Abstract The number of reported child abuse cases is on the increase in Japan. This report describes the testing of an approach to prevention based on a key question: “Do you find any of your children irritating?” The study employed a focus group and a survey. The focus group consisted of 13 mothers who had been severely abusive to their children and were undergoing individual psychotherapy in Tokyo. The survey included 1,538 mothers living with at least one child less than 6 years of age in metropolitan Tokyo. The survey questionnaire asked about mothers' attitudes toward their children and about details and frequency of possibly abusive behavior for their children. All 13 mothers of the focus group reported the experience of feeling their children irritating. They talked extensively and provided many details of their feelings. Of the survey mothers, 3.6% reported feeling their children irritating and showed high scores of abusive behavior. There was a difference in attribution of source of the irritation between these mothers and focus-group mothers. We conclude that the question on irritability is effective in eliciting mothers' feelings and behavior, especially for providing public health nurses with an opportunity for intervention in child abuse.