Will My Child Remember the Time I Lost My Cool?


When I lose my cool
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Parents sometimes wonder: Will my toddler or preschooler remember the time that I lost my cool and yelled at him? Have I damaged their emotional development if I’ve treated my child poorly?

It might seem so, because toddlers and preschoolers can remember plenty. Primitive forms of memory begin to emerge even before a child is born and continue developing through the early years. Three-year-olds may well be able to remember details about their second birthday.1

Children’s memories get rewired

However, your child’s memories at this age will not survive early childhood. While your three-year-old may remember their second birthday, their seven-year-old self will surely not. This is because the mechanisms for long-term memory storage haven’t developed yet for a three-year-old.

This is good news for us parents who are worried about the time we lost our cool and treated our toddler or preschooler poorly. Just as your four-year-old will not remember that wonderful visit you had at Grandma’s house, they also will not remember the time you were so frustrated, stressed, or sleep deprived that you screamed at them.

Be kind to yourself

Your child’s healthy emotional development does not require that you make no mistakes. Rather, it requires that you be warm and responsive to their needs and emotions most of the time.

So, if you’ve had the experience of losing your cool and yelling at your child, be kind to yourself. The less worry or guilt you feel about the incident, the more you can focus on what really matters: being warm and responsive to your child, setting appropriate behavioral limits, and fostering a learning culture at home.

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Will My Child Remember the Time I Lost My Cool?
  1. Lise Eliot’s book What’s Going On in There has a wonderful chapter, beginning on page 328, on memory development in young children. The information in this article is based on that chapter.