Dear Dr. Debbie,
I’m wondering why my second child is such a grump. According to the pediatrician, he is a normally developing 15-month-old. He does, at times, burst into giggles, but it seems more often than not he is serious, scornful or downright angry.
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Dear G. M.,
Grumpiness in a toddler could have one or more causes. Most are curable. Some will pass as he grows out of this stage of life. Others are part of the package of who he is.
Meeting baby’s needs
Pay close attention to his daily needs to keep his mood from going sour.
Need for Sleep
Toddlers typically require a 9-10 hour stretch of sleep at night and a one or two hour nap in the early afternoon. Between your two children there could be individual differences resulting in your trying to maintain a sleep schedule for the second child based on what worked for the first. Fiddle with the timing to see if you can get a more well-rested child.
Need for Food
Ditto with the eating schedule. Most toddlers need about five feedings spaced throughout the day. If grumpiness is more prevalent at certain times of day, it may be that he is simply hungry. Be sure that he is getting a well-balanced diet with fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains and a variety of protein and calcium sources.
Need for Movement
A fit of grumpiness could be due to a longer than tolerable period of being confined to a car seat or a physically restrictive space indoors. Give him plenty of opportunity to walk, climb, run and dance. Physical movement releases endorphins in the brain which will make his mood more positive.
Need for Engagement
Perhaps your toddler is bored? Or feeling ignored? Tune in to his interests at play. Get down to his level. Talk to him about what he is doing. Add ideas to his pretend play. If he is pretending his stuffed animal is visiting the vet, ask if the animal needs a shot or recommend he take some vitamin pills home. If you present an imaginary needle or vitamin bottle, you are helping to build his imagination. A parent at play also adds vocabulary and values, building a brain and creating a good person.
Do you sing with him? Simple songs, even made-up ones, are intellectually stimulating and a great way to connect with one another.
Just a Phase
A toddler can be contrary because he has recently discovered that he has a mind of his own. Give him choices so he can say “no” to one of them. He also likes to do things by himself, so expect to take more time for dressing and undressing as he masters the fine motor skills required.
A toddler can have big ideas that are impossible to follow through with. For example, he may watch you take cookies from the shelf in the pantry, but when he tries to climb the shelves himself, it seems the world is against him. With continuing brain development, repeat experiences and skill mastery, life is a little easier for a 3-year-old and therefore he will have fewer reasons to be grumpy.
A grumpy disposition can be part of a personality. There are three basic temperament types: easy, slow to warm up and difficult. These last two can be manifested as grumpiness.
A child who is slow to warm up will resist and complain about new people, new routines and new places. A new food likewise causes this child to fuss. As best as you can, introduce new things gradually.
A child who is difficult could have specific sensitivities — to smells, sounds or textures. Pay close attention to what seems to set him off so you can help him avoid, or at least to better prepare for, experiences that will be difficult for him to endure. For example, if sound is an issue, choose quieter restaurants.
Along these lines, allergies can make a person miserable. If your son turns out to be allergic to cats and there’s one at Grandma’s house, there are strategies to minimize the effect. Ask Grandma to wear clothing the cat hasn’t been around. When you are going to her home, ask her to vacuum before you come. Everyone should wash hands often. Keep the visit short. Spend more time outside than inside, or better yet, meet Grandma at a park.
Make adjustments for your second child that might not have been necessary for your first. This will help his disposition, ease your stress level and teach him specific ways to manage his sensitivities or personality for himself.
It may help to have a friend or professional parent coach help you to analyze which of the above factors are in play with your son. Look objectively at your son’s issues so you can understand what it is he needs from you that may be totally different from what your first child needed. Don’t let his negativity diminish your feelings of success as a parent.