Why Are Toddlers So Moody?

Dealing with Tantrums

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to distract, entertain, or jolly your child into a better mood, things go south very quickly. This doesn't mean you're an incompetent parent -- or that you have an incorrigible child. Such outbursts are completely normal.

"Toddlers are busy teaching themselves which behaviors are successful in getting people to do what they want," says Daniel Broughton, MD, a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic and a professor at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine. Tantrums are just one of their many experiments. "But if you constantly give in to the screaming, you'll teach your child that this is an acceptable way to accomplish a goal."

So what do you do instead?

  • Don't try to rationalize or argue with a toddler. If he's screaming over a cookie, forget about that Oreo. Once you've hit tantrum ground zero, the cookie is no longer the focus of the problem -- controlling the situation takes center stage, Dr. Broughton says.
  • Put your toddler in a safe place -- his crib or playpen, for example -- and walk away for a minute. This will help your child calm down and soothe himself, as well as take him away from the temptation that spurred the tantrum.
  • When things are calmer, pick him up and carry on with your day. Whatever you choose to do, don't fork over that cookie. That would render the tantrum a success.

After some trial and error, your toddler will eventually learn that throwing tantrums won't get him what he wants, Dr. Broughton says.

Keep in Mind

All of these ideas may seem like a lot of work for a pretty short developmental period. But taking the time and patience to use them is well worth it, and someday, you may be able to adapt them to a moody teenager!

Brett Graff, a mother of two girls, is a freelance writer based in Key Biscayne, Florida.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2005.

Parents Are Talking

Add a Comment