Fussiness and crankiness are definitely not traits reserved for babies. There are many reasons why a toddler may be fussy, and as many toddlers are not yet verbal, it can be difficult to figure out the cause.
Causes of Fussiness in Toddlers
The causes of fussiness in toddlers can range from minor physical ailments to more serious medical conditions, changes in routine, or even temperament traits. If your toddler is normally content and happy and is suddenly fussy, it’s important you first check with your doctor, particularly if any physical symptoms are present.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it may give you a place to start in figuring out why your toddler is fussy.
- Teething – If your toddler’s fussiness is accompanied by excessive drooling, lack of appetite, or increased bowel movements (particularly loose ones), he may be breaking in a new tooth. Toddlers who are teething may also have trouble sleeping, with night wakings being more frequent. If your toddler is waking more frequently at night, you may try using white noise .
- Change in routine – More sensitive toddlers may react strongly to disruptions in their routine, such as vacations, a parent being away on a trip, or starting daycare. While such disruptions are a part of life, try to minimize the effects of the change by protecting nap and feeding schedules as much as possible.
- Stress in the home – Particularly sensitive toddlers tend to act as stress barometers in the home, so if your toddler is suddenly acting fussy and is not displaying any physical symptoms of teething or illness, take a look at what’s going on in your home. Have you or your spouse been stressed out lately? Even if you don’t argue in front of your toddler, sensitive toddlers often pick up on underlying stresses.
- Over-tiredness – As your baby begins to explore the world around her, naps and nighttime sleep can begin to take a backseat to more exciting ventures. Be careful!. Missing a few naps may not seem like a big deal, but accumulated sleep deprivation can be. The less sleep your toddler gets, the more cranky and tired she becomes, and the harder it is to get back into her sleep routine. Many parents say that if their toddler misses a nap, nighttime sleep suffers as well. If this isn’t corrected, it can begin a cycle of non-sleep and fussiness which lasts until a sleep routine is established again. To get back on track, try moving your toddler’s bedtime earlier – much earlier. Often a 6:00pm bedtime can help reset your toddler’s sleep schedule and get you back on track.
- Ear infection – If your toddler is suddenly fussy, is pulling at his ear, is having troubles eating or sleeping, has discharge from the ear, or has a fever, have him seen by a physician. This could mean an ear infection which may need treatment with antibiotics (although physicians seem to be moving away from antibiotics for all but severe ear infections).
- Hunger – It seems obvious that hunger would causes fussiness, however it can be easy to miss in your own toddler. As toddlers become more independent and are able to move around on their own, often sitting down to eat can become much less appealing. A toddler who was a healthy eater as a baby may become a picky eater as a toddler. You may even begin to wonder how they are surviving on the small amounts of food they consume. The good news is that this is normal, and the baby fat they packed on earlier will put them in good stead now. But while normal for toddlers to consume less food (generally between around 10 months and 18 months), you do need to make sure they’re eating enough to give them the energy they need.
The Spirited Toddler
Was your toddler colicky, fussy or high need as a baby? If you feel your toddler is often fussy, grumpy, or ‘difficult’, he may be what is described as spirited. While having a spirited toddler can be a lot of work, and can be tiring and draining for parents, it can also be a lot of fun.
Characteristics of the Spirited Toddler
- Unpredictable – Eating, naps and nighttime sleep can be unpredictable. Establishing a routine can be difficult, if not impossible.
- Needs to be held much of the time – Spirited toddlers may want to be held or carried much of the time, and resist being put down or playing alone.
- Wakes up grumpy – Spirited toddlers tend to wake up from naps and nighttime sleep grumpy or crying. While some toddlers wake up and play quietly in their crib until mom gets them up, spirited toddlers tend to need soothing after waking up. They may appear to still be tired, even if they got enough sleep.
- Prefer to play with real objects – Some spirited toddlers prefer to play with real life objects such a TV remotes, watches, bowls and spoons, etc., rather than toys.
- Mood swings – Sometimes described as Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome, spirited toddlers can be laughing and squeeling with delight one second, and screaming the next. When they’re happy, they are the life of the party. When they’re upset or frustrated, they can seem impossible to soothe.
- Resists transitions – Daily routines such as teeth brushing, getting in and out of the car seat, getting dressed or getting a diaper change can be agony for the spirited toddler. What another toddler would accept as part of life, a spirited toddler may fight tooth and nail.
- Early tantrums – The so-called terrible two’s may begin early for the spirited toddler. Whereas another toddler may not begin tantruming until 2 years old, a spirited toddler may begin much earlier, as early as 12 to 18 months.