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Fussy or irritable child

Central nervous system and peripheral nervous system

Definition

Young children who cannot talk yet will let you know when something is wrong by acting fussy or irritable. If your child is fussier than usual, it could be a sign that something is wrong.

Alternative Names

Inconsolability; Irritability

Causes

It is normal for children to get fussy or whiny sometimes. There are lots of reasons why children get fussy:

Your child also may be worried about something. Ask yourself if there has been stress, sadness, or anger in your home. Young children are sensitive to stress at home, and to the mood of their parents or caregivers.

A baby who cries for longer than 3 hours a day might have colic. Learn ways that you can help your baby with colic.

Many common childhood illnesses can cause a child to be fussy. Most illnesses are easily treated. They include:

Although less common, your child's fussiness may be an early sign of a more serious problem, such as:

Home Care

Soothe your child as you would normally. Try rocking, cuddling, talking, or doing things your child finds calming.

Address other factors that may be causing fussiness:

Using your parenting skills, you should be able to calm your child and make things better. Getting your child on a regular eating, sleeping, and daily schedule can also help.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

As a parent, you know your child's usual behavior. If your child is more irritable than usual and cannot be comforted, contact your child's health care provider.

Watch for and report other symptoms, such as:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your child's provider will work with you to learn why your child is irritable. During the office visit, the provider will:

References

Onigbanjo MT, Feigelman S. The first year. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 22.

Zhou D, Sequeira S, Driver D, Thomas S. Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. In: Driver D, Thomas SS, eds. Complex Disorders in Pediatric Psychiatry: A Clinician's Guide. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2018:chap 15.


Review Date: 8/7/2019
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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