Care and Feeding

My Kid Screams Bloody Murder at 3 a.m.

I’m worried my neighbors will call CPS if this continues.

Young girl curled up, looking sad
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by SergiyN/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Nicole Cliffe is out today, so parenting duo Jonathan L. Fischer, Slate’s technology editor, and Abra Lyons-Warren, a nonprofit professional, stepped in to answer a few letters.

Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I live upstairs in an apartment with neighbors all around. My 3-year-old throws these crazy, VERY LOUD tantrums at night. Like banging on the door as loud as the cops would, screaming, just being all-around ridiculous. Sometimes it’s until 3 in the morning! Nothing gets her to stop. She makes every excuse on why she needs to come out, from saying she is starving, to saying she is hurt, hitting her sister trying to get me to open the door. I have tried a lot of stuff—making sure she is full before bed, prewarning her about bedtime coming. We have a routine every night: Brush teeth, get jammies on, they each pick a book that we read. But every time it ends up in hours of her freaking out. How do I get her to quit? I am worried that the neighbors might call CPS, and I don’t know what to do.

—Helpless in Reno

Dear Helpless,

There are a lot of possibilities here. You didn’t say how long this has been going on, but it could be a phase—no one, not even 3-year-olds, can live like that forever. It is also age-appropriate for your child to be testing boundaries. It’s good that you’ve established a routine and that you give your daughter advance warning about bedtime. It may help to put in place some additional benchmarks each night, like setting a friendly sounding alarm and telling her that bedtime begins when it goes off. It wasn’t clear from your note, but it sounds like bedtime is a joint activity in your household. Perhaps your 3-year-old would benefit from some solo time with you before hitting the sack instead of sharing that window with her sibling. You should also consider if any other big changes in your life are upsetting her—a pandemic certainly could create any number of disruptions that she may not have the emotional maturity to work through. But if you’re really stumped, the right person to consult is your pediatrician, who might have a better-educated guess at what the real issue is and what resources you should tap to address it.

Whatever happens, you’ll still have your neighbors. Kids are kids, and living in an apartment in a city comes with the expectation that, well, there will be noise. Still, 3 a.m. is rough. We’re sure the people next door would appreciate a card or a batch of brownies. You wouldn’t want to consistently bribe your neighbors, but a little sugar can go a long way.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 2-year-old son and a newborn daughter. My toddler is generally a pretty good kid; he listens fairly well and is mostly sweet to his sister. My issue is that he absolutely refuses to say “sorry” when prompted. For example, if he throws something at the baby, I’ll instruct him that he needs to say, “Sorry, sister.” What follows is usually a meltdown and a full-blown refusal to say it. My husband and I make a point to apologize to each other or the kids whenever we make a mistake, inadvertent or not, so I don’t think it’s an issue of modeling the correct behavior. My son also speaks very well, so I don’t think that’s the issue, either. He can say please and thank you in the right context, so why not sorry?

—You Don’t Even Have to Mean It

Dear Mean It,

We’re more concerned about your son throwing objects at an infant than we are about his manners at this point. Even a well-spoken 2-year-old can’t be expected to say every right thing at every right time, especially if he doesn’t quite get the concept behind apologies in the first place. While young children may be beginning to understand that other people have separate feelings from their own, empathy is something they develop over time—it’s not automatic. So keep modeling good habits, steer your son away from bad behavior, and try to gradually foster a genuine understanding of remorse and responsibility. “Sorry” will come later.

• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My partner and I are both musicians with reasonably pleasant, nonmusical day jobs that allow us the flexibility to perform and tour. Our combined income is roughly enough to support two healthy adults and a cat with very little wiggle room. We also have atypically cheap rent for our area, which is both a blessing and a source of constant anxiety, because our expenses could easily double if, say, our landlords die. I think I would like to have a kid or two at some point, but the financial angle seems impossible. What is a good amount of money to have in savings before trying for kids? What is the minimum salary needed to keep a kid comfortably alive? My life without kids is sometimes more precarious than I would prefer but largely very fulfilling, and I worry that if I had to make truly enormous changes in my career in order to afford kids that I would not be able to be a good mother. I am working on acquiring more credentials to be a higher-paid version of my current job and want to get a sense of whether that will be enough.

—Panicked in Portland

Dear Panicked,

Everyone says this and so will we: If you’re asking these questions now, you’re going to make the right choice. It’s frustrating that society isn’t set up to make this call painless. Housing and child care simply cost too much in many cities, often forcing us to choose between an ideal working life and an ideal family life that seem just impossible to square. You can do the math on what it will cost to feed, clothe, and care for your child in your neighborhood—talking to peers, lurking on a (nonjudgmental) local parents listserv, even scoping out day cares and playgrounds will all inform your calculus. And we’re encouraged that you’re on your way to a salary bump at your current job—just as we appreciate that you’ve acknowledged you might feel some resentment if having a child necessitates a dramatic change in your career. Lives change, work-life balances recalibrate, and just because you have a kid doesn’t mean you have to give up the things you love. But also, if you merely think you want a kid or two, you might just as reasonably conclude that children aren’t right for you. We’re certain you’ll figure it out. Just remember: If you wanted to, you’d be far from the first musicians to take your kids on tour.

For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am in my mid-30s, and in the past few months, multiple friends and family members have given birth to their second kids. I have been stumped each time as to a good present. They all have the basic baby gear and I would imagine some preferences as to what they like. I ended up sending some unisex clothes and a several-month coffee bean subscription. I normally consider myself a good gift-giver, but I feel like I’m missing something genius. I also found out a few weeks ago that I am pregnant with my second. Knowing my extended family, I will have to suggest a myriad of ideas for them too in several months. What are good gift ideas for people expecting their not-first child?

—Magical Gift-Giving Prowess

Dear Magical,

To be clear, you’re really asking about what gifts you should expect (or might suggest) for your second child, right? We’ll bite anyway.

Since we are all still living through a pandemic, bringing home a new baby is a lonelier experience than it was before March—it’s a lot riskier for friends and family to drop by to offer help and company right now. But the next best thing is to treat people you love to the things they really don’t want to deal with at the moment. The coffee beans subscription is the right kind of thinking here. You could also pay for some grocery delivery or send these families comforting take-home meals. Also consider getting a gift for your loved ones’ first child, too. (Our favorite is Russell and Lillian Hoban’s A Baby Sister for Frances—a classic children’s book for older siblings-to-be.) When your own second one comes, they’ll do the same for you.

More Advice From Slate

My husband and I have two beautiful toddlers who were born through IVF, and we are fairly certain we’re not going to have more kids. My sister-in-law survived a very aggressive form of cancer, but none of the embryos that she and her husband made were viable. They tried to use a pregnancy surrogate, who miscarried. It has been a heartbreaking five years for them. My sister-in-law desperately wants to have a child biologically related to her and has increasingly brought up our “leftover” embryos. Her husband is my second cousin, once removed, so the child would be related to both of them.

My sister in-law will make a great mother, but I blanch every time I try to picture someone raising my biological children. I am possessive without even knowing if I want these potential children to exist. I am uncomfortable and resentful that my sister in-law would even bring this up to us, but then I feel bad because of how much she has suffered. My husband wants to make his sister happy. Am I being a horrible person here? Part of me wants to delay this by claiming I’m not sure we’re done having children, so I don’t seem like the harpy unwilling to give her sister-in-law a chance to be a mother. I just can’t stand the thought of seeing my niece or nephew and knowing that he or she is my child. I really need some clarity here. Please help me.