Why Are Toddlers So Moody?

Moodiness Reasons 3 & 4

Reason #3: They have trouble controlling their emotions.

A young child has had very little practice in managing his changing moods and emotions, so he's very easily swept away by strong feelings. Take 2-1/2-year-old Danni Bernstein. "The other night she was playing in the tub, having a grand old time. Then I told her it was time to get out," says her mom, Lana, of Miami Beach. "Not only were her screams blood-curdling, but she managed to soak everything in the entire bathroom with all her splashing and thrashing."

A corollary to this toddler mood rule: Toddlers don't have the logic and reasoning skills to move beyond their outrage. For example, Danni isn't yet able to realize that there are lots of other fun things to do when she gets out of the tub, such as hearing a story or cuddling with a lovey.

What to do: Calmly tell your child that while she can't stay in the bath or in the sandbox for as long as she may like, there are other activities that she can do. And to help her better understand her changing emotions, label them for her. For example, you could say, "I understand that you're having fun in the bath right now and you don't want to get out. That must make you angry."

Of course, it will take time before your toddler connects the words to the feelings. But if you continue to label her emotions, by the time she's a preschooler, she'll have a better understanding of how the words and feelings link up, and may even be able to help herself feel better.

Reason #4: They have trouble switching from one task to the next.

Danni was also demonstrating another classic trigger for toddler mood swings: making transitions. "It takes a lot of physical and mental energy to adapt to the ever-changing world," says Claire Lerner, author of Bringing Up Baby (Zero to Three Press, 2004). And sometimes a child who doesn't appear to be all that engaged in play is concentrating a lot harder than you think.

"Kids get very focused on one activity and then we expect them to change gears instantly. This sort of transition takes a toll on even an adult mind, so those expectations are way too high for children," Lerner says.

What to do: Take advantage of your child's burgeoning skills. Toddlers have a solid understanding of sequencing; they are well aware of how one action follows the next. Activity changeovers can be eased with warnings that come early and often, says Lerner.

In the bath, say, "Now we're going to wash your hair and then rinse it. After we rinse it, we're getting out of the bath," Lerner suggests. "Don't think you're coddling your toddler. These are coping skills she'll internalize and hopefully, use later when tackling bigger transitions, such as going to preschool."

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