If this looks like your little one, there is hope.

How to Deal With a Toddler's Severe Mood Swings

by Nakia Jackson

If your toddler is regularly on the brink of a tantrum, it can tricky to convince her pediatrician that your tyke's mercurial moods are not part of regular toddler moodiness. Even if your toddler's moods are as normal as it gets for a toddler, it's still nice to be able to look forward to a meal free of tossed food and crying. You're not the first mom who had to remove a screaming toddler from a store, but you can shop in peace with some calm analysis and simple strategies.

Establish and maintain a routine. Children feel more secure when they know what is happening. According to Dr. Sears, toddlers require predictability. Regular meal times and nap times will also ensure that your toddler is getting enough food and sleep to reduce the likelihood of crankiness. Include time for free play and structured activities and quiet time.

Document the problem behavior. Note the time of day, what activities preceded it and what your toddler has had to eat or drink in the four hours leading up to the tantrum or problem behavior. Note the first time the problem behavior arose. Approximate dates are fine.

Note any life changes that may have preceded or coincided with the problem behavior. A house move, a new day care, potty training, weaning, the switch from a crib to a bed or a new sibling can cause stress that a toddler might express with mood swings. According to the KidsHealth website, "Also realize that some things that aren't a big deal to adults can cause significant stress for kids." What may seem exciting or ordinary to you can be scary to a toddler.

Identify possible triggers for the problem behavior based on your notes. If your toddler is generally cranky after not having had a snack or the mood swings started when you presented him with "Once Upon a Potty," you may have found a trigger. Adjust your toddler's schedule to minimize triggers. If late naps result in meltdowns, set up an earlier nap time.

Respect your toddler's feelings. Your little one is developing the capacity to experience new emotions, and like your first love, these emotions can be overwhelming. You don't have to give your toddler her big brother's bike just because she's screaming for it, but you can say, "It's not easy wanting something you're not ready for -- I wanted your aunt's Easy Bake oven when I was your age."

See your child's pediatrician if the mood swings interrupt activities that your toddler enjoys, or if they interfere with his ability to sleep or eat. Not every case of moodiness is a serious problem, but his pediatrician will appreciate knowing if there are signs of something that needs more attention.


  • Mood swings are stressful for you, too. Take some time for a walk, a cup of tea or a nap to recharge your batteries.


  • The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old; Harvey Karp

About the Author

Nakia Jackson has written for online publications since 2006, including columns for Sadie Magazine, Naseeb and Muslim Wake Up!. She has written on religion and beauty, crafts and music. Jackson's expertise stems from personal experience and her years at Berklee College of Music, pursuing a Bachelor of Music.

Photo Credits

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