Crying during transitions

Our expert explains why a preschooler's mood swings shouldn't dictate the routine or the rules

Q: My three-year-old’s immediate reaction to anything he doesn’t like is to cry: when I turn off the TV, ask him to pick up toys or say it’s time for bed. How do I change this attitude?

A: I don’t think your son is more upset than any other kid about the TV being turned off and the fun being over. He could be saying “You might be able to turn off my TV show, but you’ll pay for it with my poor mood.” Or he may have discovered that his tears somehow have a benefit. Perhaps you see he’s upset and decide to help him clean up, or you allow him to watch just a few more minutes before turning off the TV. Maybe you cajole and nurture him, giving him an extra hug of support that he may not have got if he had a cheery disposition.

Don’t be thrown off or make alterations in the routines and rules because of his moods, upsets and tears. Of course, you don’t have to be cold either. Simply say, “It’s hard when fun times come to an end” or “I know, it’s a hassle to clean up,” but then plow on, business as usual. He can clean up his toys crying or not crying — that is his choice to make. Without your usual reaction, he is more likely to discover that it’s just plain more fun when you go about life with a happy disposition.

When you see him have a happy transition, be sure to notice it. You might say, “You’re such a positive spirit” or “I really enjoy your company.” With time, the bad moods and upset will lessen.