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Irritability and Sudden Behavior Change in Toddlers

by Beth Greenwood

It’s not unusual for a toddler’s behavior to change quickly. Toddlers may play happily with a pal in the sandbox, only to become agitated and start yelling when the pal grabs a favorite toy. A toddler who is hungry or tired may quickly melt down into a temper tantrum or fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Some behaviors can be a signal of a problem, however. If you are concerned about your toddler’s behavior, consult your pediatrician or family doctor.

Irritability

A toddler who is irritable and fussy may simply be tired, teething or have a minor infection, according to the Pediatric Care Online website. A child who has an infection often has other signs such as a fever, or may pull at her ears if she has an ear infection. Ear infections are common in the toddler under the age of two or who attends daycare. Another and more serious possibility is a head injury, especially in a child who has had a recent fall. Children may also be irritable within a few hours of receiving an immunization.

Behavior Changes

Behavioral changes, with or without irritability, can have a number of causes. Changes in a child’s environment, such as a new caregiver or stress in the family due to marital conflict, can cause behavior changes. A stressed child may regress developmentally -- the toddler who has pretty well mastered potty training may suddenly start to have accidents, for example. Occasional aggressive behavior -- especially when provoked -- is normal in a toddler, according to the Zero to Three website. When a child repeatedly turns to aggression to solve problems, however, parents should look a little deeper into possible causes.

ADHD

Some of the behaviors that are typical in toddlers can also be early warning signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a July 2012 article in “Psychology Today.” By the time they are four, about 40 percent of toddlers with ADHD will display behavior changes. These may include being easily distracted or unable to sit still and pay attention for more than a few minutes, being excessively noisy or talkative, being very restless, showing frequent aggression toward playmates or repeated injuries from running or moving too fast. Much of this is a matter of degree -- severe behavior changes or excessive behavior in comparison to peers can mean a problem.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can cause dramatic behavior changes in a toddler, according to the American Humane Association, a child abuse prevention organization. Although girls are more likely to be abused, boys can also be targeted. Toddlers who have been abused may become fearful of particular places, people or activities or cry excessively. They may develop problems related to feeding or toileting, vomit or have difficulty sleeping. Some children may have nightmares or wet the bed. If your child displays any of these behaviors or you are concerned about sexual abuse, contact your pediatrician or family doctor.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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