each other how we get along with others outside the family. Our house regularly descends into LOUD conflicts (and I hate loud) but we’re working the problem and I feel good about our successes. Also, maybe take a look at “Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Too” by Adele Fabe and Elaine Mazlish. Hey Mom, hang in there!

  12. First time reader, bear with me please.
    The story of the emperors new clothes came to mind when reading of the young boy”s comments.
    Was it meanness or just brutal honesty that in the long wrong could’ve saved someone an uncomfortable situation later had the idea flopped at the party. The mom herself said she
    didn’t think the idea was neccessary, and that actually MAY have been the start of the volatile
    situation. She could’ve been honest to herself AND her daughter by saying something like GREAT IDEA! BUTT(and that’s a big but, for comic relief…) “the Idea may NOT go over too well
    because…blah,blah,blah”(maybe picking out a reason relating to a relative she may or may not know). This would be a perfect opportunity to
    declare a BRAINSTORM SESSION, in an attempt to distract and possibly even play put up or shut up
    with the boy. EVERYONE throughout life comes up with ideas that THEY think are great, but unfortunately not all of them are. Sometimes we all need to step up to the plate and make sure the person with this great idea sees both sides of that coin (pardon all the cliches). Our job as parents is to protect our children, but that doesn’t always mean to shield them. Sometimes we need to help them learn to toughen up that outer layer,through the use of humor and non-emotional reactions and positive & honest opinions.

  13. As kids don’t come with a manual I think that it is ok to sit down with your children once the heat is off and apologise for the things that you said or did that were wrong but to say what it was that made you feel like screaming and thethings that it is not ok for them to do / say. I get it wrong too but I have let my kids know that I have not been a parent of a teen before and I need some guidance from them sometimes too. Just spending time with them individually really helps when things are getting wobbly. If the idea of the place settings isn’t going to work (and it maybe that she was touchy about this because she recognised that he was right and you have just spent all that money) perhaps the crafty stuff could be used to make a book that the guests could write in on the day about their memories or how much they enjoyed the get together. The place cards could also be used to label the sandwiches, make notices for coats and where the toilets are etc. This could get back on track I am sure. I think that showing your kids that you can get it worng and then salvage the situation is absolutely a good lesson.

  14. I believe one thing was overlooked. The mother admitted at the beginning that SHE did not think place cards were a good idea. Yet, when her son vocalized these same thoughts, pandemonium was loosed. It could have been a good opportunity to take her son aside, affirm his feelings, yet share with him why she, herself, responded to her daughter with encouragement, instead of negativity and why people and their feelings are more important than things.
    And, thank you for sharing, “ready-to-scream”, and giving us all the opportunity to learn from one another. One of the main difficulties in parenting is that your response in a crisis has to be instantaneous and we can all see, by the varied answers, that even with plenty of time to reflect, no answer was perfect. Lord, help us to keep trying to improve and help us to reject condemnation, in the process. It is all difficult enough without having to attempt to carry on under the weight of guilt.

  15. Well, this is a mess. What should of been done is over. Whats left is what can be done. Remember, next time this is the scene, don’t commit yourself to anything, say since this is a family issue we will disscuss this together. That would show that everyones Ideas are acceptable & respected. Its always better to listen & proccess before jumping to conclusions that others might be hurt. Try it, it works for many other & it should work for you.

  16. kathy shields says:

    Hmmm this sounds all too familiar. Have you ever considered that you just might be perimenopausal? This situation you described is so plain vanilla that what might be missing is really a little more background on your own behavior. Sounds to me like there may be other issues linked to your distress. You want to be noticed, comforted and you feel misunderstood. Hormones, spousal relationships and sense of purpose at your age may all have played a role. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Step back and don’t just examine the symptoms. For this you may need an impartial third party. I did, and I got my sense of humor back to deal with the trivialities of teen sibling rivalries of this description.

  17. lovinlife says:

    Ellen said “Assuming you did not model a helpful model of rebuke,…..” In other words (and this is my interpretation) “Let’s pretend this is how it is, and this is how we would deal with it”

    I agree with the fact that the two teenagers should have been allowed to figure it out betwean themselves. Mom, could be the monitor if she felt the need to be involved with short comments like, “hey there, watch your mouth”, “That wasn’t very nice”, “calmly please”, etc.

    If their emotions start to escalate after that, then time out until you can talk civil to each other.
    When they were little, I used to make my boys sit on the porch or entry way together until they could calm down and talk to each other. 99% of the time they would come in with the situtaion solved and laughing, or on a mission to fix something.


  18. Bethany says:

    Well – Ready to scream –

    All I have to say is, sounds like a normal household to me. I sure am glad I am not the only one with children who behave like that.
    Thanks for all the advice from all of you.
    I think I have a new summer read “Love and Logic”
    sounds good.

    I do make my kids pick up a mess after they do something like that. I do find modeling apologizing for my actions when I get upset, or say something inappropriate (which I do), to really help.

    It so often seems like if I am present, truly present with my children, and slow to react, but thoughtful to respond, that all is much better.

    Now, on the husbands actions – that is another book entirely.

    Guess I can only parent and choose to parent the two children I conceived. Parents need tools and resources to parent well. It is the most difficult profession we will ever choose to undertake.
    Thanks for all the thoughts.

  19. Hey everyone:

    I applaud the mother in this instance for having the courage to share her situation with us. I also think some of us were more than too hard on her. Mommy, if you are still reading – that situation has happened to everyone and if it has not yet happened to some of us — just wait, because it is coming. Anyone who tells you there are no fights or instances of this type of thing in their home is lying and should be booted immediately from this web page.

    I like the idea of the woman who said the brother should have picked up the mess; this makes him responsible for dealing with the pain he inflicted on his sister and his mother.

    In my opinion, the brother and the father should have to make the arrangements (alongside the sister and the mother) and place cards for not being supportive or involved enough to understand what was going on in the family or with the plans for the family reunion.

    I would try to focus on healing the family and doing activities that would bring the family unit together.

    At 13 and 16 your kids are almost grown and getting ready to go out the door for college.Try to enjoy them as much as possible without losing yourself or your husband to this type of emotional warfare.


  20. Nichole says:

    I think the big point that seems to have been avoided for the most part is when Ellen said, “Your children are mature enough to handle their own communications without your intervention.” Many of us as Moms will do anything for our kids but doing nothing seems almost impossible. Giving them space to work things out themselves is so important, and an opportinty for growth. I know it is something that I need to work on.


  21. Thank you, Ellen, I did not know about the”Sandwich” method. With a 9 and 6 year old I am sure I will be trying that soon.

  22. silvana says:

    What is so wrong with showing anger and fustration? Mom, you are fustrated and angry with the kids and who won’t be. Show it! its not your job to shelter your kids from consequences and other people’s feeling. Stand up for yourself, you count too. The most important lesson here is that your kids realize that its not all about them (they are 13 and 16, time to grow up)….maybe your husband can learn this lesson too. I think when you start demanding some respect and consideration from your family, you’ll feel better and everyone around you will be more considerate to you.

  23. Carole Anne says:

    Although my children are all “grown up”, I still love reading these emails as some day I will have grandchildren ! I love learning something new each day.

  24. My first response to your advice was that you have not had a great deal of experience with teens. Mom…..you did everything right and to infer that you did not raise them right was wrong.
    This is a fairly typical situation. Something that by its self seems petty, but after a long string of other disagreements, it simply puts you over the edge. The son and daughter need to work it out, clean up the mess and move on. I also think mom needs to vocalize her feelings to each of them. I an upper grades teacher and deal with emotional outbursts all the time. You need to deal with it, repair the damage and move on.
    Hang in there scream………you are OK!

  25. I’ll just say…I’m not perfect, which is why I look to websites like this, parenting professionals, and peers like all of you, for suggestions and support. In Ellen’s reply, I, too, was waiting for the sympathetic “been there, done that” somewhere in the text, and was a little disappointed not to find it. But again, we all make mistakes once in a while. And I have a feeling that just because there wasn’t the empathy I expected in “print” doesn’t mean she wasn’t feeling it. The suggestions were definitely helpful, but I think this all just goes to show that we ALL (mom, kids, experts, and peers) have to temper our responses with compassion and understanding, not just advice. This is lesson can be applied to the mom’s story, and all of our responses as well.