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Tonight I could hear my neighbors child crying and screaming through the walls because these walls are paper thin you can hear everything. As the child was screaming and crying, the mom was yelling at the child. The child had this blood curdling scream that was literally bringing back memories of my childhood. What should I do?

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  • Yikes. Country? Dec 23, 2021 at 13:42
  • @Luke Sawczak does the country really matter? Unfortunately, this could happen anywhere.
    – Enguroo
    Dec 24, 2021 at 4:24
  • @Enguroo Of course it could. But OP's country affects the question of what is legally possible and what responsbilities they may have to act on a suspicion. I should have said that the first time Dec 24, 2021 at 4:30

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Usually I am strongly the child's advocate, so this a bit different from me.

You didn't mention how often this has occurred/is occurring, or if there were any indications the child was being struck, as opposed to the child throwing a tantrum. In light of these omissions, the question is as much about you as the actual well being of the child.

The child had this blood curdling scream that was literally bringing back memories of my childhood.

No doubt this is unsettling for you. These are different parents, though, and a different child. If the walls are paper-thin, you must know how if this is a one-off occurrence or done regularly. Your response should reflect this.

I'm sure there are parents who have never yelled at their child. (This doesn't automatically make them good parents.) However, I would guess that parents who have never yelled at their child are something of a rarity. A strong-willed child can bring a parent to the point of losing their temper and getting into a shouting match. Kids, especially younger ones, don't just shout back; they can let out some blood-curdling screams which are definitely uncalled for, as I have witnessed many, many times in my workplace and even coming from my (mostly) adorable grandchildren. Tired, exasperated parents yell. It's not ideal, but it is understandable.

What they yell is also important in differentiating poor self-control from abuse. "You are a spawn of Satan, and I wish I never had you!" is a terribly abusive thing to yell. "Give that back to your sister right now or you're going STRAIGHT TO BED!!!?" is, well, not in the same league at all.

Responding is preferable to reacting. You may have reacted to the situation with horror because of your background. Responding is something done after thoughtful deliberation.

You alone of us knows the situation. Respond appropriately. Calling Child Protective Services can be an entirely correct response, and please do so if you're genuinely concerned for the child's well being. Too many people don't.

The first time I lived in an apartment building, I could hear nightly screaming at a child through the ventilation shafts. Every. Single. Night. It bothered me so much that when it got particularly bad, I took to riding the elevator and walking the hallways trying to find the source, so that I could call CPS. I never did find it, and that's something I wish I had pursued more diligently.

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If you are concerned about the safety or wellbeing of a child you should start with the child protection authorities where you live. There may also be charities like Childline or the NSPCC.

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As already said you should report what you heard to child protective services, or whatever your countries equivalent is.

You didn't say what they were screaming about unfortunately, so it's hard to know how big a warning sign this is, but the fact that you were concerned enough to even ask here shows that you think this was more going on then just a child's tantrum. That's enough of a reason to contact the authorities.

I know there are some who worry about being too quick to contact child services for fear of having the child separated, but you shouldn't be. Child services does not remove a child from their parent from just one unsubstantiated phone call. What they will do is speak to the parent and the child to get an explanation, they may check the child's school and medical records for any sign of abuse, and interview others. They will not take a child away unless they find more definitive proof of severe ongoing abuse. Worse case there is some innocent explanation for what you heard, which CSP will learn and accept and all that is lost is a little bit of a social worker's time.

It's always better to err on the side of caution and contact social services if you suspect something may be wrong. They will tell you themselves they would much rather a dozen 'false positives', where it turned out that there was an innocent explanation and nothing was wrong, then risk even one child that is being abused not being discovered in time to help.

You can ask them to not share your identity with the family next door if you are worried about anonymity. You could even choose not to share your identity with them at all, though I'd recommend you do so they can contact you again if they need more details. But please call to protect the child.

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