Occasional negavity is the norm for most toddlers.

Negativism In Toddlers

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell

A toddler who is occasionally negative is, unfortunately, a normal toddler. Unlike most adults, tots express their displeasure and frustration by screaming, crying and stomping about. Rumblings of negativity in the form of temper tantrums can begin to surface anytime after the first year and generally peak between ages 2 and 3, according to HealthyChildren.org, a website published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Negative outbursts normally begin to wane once your child can effectively use words to express his desires and needs.

Stay in Control

Toddlers who display negativity need to be reminded repeatedly of who the boss is. A tot who feels she has the upper hand during a power struggle will only make matters worse for everyone concerned. As tempting as it is to let your child have his way to stop a tantrum, it's a short-term fix that can have long-term consequences. Condoning tantrums encourages more negative behavior because your tyke is being taught that throwing a fit gets him what he wants. Ignore any feelings of guilt you might have about saying no. Your negative child will learn you mean business much sooner when you set rules and firmly follow through on them.

Triggers for Negativity

Frustration is at the root of many temper tantrums. Being unable to put her own hair in a ponytail, tie his shoes or tearfully watching a carefully built block tower come tumbling down can all trigger negativism in toddlers. Tots are more prone to pessimism when they're hungry or tired. An unmet desire for something, whether it's attention or a chocolate doughnut, can ignite a fit of rage.

Coping Methods

Ignoring negativity in toddlers might be an effective tactic if you catch the mood change before it turns into a full-blown outburst. Simply walking away might keep things under control. Staying calm is critical during a temper tantrum that's reached a fever pitch. Cuddling and softly speaking to your upset child can have soothing effects but don't be surprised if your kindhearted gesture backfires. Holding your negative toddler can make things worse.



Toddlers should not be punished for temper tantrums because it might only teach him to keep frustration and anger inside. It's OK to give your child a time-out if your attempts to quell her negativism fail. A fair time-out is one minute for every year of your tot's age. Explain the reason for the time-out when the tantrum blows over. Keep in mind that overusing the time-out tactic may minimize its effectiveness.


Your child will learn to cope with intense emotions as her communication skills improve. Praising your child when she is behaving well will help her understand that good manners make mom and dad happy. Some children continue to throw the occasional tantrum until age 4 or 5. Fortunately, it's much easier to talk over negative feelings with a slightly older child.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

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