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Parenting Advice Angry 4-year-old


Hi! I have a four-year-old son. His father & I have been separated since before his birth. I'm a working mom five days a week and on Saturdays I have my son. He is at his fathers house two days while I'm at work and he has him Sundays. For three days a week he is at a baby-sitter while I'm at work.

My son seems to be angry with me. No matter what I do, if I buy him something, or play with him, he always talks back to me, yells at me and other not nice things like hitting. He always tells me that I'm not listening to him. He might get that from me because I tell him that when I ask him to do something twenty times and still doesn't. I don't spank him but I just yell instead. I know that's not good either but when after the twentieth time of telling him something it ticks me off. I just had him for the full weekend and he was like Jeckyll and Hyde! It was amazing. I love him more than life but I don't know what to do. His father seems to believe everything is my fault. He doesn't help me support him either. Yet my son thinks daddy is so great. I don't know how to discipline him anymore. Going to his room doesn't help nor does turning off the TV. Also, he refuses to say "sorry" when I ask him after he's yelled at me and I've said "sorry". I really need some advice. My ears are open to any suggestions.

Thank you,


Jan's reply:

Hi Tracey,

First I want to say how terrific it is that you are seeking help for yourself and your son, and that you recognize that the punitive methods you have been using are not working.

The slogan on my web site, "All children behave as well as they are treated" is really the best statement I can make about why children become angry in some situations. However, it is one thing to understand that punishment doesn't work. It is another thing to understand what we should do, and can do, to help a child in a gentle, non-punitive way - especially when we ourselves were not shown how to do this by our own parents. I am grateful to you for reminding me to add some material on alternatives to punishment, to my web site.

My article "The Parenting Golden Rule: One Size Fits All" in the parenting section on my site, may be helpful for you. The gist of it is that in responding to a child's behavior, we can do no better than to remember the Golden Rule, and to treat him the way we would like to be treated if we were in his position. The act of looking at things from this perspective can help us to imagine alternative approaches.

In the meantime, please take a look, if you haven't already, at the following correspondence in the Parenting Advice Column:

Also please see these articles in the "Parenting" section on my site:

I especially hope that you are already sleeping next to your son or would consider doing this. In your circumstances, your time together is unfortunately very limited, and family co-sleeping can be a big step in bringing the two of you closer emotionally (this would be as therapeutic for you as for him). Many working mothers have found that sharing the night with their child has brought about profound and positive changes in their relationship.

After reading the letters and articles I listed, please write again. Your statement that you "love him more than life" convinces me that you have the capacity and the energy to bring about important changes.

All the best,


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