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Our Blog: December 1, 2011

When Easy Babies Become Fussy Toddlers

Shawna’s daughter Riley was one of those perfect, easy babies – she slept through the night, only cried when she needed something, and loved for grandma to read her The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Shawna thought she had this parenting thing figured out.

Then Riley turned 10 months old – and everything changed. Riley screamed at mealtime, naptime, and at the grocery store.  She screamed when she was put in her high chair, stroller, or car seat.  She screamed if mommy stepped into another room or – heaven forbid – if it was time for a diaper change.  And worst of all, Riley screamed whenever grandma came to babysit.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. This notoriously difficult (but rarely discussed) stage causes a lot of head-scratching – and sleepless nights – among parents.

Was Riley coming down with a cold? Teething, perhaps? Nope – her pediatrician gave her a clean bill of health. Strangely enough, the cause of all the fussing was simply that Riley started crawling.

Crawling is the first in a series of major brain developments that morph babies into toddlers in just a few short months. These physical changes are accompanied by a huge overhaul in babies’ thoughts, feelings, and relationships.  When Riley learned how to crawl away from her mom, she was both thrilled – and terrified.  Thrilled, because finally, SHE could decide where she wanted to go. Freedom! But terrified, too – because of all the new trouble she found in her expanded – and scary – world. Cue the screaming.

If you’ve got a fantastically fussy baby who’s trying desperately to become a toddler,  remember that 8 – 18 months can be a difficult time. After making sure she’s healthy, try these tips for coping:

  • Control. Give as much of it to your aspiring toddler as possible – but take the control back when necessary, focusing on safety issues (and the occasional bath).
  • Reassurance. You can’t spoil her by reassuring her. Your clinger monkey may relax while riding in a baby backpack – the perfect invention for this age.
  • Rest. Your wannabe toddler may be looking for comfort again at night, messing with your much-needed sleep. Swap nighttime duties with your partner, or beg grandma for a nighttime break once in awhile.
  • Patience.  Most babies turn into full-fledged toddlers by 18 months. And while toddlers have their own set of challenges, they are more predictable. This stage will pass!
  • Help. Even an hour away from a fussy mini-toddler can make it easier to get through a rough day. Even better:  Arrange daycare, if you haven’t already. Good daycare teachers have great ideas for this stage, too.
  • Knowledge. Know that this age is truly miraculous – there’s a revolution going on inside your baby.  As challenging as she may be, cut her some slack – your little caterpillar is turning into a butterfly!

Here are some more tips for getting through any challenging stage in your child’s development. Then, come share YOUR ideas for dealing with fussy babies and toddlers on our Facebook page!

About the Author

Dr. Heather Wittenberg

Dr. Wittenberg is a psychologist specializing in the development of babies, toddlers, preschoolers — and parents. She offers no-hype, practical parenting advice on her blog BabyShrink — rooted in science, and road tested in her own home as the mother of four young children. She has helped thousands of parents over the years and knows that the most common problems with young children — sleep, feeding, potty training and behavior — can be the most difficult ones to solve.