Screaming children & ‘that look’

Father David Epps's picture

Worse, perhaps, than the terrible sound made by fingernails on a blackboard is the sound of a child screaming. Of course, parents don’t view the sound the way that bystanders do.

To a parent, who has become numbed to the sound of a child screaming, the wail is simply business as usual.

To one who is not the parent, the sound is disconcerting, disrupting, and jolting to the system. There are responsibilities to be fulfilled when a child screams like a “mashed Comanche,” as my mother-in-law says.

A few months ago, I was seated on an airplane. Shortly after I settled in, a young mother with a small toddler passed by me on the way to her seat. “Uh-oh,” I thought.

The child was not happy to be in such a cramped space with so many unfamiliar faces and she looked as though she might have the beginning of a cold. Sure enough, not long after we were airborne and the cabin pressure began to take its toll on the stuffed-up child, a blood-curdling scream erupted — and continued to erupt — from about 10 rows back.

I really felt sorry for the mother. There’s only so much one can do with a screaming child on an airplane. Can’t tape her mouth shut. Can’t reason with her if she is too small. Can’t drug her — not legally, anyway. The options are limited.

So, Mom held her, rocked her, spoke soothing words to her — all to no avail. All the while, surrounding passengers were giving the poor mother the “death stare.” It is here that compassion is required.

No amount of muttering, complaining, swearing, huffing and puffing, or “death staring” will help. (For an example of “death staring,” see the video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi staring at Rep. Joe Wilson after he exclaimed, “You lie!” to President Obama). The child will scream.

It is for such contingencies that I pack headphones and an iPod. I said a prayer for the harried mother and the unhappy child, put on the head phones, turned up the volume to a soundtrack from the Rocky movies, and enjoyed the flight.

But not all screaming is on an airplane. Several weeks ago as my wife and I were attending a movie, just as the film entered a crucial moment in the plot, somewhere a child screamed like a dagger had been run through his kidney.

“Oh, great,” I thought as I cast the “death stare” into the rows behind me to the left. But then, to my everlasting delight, the mom took the frenzied child out into the lobby and peace returned to the movie theater. “That,” I thought, “is a person who cares about other people.”

There’s not much one can do about a disruptive child when one is on an airplane, a bus, a train, or some other confined space. But in a public place, where there is freedom of movement and the possibility of allowing others to enjoy their time — in a movie, a concert, a restaurant, a church service — parents should take the child out.

Consideration and respect is the rule here. On a plane, the passengers should exercise caring, compassion, and understanding; they should abandon the “death stare,” put on the headphones and pray for the mom.

Elsewhere in the world, Mom (or Dad or grandparents, for that matter) should realize that the child they love more than life is ruining the event for everyone around and – because it is the right thing to do, even if they miss part of the concert, the movie, the church service, etc. — quickly take the child to the lobby, the restroom, the nursery, or some other location until he or she becomes calm.

Those who are considerate and respectful of others will become the “heroes of the day.” Those who are not have earned the “death stare.”

[David Epps is the pastor of The Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. He is also the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese ( and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Church in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at]

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