Why does my toddler cry and scream all the time?

We've all encountered them in some context or another: those toddlers who seem to scream all the time. A few of us have been unfortunate enough to have kids of our own who seem to scream and cry constantly. In many cases, parents are left absolutely baffled by this behavior, with no idea of how to handle it. There are several possible reasons that a toddler might cry all the time-- some serious, others relatively benign. Here are a few of the possibilities.

Habit or Behavioral Disturbance

Many toddlers who scream and cry frequently do so out of habit. They have learned that crying is an effective way to manipulate caregivers, so they scream loudly when they want something or feel defiant. Although many parents will dismiss these toddlers as "spoiled," most simply haven't learned other effective coping mechanisms or communication skills. In these situations, the behavior is best handled through changes in parenting style.

Extreme Sensitivity

Some toddlers are significantly more sensitive than their peers, both to physical and psychological stresses. A toddler who is very prone to the effects of sleep deprivation, changes in routine, hunger, cold, heat, or pain might scream and cry very frequently. Healthier habits can help the toddler develop better coping responses, but the sensitive attitude is likely an ingrained part of his personality.

Chronic Pain

In some situations, a toddler will scream and cry frequently because of chronic pain, which he may not be able to express verbally. It's not uncommon for toddlers to experience chronic ear aches caused by infection or chronic bowel pain because of digestive disturbances. Toddlers naturally react to this distress by crying loudly and frequently. A visit to your child's pediatrician can help to determine any potential causes of chronic pain.

Neurological or Developmental Problem

Toddlers with neurological and developmental conditions may scream frequently. Toddlers with delays in cognitive or speech development may use crying as a sole means of communication. Neurobehavioral disorders such as autism can also cause heightened sensitivity to pain and discomfort. Other neurological conditions can cause pain or emotional disturbance.

If your toddler cries significantly more than his same-age peers, it's important to bring the situation to his pediatrician's attention. Your child's physician can determine whether his frequent displays of distress are caused by simple habits, or if they are a sign of a deeper physiological or psychological problem. Always talk to your health care provider if you have any questions about your child's health.

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