I yelled at my 3 year old

It’s been almost two hours and I’m still having trouble shaking this funk. I lost it on Hugo this morning, and I feel terrible.

Hugo has only been three for a few weeks and it feels like a whole new world. He is so defiant and seems hell bent on testing us every chance he gets. My usual tactics have become less potent in influencing his behavior.

When dealing with two year old Go’s bad behavior, I found it effective to do one or a combination of the following:

  • Count slowly to 3 with a time out implied if we reached 3 (we never did).
  • Time outs in his room for a couple of minutes (mentioning a time out usually made them unnecessary).
  • Giving him choices and decision making power whenever possible, such as with activities, clothes, etc.
  • Listening to him and explaining the reasons why I need him to do something.
  • Creating simple consequences if he refused to do what he was asked.

There may be more, that’s all I can think of right now. But it hasn’t been working lately. Before I tell you what I did this morning, I need to preface it with a little background.

Eggs Everywhere

I don’t lose my temper very often. In our house, I always encourage patience and peaceful discipline. It’s so rare for me to completely lose it and yell that my son is still reenacting a scene from when he was around 18 months old when I did just that. We had gone grocery shopping alone and I was furiously trying to put all the perishable food away before Hugo could “help” and possibly ruin the food.

The last thing I needed to put away was the eggs, and just as I went to grab them, Hugo took the bag and threw them to the floor. I saw red. I yelled. Ever since that day, Hugo has pretended to make a mess with the eggs and clean them up off the floor. So I guess it made an impression.

Then today

Today, I told him we were leaving for school when his cartoon was over, as usual. I started the car, brought the coats and shoes into the living room where he could see them, as usual. I had to threaten to turn off the TV before he allowed me to put his shoes on. This is also not unusual.

But then, he told me he was taking his shoes off, and kicked one of them off. I was incredulous. I counted to three – still defiant. I said he didn’t want to start the day with a time out – no response but an angry grunt. He braced his cup against the tray on his booster seat and refused to let me take it off. He said he was staying home even if I left. I removed the tray and gently lifted him to the floor, still trying to reason with him. Then he pulled his arm out of the coat I was trying to get him into and I snapped.

I don’t remember what I yelled. Something about him not telling me no. He instantly started bawling but I did not calm down. I didn’t carry him to the car as I normally do when it’s very cold. He cried until he was breathlessly coughing and I made him climb into the car seat without help. I finally kissed him when he was strapped in and told him it was OK.

I wasn’t OK though. He tried to chat a little on the ride to school. When we parked, I told him I was sorry I yelled and he asked me why I yelled. I told him it was because he told me no when I said it was time to leave. And that he can’t tell Mommy and Daddy no. Hugo replied, “No!” And I answered, “Then Mommy’s going to get mad.”

We had a warm goodbye and I think he’s going to remember this for longer than I would wish. I’m feeling a little better but wonder how I would have handled it if I had been in a better state of mind. I needed to leave right then. What would you have done?


23 thoughts on “I yelled at my 3 year old

  1. I think you did alright…I know it’s not your proudest moment but we all lose it and the fact that you are so sorry is encouraging. Think of all the parents who yell their way through the day without a second thought.


  2. I have lost it with my girls more times than I would like. But now at 9 & 8, they happen a few times a year, versus what seemed like a few times a month. Hugo will know it’s a big deal when you do lose it and if you keep it to really important stuff, like outright defiance, than it will be a powerful lesson. You talked to him about why you were mad and that is the most important part. You all will be fine. Hugs.


  3. You acted exactly how I would have and, in fact, did. My children have referred to me as the “Queen of Scream.” I know that’s hard to believe 🙂 but the three of them truly ganged up on me and I had no back up. Point is, my children turned out wonderfully and love me very much. Hugo is fine. Don’t be so hard on yourself.


  4. It’s okay. It will happen again, by the way, and seem even worse after the baby is born. Maybe what would help is to Monday quarterback it, and think about what you could have done differently in order to make the next time better? Personally, I do not ask opinions on whether or not they go to time out (even though you didn’t use those exact words). If you’re not going to have time for a timeout, don’t threaten it. Another thing that I have done in situations like that is tomorrow, before you start the TV show for him, prep ahead of time and say, “You can watch this show and then we are going. The consequence for putting up a fuss when it’s time to go is that you don’t get to watch TV tomorrow morning.”

    My kids know that I will do what I say because I have been pretty consistent with consequences. So one time, I had a really outrageous consequence for my 3yo (that I would leave him at home by himself – which I really regretted saying, btw), and he believed me and got his butt in the car. I have been dealing with defiance from him for a lot longer than you have been with Hugo, so I’ve had A LOT of practice.

    Oh, and I lose my temper all the time (Alex calls it being “high tempered.”)! Try not to feel too guilty!


  5. I learnt from a School of Philosophy friend many things, which I’ve followed with my children, and it’s worked for me. But two of the many was she never went shopping with her children, and she never allowed them to watch TV.

    I find shopping needs my full attention, and so I find a time when I leave the children with my husband, or go when they are sleeping. So the children have never really been involved with my shopping except for the odd occassion.

    I never had a problem with tearing Jimmy away from the TV, simply because we don’t have TV. I’ve always attributed his large attention span to this. He is in 3rd grade now and can read up to a 12th grade level. We have always watched DVD’s though, some days more than others…I was and am still choosy about what he can and cannot watch, but particularly when he was younger.

    Only these two things seem to have eliminated a lot of outbursts.

    I know this doesn’t work for a lot of parents, but it’s worked for us. And yes it’s been hard work.


    • Thanks, Tania! We try to stick with shows without commercials on Netflix, etc. I hate the influence TV can have on little ones. Shopping is really challenging. I think I’m going to avoid taking both kids at least.


  6. I heard some advice from a youth worker in New Zealand which I have always remembered. She said that the way she visualised the process started when boys were young and the boundaries were small but soft so when they bump into the edges of what they are allowed to do it is obvious but painless. As they get older you expand the fence and strengthen it up. By time boys are in their mid-teens the boundary is safari park sized but the fence is 10 foot high and electrified so they don’t even want to touch it.

    I love the idea that we can grow into a reason based relationship with our two (6 and 8 now) but all the signs are that her advice was also part of the story.


  7. I don’t have much to add in terms of any additional wisdom that you haven’t already gotten from some very smart ladies before me.

    But I will echo that I think the most important thing is that he sees the resolution of it – that he knows you’ve apologized. And that he knows that you know that you didn’t mean to make him feel badly.

    I have always been not the most patient person and definitely parenting a toddler has taught me to be wayyyy more so! But it’s a challenge for sure and one that is part of OUR journey of growing as much as it is for him.

    Anyway I guess the only thing I’d add is that you were being human. You were being real. Real human people *do* get upset and lose their temper sometimes. And IMO the fact that you can acknowledge to him that it was a choice you wish you hadn’t made – I think that in itself is a teaching moment for him.

    I never shy away from when my husband and I get in a heated discussion now and then when our child is present. I think it’s kind of important for him to see us disagree – and then make up! So he can see that people who love each other do disagree sometimes and that we can do so in a way that’s respectful (hopefully) and that we can make up with each other should any hurt feelings ensue.

    I’m not saying that it’s a good thing to lose your temper – I know the feeling of regret you mean and I have felt a good amount of guilt at times for doing so myself.

    But we are all human and the forgiveness is part of the journey and teaching too.

    Huge, huge hugs mamma. You are doing great 🙂


  8. Don’t worry about it! Did you get yelled at? I’m sure we’ve all been the shouter and the shoutee. It’s inevitable.

    You did the right thing in apologising to Hugo for losing your temper, though. Now he can see not only that everyone gets cross but also that you have to apologise when it happens. That’s not a bad lesson to learn.

    Honestly, if you’ve only really told him off twice you’re doing really well!


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