Q: I can't get a handle on my 20-month-old's moods. He wakes up happy, then five minutes later he's furious at me for not letting him pour his own Cheerios. And I never know if he wants my hugs or will shrug away from me if I try! Is this normal?
Very much so. Toddlers are a lot like teenagers, which means they can be very moody. Your child's temperament is also a big factor. Some kids are easygoing and flexible, and their moods are more stable. (I always envied parents of such children!)
On the other end of the spectrum are kids who have much more intense emotions and reactions. They are either ecstatic or enraged, and their moods are variable. They also tend to have a hard time making transitions, such as going from sleep to waking or switching from one activity to another. These children are usually highly sensitive and absorb everything going on around them. Taking in so much means they can get overwhelmed easily and feel out of control, which leads to their intense responses.
Most kids fall somewhere in the middle of the intensity continuum; your child may lean toward the intense end. However, there are many easy ways to help your son regulate his moods and feel more in control. Try to:
Finally, as the parent of two intense reactors, I can tell you that their intensity also means they can be very passionate, creative, and delightful children. So hang in there!
Claire Lerner, LCSW, is a child development specialist at Zero to Three, a national nonprofit promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers (zerotothree.org).
Originally published in American Baby magazine, July 2004.