Why’d I Snap at My 4-Year-Old? I Felt Like I’d Lost All Power

"I should’ve been way more understanding. But then again, she needed to be scolded. Don’t all parents have this back and forth?"

by Fatherly
Originally Published: 

Welcome to “Why I Yelled,” Fatherly’s ongoing series in which real dads discuss a time they lost their temper in front of their wife, their kids, their coworker — anyone, really — and why. The goal of this isn’t to examine the deeper meaning of screaming or come to any great conclusions. It’s about yelling and what really triggers it. Here, Trevor*, a 43-year-old father in the New Orleans area discusses why a post-tantrum bedtime battle with his daughter drove him to the point of madness.

So, what happened?

The night before, my 4-year-old daughter had an epic, hours-long tantrum. It was a Saturday and we’d spent the day visiting my cousins and their kids. It was a great day. But, because she’s four, she was pretty beat from running around and playing with them all day. Then, we got stuck in traffic on the way home for, like, an extra hour and a half and she didn’t sleep at all in the car, for whatever reason — maybe she was just amped up, or maybe one of my cousin’s fed her some, I dunno, Mountain Dew.

I looked into the review mirror when we were about a half hour from home and watched the light leave her eyes [laughs]. She just went from straight-faced and smiley to fuming.

Probably didn’t make bedtime much fun.

It did not. She kept it together until we got home and then it was tantrum time. She was a tiny terrorist: There was no reasoning with her. [laughs] She wouldn’t brush her teeth; change her clothes; go to bed without this animal; go to bed without that animal – you name it. She was a tiny ball of rage. My wife and I were going loopy. Finally, we got her down and got her to bed; it was a draining evening for everyone. And I was not pleased.

What happened that made you snap at her?

Well, around 10 or 11, a couple of hours after we got her to bed, guess who comes down the stairs with a sticker book in her hand? Now, normally, when she’s on a normal schedule – bath, story – she sleeps through the night no problems. And she knows better than to do this.

Anyway, my wife and I look at her and ask her what she wants and she is demanding to do the sticker book. My wife and I know that she might be distracting herself from sleep for some reason so, even though we are over it, we see if she needs a glass of water, if everything is okay, and she just sits down, opens the sticker book, and comes down. We spend about 10 minutes talking to her. But nothing got through. I even tried to pick her up and bring her to bed, which is what I normally do. But as soon as I approached her, she screamed bloody murder again. She refused to reason with me.

How did you react?

I got very stern with her and, in a voice louder than I’m proud of, told her to get upstairs. Immediately. She knew I meant business and her face dropped. She looked at my wife, who, though I know she wasn’t happy with my tone, didn’t throw her a life-line. She lingered and I said “now!” and then ran up to bed. I just felt like I’d lost so much control and needed to do something. After a few minutes, I re-tucked her in. I checked on her later and she was out.

What did you do?

My wife and I watched some junk on TV for a bit – we were wound up, too – and then we went to bed. Neither of us was in any mood to bring up again. We did one of those classic parent moves where we rolled our eyes at each other that’s basically mom and dad code for “I don’t want to talk about this right now but we both know this wasn’t a good night.”

How’d you feel afterward?

I couldn’t sleep that well because I’m one of those guys who, when I yell, I think about all the ways I could have avoided yelling. To me, yelling is a last resort. I trace back the chain of events in my mind and see what led me to that resort. Normally, there’s something that could’ve been avoided.

Did you find any of those points in this situation?

Of course. She had a long day, she was obviously thrown out of whack by something – it wasn’t her fault that she was acting like a tiny terror. I should’ve been way more understanding. But then again, she needed to be scolded. Don’t all parents have this back and forth?

I got most annoyed when she screamed at me like that. I felt wounded. It’s a stupid, overly-sensitive thing to take personally because I know my daughter wasn’t trying to wound me. I was tired too. It was just a rough night for us all. My wife understood. She called me a dumbass, but she understood.

Was there any fallout?

Thankfully, no. The next day being Sunday was an especially lazy one. We all just kind of hung around the house, each feeling pretty groggy from the day before. My daughter didn’t mention anything about the night before and gave me a big hug when she woke up in the morning. So, no harm done. To her at least. Well, maybe? Who the hell knows.

*Names have been changed

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