The baby/toddler next door screams more than what I think is normal
February 17, 2016 9:01 PM   Subscribe

In the evenings, there's a deep male voice that yells, "stop it!", "be quiet!", "NO!", multiple times, and there are really loud banging noises along with this. One day when I walked past their door, there was a woman putting boxes outside who looked exhausted. I said Hi and she barely acknowledged me. When the guy gets excessively loud - like just now - I'll yell, "WHAT THE FUCK!?" to try to let them know I can hear them, but the kid just keeps screaming.

I don't know if this is abnormal. I'm unemployed and am generally on the couch next to our shared wall between 2:00 PM and midnight. The kid is usually up until around 9:30-10:00. It doesn't scream constantly, but at least 2-3 times a day - not just crying but screaming. The male voice is generally just there in the evenings. If nothing else I fear for the sanity of the woman. I don't know much anything about raising kids but this really disturbs me.

Is this normal? Is there anything I can do?
posted by bendy to Human Relations (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is it normal for a toddler to scream in the evenings: yes. Toddlers are tired in the evenings. They scream because they want to eat soap and fertilizer and their caretakers will not let them.

Some amount of no! Stop it! Is unavoidable. Toddlers try to color with their poop and shouting no! Stop! Is a very normal response. Yelling at your toddler everyday is very less than ideal. It's not great parenting, but you're not describing obvious abuse. This guy is probably tired after work and not good at dealing with fruatration. I wouldn't want to live with him as the kid or woman, but I wouldn't do anything specifically about this. It is very normal for the mom of a little kid to look exhausted. I'd just keep trying to say hi to her. In conclusion, yes this is a normal less than ideal situation. If you hear abuse, that changes.....but you haven't described that.
posted by Kalmya at 9:08 PM on February 17, 2016 [12 favorites]

What you can do is stop screaming back.
posted by Trifling at 9:10 PM on February 17, 2016 [78 favorites]

You could try to get to know them before speculating about the quality of their family interactions. Like, make food to give them, knock on the door with a small gift for the child, ask the mom out for coffee or something. But if you're not interested in doing some actual neighborly things, stop yelling and mind your own business.
posted by daisystomper at 9:20 PM on February 17, 2016 [14 favorites]

Yeah, less than ideal but my toddler was sobbing hysterically and shrieking just this morning because I handed him a toothbrush with strawberry toothpaste instead of putting on my shoes he'd gotten out. No filter, no frame of reference, lots of big feelings (and not talking yet). It was probably the worst thing that happened to him all day, too.

Please stop yelling back.
Please say hi and be friendly to the mom.
Even when I wear make up and look okay I feel now. I've had about 8hrs sleep over the past 2-3 days. Ugh.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:21 PM on February 17, 2016 [18 favorites]

It sounds like they have a suboptimal bedtime routine for their toddler. Kids can be relentlessly loud and it's hard for everyone at the end of the day when people are tired. My family has a secure, loving, story-and-snuggle bedtime routine and sometimes, like tonight, they are just crazy until they pass out. (For example my child is having a hard time falling asleep right now and is shouting/screaming some gibberish story to her stuffed animals. Yes, it's late. Yes I do wish she would just lie down and go to sleep. But every time I go in to try to settle her, she's re-energized and excited for the attention, so I am going to let her burn it out on her own.)

Frankly the late afternoon until the kids go to sleep is just not a mellow time, even if the parents are mellow folks.

You yelling contributes nothing positive to the situation and heightens everyone's stress level, including your own.
posted by stowaway at 9:27 PM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

The toddler does not understand when you yell, "What the fuck" loudly. He is tired or pissed at his parents for some reason or screaming because it gets a rise out of them. As the father of three children now aged 19, 20 and 21, I can say without hesitation that this is normal. Fwiw, there will be a lull in the yelling from about age 5 to about 14, then it starts up again with the parents and the teens yelling at each other about some trivial issue. The parents are trying to reassert their dominance and the teen is trying to assert their independence. That too will pass. Now, my kids just laugh AT me or say, "fuck no pops" or some variation. THen they give me a big hug, ask to borrow the truck and tell me not to wait up.
posted by AugustWest at 9:28 PM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

Why would you be more worried about the woman's sanity? She has agency, the child does not.
posted by My Dad at 9:28 PM on February 17, 2016

Babies and toddles screaming is normal. 2-3 times a day actually seems really minimal to me - consider yourself lucky, neighbor.
posted by Toddles at 9:29 PM on February 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, my bad about the yelling. I was seeing it as a "hey, I hear you and it's not cool in case you're abusing the kid," but now I'll stop. My initial idea was to knock on the door and offer to pick up some things from safeway for the mom, but I was unsure if that would be welcome if there was abuse. Thank you for the perspective, all. I got a 50/50 response on Facebook, so I'm always glad to hear more perspectives.

I don't have any close friends or family with kids or babies so I have no idea whatsoever if this is normal.
posted by bendy at 9:37 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a person with a toddler, it would be incredibly stressful for me to have a neighbor screaming f-bombs at me from the other side of the wall when she was loud. I have no idea whether there's abuse going on here, but your contribution is definitely not helpful. This kid is learning language word by word right now and most people don't treasure the idea of their child's first word being one of the unprintable ones. And if it is they like to at least have a cute story to go with it, not, you know, "My neighbor thought that was an OK thing to yell through the wall at a family with a baby."

I get what you're trying to do, but don't do it anymore. If you genuinely think abuse may be going on here, you've now also tipped your hand that you're probably the guy who called the police.

9:30-10 is later than I'd put a very small child to bed, personally, but it's definitely not that unusual. If you're going to Safeway anyway and things don't sound too nuts in there, it would be a kind gesture to offer to pick things up for them. Obviously don't knock if you've just heard kiddo screaming/dad yelling.
posted by town of cats at 10:09 PM on February 17, 2016 [17 favorites]

Honestly, 2 to 3 times a day is not much. Kids that age will scream when they can't eat dog food or when they don't want to put on socks. It's how they communicate -- they don't have an established vocabulary to express their displeasure -- all they have is crying and screaming.

Kids can also pick up on stress. Give the parents the benefit of the doubt. They don't WANT their child to scream and chances are they are doing everything they can to stop the screaming. But when you yell back, it probably stresses the parents out more, and then the kid picks up on that anxiety and it intensifies the whole cycle.

I would probably be scared of a neighbor that yelled "What the fuck?" through the wall at my child. That's probably why she is barely acknowledging you. That, and sleep deprivation. Toddlers and babies are HARD.

I do think that is a late bedtime for a child, and that is probably making things worse. Overtired toddlers are crabby. Most parenting books advocate for an earlier bedtime ... even 6:30 is not unheard of for a toddler. But I can't think of a way you could relay this information to them in a positive manner -- chances are they'll get the info from their pediatrician if they ask about these difficulties.
posted by Ostara at 10:35 PM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have kids. The two year old is an awesome screamer yet my husband and I are pretty good and attentive parents who love our children and have an early and regular bed time for the kiddos. Some times the kids just scream. Sometimes they are jumping on the bed all wet after a shower having thrown their wet towel God-knows-where... My husband and I manage to get through it with out TOO much yelling, but sometimes... Even when we know it's not going to help, even though we know better.. Sometimes we hear ourselves yelling "stop it!" when it's 9 pm, no one is asleep and someone just dumped the contents of their dresser on the floor.

I will say that if I ever heard my neighbour yell curse words through the wall that person would be on MY shit list forever. It is the least helpful thing that could be done I would absolutely have nothing to do with that "neighbour" if I ran into them out in the world. Really, you thought more yelling and SWEARING would be helpful??? Leave these people alone. Move your sofa or try headphones. If they heard your yelling and know it was you the woman DOES NOT want anything to do with you.
posted by saradarlin at 11:34 PM on February 17, 2016 [11 favorites]

2-3 times a day is well within the mean for a toddler. God, depending on duration I shit you not 2-3 times an hour is well within the mean, especially after six pm. Source: I am a parent of two of them.

What is unacceptable, however, is acting like a tired toddler yourself and screaming back at them. Screaming profanities at people is literally never okay, okay? Never.

If I was that parent, you screaming at me would be a far greater source of stress than the horrible grind that can be parenting a toddler. Never do it to anyone, ever again. And god, never do it it to newish parents, frankly we get enough judgemental shit hurled at us all day long, and often lack the resources to brush it of as we otherwise might.

The woman barely acknowledged you because she was thinking "there's that asshole who screams at us every night. Eff you, buddy." She probably wanted to scream back at you.

tl;dr - no cause for alarm, all but the saintliest parents shout at kids unfortunately, and don't be abusive to your neighbors. Your facebook friends obviously ain't parents.
posted by smoke at 12:38 AM on February 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, when I said hello to the neighbor it was long before I had made any loud noise.

Please read my previous answer where I agreed not to yell again. I'm only worried if I should be be worried about abuse. I will totally be unconcerned if screaming a lot is normal for toddlers.
posted by bendy at 12:53 AM on February 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'll yell, "WHAT THE FUCK!?" to try to let them know I can hear them, but the kid just keeps screaming.

I know you've agreed to not do this again,but this behaviour has pretty much has pretty much guaranteed that this family will not reach out to you if there really is abuse going on. Speaking as someone who has a toddler who has a tantrum pretty much every evening before bed time at the moment, I cannot imagine how I'd react to my neighbours behaving like this. I think I'd be rather frightened to be honest with you.

The parent may be acting irresponsibly in their overreaction, but lots of parents do. The bashing and crashing noises are almost certainly the child being noisy. I doubt you'd hear a parent physically abusing their child.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:02 AM on February 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My little sister used to yell so loud at bath time our neighbours once ran out into the street thinking someone was being murdered. Toddlers have lungs, omg, and very strong opinions. If you're not used to kids it (those neighbours had none) it must be distressing but nothing you've described raises red flags to me (except your yelling back but I trust your update and I can see how it would elicit that response in you).

Offering to pick something up at Safeway is super sweet.
posted by kitten magic at 1:46 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah... The place we lived in a few years ago had a shared wall with the neighbors, and they had two kids - lower elementary and older toddler maybe? The first few months every night between 10 and 11(!) was punctuated by lots of screaming, stopping, and the phrase "NO NO NO!" (And lots of scolding). Then all of the sudden something shifted - bedtime got earlier, yelling stopped, etc. whatever was going on ended (phew!). Maybe around daylight savings?

After that we occasionally overheard a tickle monster chasing the kids through the house as they shrieked with laughter. Grandpa started chatting to us (in Chinese, which we don't speak at all, but hey...), the parents would smile and say hi. They seemed like a nice family. Kids hit rough patches - *shrug*
posted by jrobin276 at 2:04 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is this a baby or a toddler? If this is a baby crying and you're asking if this is normal, there is never an answer for normalcy in the life of a baby, and if it is a baby that is only crying 2-3 times a day, you're a lucky neighbor!! My baby cried almost half of the day up until 3 months. Babies cry, moms are usually more exhausted than fathers if they are at home all day, and either party can get to the point of frustration where they may yell something. You mention you know nothing about raising kids, which is why you're asking if this is normal. Babies, toddlers alike cry and life is pretty stressful for everyone involved (including neighbors), so yes this is normal.

Now, my question is are you truely concerned about the wellbeing of the mother/baby or are the cries/yells really starting to get under your skin? Because by yelling but then sitting on your couch questioning if everything is okay while not taking any action kind of suggests to me that you are just very frustrated, which is fine to feel those ways but imagine how they feel. I woulnd't speculate that anyone is in harms way or there is abuse involved unless you hear a disturbing argument or other sounds, in which case you need to take action. This is just the life of a baby/toddler, and hopefully it will get easier for them. I'm glad "it" doesn't scream more than 2-3 times a day, thats actually pretty good!

I can appreciate how hard it is to live next to a baby crying, an exhausted mother, and a stressed out father because I was that exhausted mother, and still am... but if you are truely concerned how about your bring them over some food, or stop by to introduce yourself and let them know if they need anything here is your number. I can't tell you how much it meant to me to have neighbors bring me food, or ask for help. That's IF you truely care to help. I'm sure they are aware their neighbors can hear what is going on, and I'm sure that adds to their stress... just think, your mom most likely went through this raising you, what would you want to do if that was your mother- would you hope a neighbor would go over and offer a warm meal, a helping hand, even just words of encouragement? Or would you hope the neighbor would sit on his couch cursing through the wall and stewing over how loud they are being?
posted by MamaBee223 at 4:39 AM on February 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a two-year old who is getting over a screaming phase. We were not abusing her.

My upstairs neighbor sometimes has banged on the floor to try to "get me to shut that damn kid up."

It makes me hate her; It makes me hope my daughter screams louder.

Yes, stop reacting to the noise. Kids make noise. Sometimes it gets too much and we, as parents, do a bit of yelling. It's true!!
posted by Piedmont_Americana at 4:54 AM on February 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You have no idea what may be going on. 15 months to 3 years of age is exhausting in ways that are unfathomable to anyone who has not cared for a little being in need of constant attention and supervision.

I didn't start to come out of the fog until my oldest was 5 and my youngest was 3. Between 3 and 4, kids develop REASONING! AND THEY START TO LISTEN TO YOU THE FIRST TIME!

Of course the mother is exhausted if she's doing most of the kid work during the day and of course the father (I am assuming a lot here with the relationships, I realize) is exhausted if he's working and he comes home to an exhausted partner. Everyone gets snippy. Surviving infancy through early childhood is medal worthy.

One thing you might try is acting neighborly. Smile and say hello to the neighbors. Say hi to the kid. Show a little interest in their over all being in those small human ways.

Sometimes that can help replenish depleted emotional supplies.
posted by zizzle at 5:26 AM on February 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Dude, noooooo. I can think of zero circumstances where it would be acceptable to scream swears at your neighbor through the wall. I'm sorry for the pile on but this behavior is going to guarantee you crummy neighbor relations for the rest of your apartment-dwelling life, ok? When you want your neighbor to be quieter you knock twice on your shared wall or floor. And you only do this if the noise is voluntary, like sex or music or TV. They probably want the crying kid to quiet down just as much as you do!

It's good to remember that people are doing the best they can with the tools they have available.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:07 AM on February 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I totally get your concern. It's hard to interpret what's happening in through the walls, and I get not wanting to sit silently if child/spouse abuse were going on. But I agree that you're going about it the wrong way. Also, maybe also consider that the kid might have something out of the ordinary going on? If not just regular kid developmental ups and downs, maybe health or developmental issues? My son (born early with some brain issues) cried way more than a normal baby for the first year of his life, and I often thanked all the mysteries of the universe that we'd just moved from an apartment complex to a house -- I was so exhausted from being up all night, I can't imagine how I would've dealt successfully with angry (and tired!) neighbors bothered by our noise. And as for late bedtimes, my kid is still the king. We have a solid bedtime routine, decent naps, etc, and without fail: he will go to sleep not a minute earlier than 9 p.m.

This all depends on the reality of the kid, though; I fully expect I'm projecting here. A year of no sleep and all that. :) But if this were the case, then a Safeway run or other offer of assistance might be even more welcome.
posted by pepper bird at 6:38 AM on February 18, 2016

At this point I think it would be appropriate for you to leave them a short note saying that you apologize for yelling through the wall, you won't do it any more, you understand life with a toddler is tough, and that you'd be happy to pick something up for them from Safeway if they ever need it.*

Then keep smiling and saying hi to them when you bump into them. Repeat the safeway offer verbally on occasion.

As other parents above have said, I'd be afraid a neighbor yelling 'Fuck' through the wall was kind of unhinged, and I'd probably be scared to talk to them - but if I received the above note coupled with an actual decrease in wall-swearing, I'd probably feel much better about the whole situation.

And yes yes yes to all the others above saying that toddlers LOSE THEIR SHIT in response to all kinds of perfectly reasonable parenting and sometimes parents respond less than optimally to a small person screaming incessantly in their face while simultaneously trying to destroy their glasses and refusing to wear a goddamn diaper.

*Even though I rarely ask for stuff from the neighbors I will never forget that one time the neighbor down the street went to the store across the street to pick up a prescription for me because my husband was out of town and I had an ill not-yet-sitting-up infant and a preschooler who was burning up with fever and sobbing and too sick to sit up and he needed his medicine NOW but it was after bedtime and a horrific thunderstorm was raging and I just could not see how I was going to get both kids loaded into the car and fit them into a grocery cart (since neither one could sit) and wait at the pharmacy counter with two soaked, wailing, sick kids... So yeah. Make the gesture. Having someone to call in that kind of emergency is amazing.
posted by telepanda at 6:51 AM on February 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

My advice would be to drop a quick card into their mailbox apologizing for yelling/swearing through the wall at them. A note saying something along the lines of "Hey neighbour! I just wanted to apologize for the yelling you heard from me last week - I feel terrible about it." Then put on some noise-cancelling headphones at night for a while.

As many people have said, parents get judged a LOT for things they can't control (like screaming children) and when you're already exhausted, it sucks to feel anxious in your own home - and having someone yell from the other side of the wall would seriously make me feel awful (even if I totally empathised with the reasoning behind it).

After that, just keep saying "Hello!" when you see them. If it seems appropriate, drop off some cookies or offer to pick up groceries (or whatever). If you see the kid, be even MORE friendly so they know you're not holding a grudge about the screaming. You don't have to be friends - just friendly. (As a bonus, if you actually get to know your neighbours, you'll be in a much better position to hear about their struggles - which, if your concern is that a child is being abused, is helpful.)
posted by VioletU at 6:53 AM on February 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hi, non-parent here. If it's abuse you're truly concerned about I will say this: a toddler who is hurt (physically) screams in a very, VERY different way than one who's angry/sad. It's chilling and sickening, even to a non-parent's ears. You know in your gut that this tiny human is hurt. If your gut isn't literally turning, then it's kids being kids. Just move your sofa to another wall.
posted by kimberussell at 7:00 AM on February 18, 2016

Best answer: Non-parent disagreeing with the previous answer, having spent a Saturday afternoon in a Wal-Mart. (I heard piercing screams and wailing, thought, "some horrible shit is going on", peeked around the aisle - no idea what exactly caused it but it seemed to have something to do with Barbie.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:19 AM on February 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

On abuse: I don't think you can tell by the kind of crying. My child has the same cry because he fell and really feels hurt as he did last night because another kid was standing on the side of the room where he wanted to stand. He feels the same terrible because of both of these things.
posted by Kalmya at 7:20 AM on February 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think a parent can probably tell the difference with reasonable (but maybe not 100%) accuracy in their own child's screams but probably not in someone else's. Unlikely that a non-parent with limited exposure to screaming children would be able to.

And, the really-truly-hurt scream can be complicated too - after my infant was in the ICU she developed some really awful associations with diaper-changing and for couple of months afterwards she screamed with that gut-twisting scream of pain every single time I changed her diaper. I described it at the time as she was screaming like I'd lit her on fire. It made me sick to my stomach.
posted by telepanda at 7:25 AM on February 18, 2016

Best answer: You don't have to apologize or send a letter to the parents. That's too much. You already said you're not going to yell at the father again, so that's it, leave it. He's not going around and apologizing to you or his other neighbors for his own yelling and banging around.

As to when the father gets excessively loud and yells/bangs, I don't consider that healthy, but you'd have to judge whether it's him venting frustration or hitting/abusing the mother and child and go from there. Babies and kids do scream, for all kinds or reasons, though.
posted by vivzan at 9:41 AM on February 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My daughter gets really quiet when she's hurt. So if you were a neighbour listening in on us, you'd have no idea whether she got really quiet after screaming because I had comforted her or because I had abused her. The only way to get an idea, as others have said above, is to actually get to know the family.

(A screaming story: She was once screaming so hard on the streetcar after a long day that another passenger, concerned, got up the courage to ask if she was my child. The unstated but obvious question: Was I abducting her? So... yeah... screaming happens.)
posted by clawsoon at 10:17 AM on February 18, 2016

Best answer: One time, my 4-year-old daughter and I were making cookies and I warned her that the stove was hot and she shouldn't touch it. I warned her again. And again. And then I sent her to her room because I didn't want her to get burned and she wasn't listening to me. She screamed so loudly (and directly out an open window) that a neighbor came to the door to see if I was abusing her. I produced the daughter unharmed so the neighbor went away. Then she and I had a little talk about hot stoves and screaming when she didn't get her way.
posted by byjingo! at 10:27 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm dealing with the same thing - neighbor below me is apparently a single dude with part-time custody of a toddler girl. I hear similar noises (him yelling at her, her screaming) and I was worried enough to poll Facebook/twitter friends. The thing that ultimately calmed me down is that his neighbor (on the same floor) is a preschool teacher, and while she groused about the noise she did not seem to think it was out of the norm. Besides, (in the US) she would be a mandatory reporter if she thought it was abuse.

So, as awful as it is to listen to, I don't think there's much you can do besides move.
posted by desjardins at 1:15 PM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

This compilation of Reasons My Child Is Crying photos might give you a flavor of the parenting lifestyle.

Nearly every time I put my (usually sweet and precocious) 3 year old down for nap or bedtime she starts wailing. Just today at nap time it was "I want you to put my socks on!" And she actually screamed for so long (eventually it was just cries of "mooooommmmmyyyyyy!!!") that I went in and put her socks on. At bedtime I tucked her in for the second time already and kissed her goodnight, then stood up and she immediately threw the covers down to her feet and said "I want a tuck in!" I refused to tuck her in a third time and left, wailing ensued again, although fortunately it trailed off into her singing "for the first time in forever, there'll be music, there'll be light" over and over again.

My one year old does the exact same thing, but with more shrieks and no words, so it would sound more disturbing to a non-parent bystander...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:47 PM on February 18, 2016

Response by poster: OK, thank you first for being less judgmental - i was a bit drunk when I wrote the initial post and I was relieved to come back and find it was OK. Weirdly, since I wrote that last post the screaming has become significantly less. I've heard toddler footsteps for the first time, so have learned that this isn't an infant which was the cause for most of my scary thoughts. I do sometimes stomp along with the toddler (I live above a shop so no worries) and instead of yelling I mostly just mutter "PANTS," to myself. No problems now.
posted by bendy at 12:33 AM on February 21, 2016

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