Have you ever experienced your toddler smiling benignly one second then apparently devastated and screaming the house down the next – and for no obvious reason?
Well, don’t worry! It’s perfectly normal and here’s why.
Almost all toddlers can be subject to massive and apparently illogical mood swings.
The causes of these are relatively well-understood:
- inexperience of emotional management. We aren’t born with the ability to interpret, analyse and control our emotions. That skill has to be learned and toddlers typically won’t have done so yet;
- lack of awareness of time coupled with here-and-now demand. Younger children don’t really understand the passage of time at a detailed level. This can make 5 minutes seem like an eternity to them and if they’re, say, waiting for food, the result can be a tantrum;
- hunger, thirst and tiredness. Toddlers haven’t much if any concept of patience;
- temper when they can’t get their own way. Compromise is another skill we all need to learn. Parents or others saying “no” can lead to what for adults would be a massive over-reaction but something that is for younger kids, perfectly natural;
- they can’t easily communicate their needs and wants. Their limited vocabulary can be a huge frustration when they know what the issue is but just can’t find the words to express it.
What can you do?
In truth, there isn’t anything you can do to guarantee that your toddler won’t experience these sudden apparent mood swings. They go with the territory of growing up.
You can take some consolation from the fact that although we use the term ‘mood swing’, typically this is unlike the adult experience of the same name both in terms of causes and critically, duration. Most younger children will be fine and the upset forgotten within a few minutes of it happening.
There are a few points worth considering though:
- don’t worry. These mood outbursts are perfectly normal at the toddler stage;
- avoid trying to over-intellectualise them by analysing causes. You’ll probably fail and while you’re trying to do so, your child will long since have forgotten all about it and moved on;
- don’t debate with your child – as a general rule (there might be some exceptions if you judge it to be sufficiently serious). They won’t understand what you’re trying to do and worse, they might see mood outbursts as a way of securing more of your close personal attention;
- never punish or remonstrate with your child for such reasons. It is pointless and might cause additional undesirable side-effects. Equally, simply telling them to “stop” is probably going to prove useless. They will come out of it when they’re ready;
- put them into a quiet and safe area (like a playroom or playpen). Keep an eye on them but usually within a few minutes they will tantrum themselves out and be ready to get back to normal;
- distract them, within reason. Once in their safe calm area, you could try talking to them about a toy or asking them to do something for you. This can be effective but be a little cautious that your attention and play isn’t interpreted as a reward for their behaviour. If it is, you’ll see a lot more bad behaviour in future!
Mood swings and associated crying/tantrums are not classed as behavioural problems during the toddler years. Very rarely they may continue into school-age children and if so, some professional help and advice might be beneficial.
We have seen all such behaviours many times previously and know that they are nothing to worry about. We have many loving techniques for helping children settle back down quickly.