Major sleep and & anxiety issues in 2.5 year old

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Major sleep and & anxiety issues in 2.5 year old

Postby twocentpiece » Wed 15 May, 2013 7:53 am

I have 2 sons, one is 2.5 and the other is 17 weeks old.

We are having a few issues with the 2.5 year old that I'm hoping you may be able to help us with.

1) He has always been very "Mummy orientated" but in the last 3 weeks this has gotten considerably worse. If I am in the bathroom he gets frantic because he can't find me. He won't let his Dad get him out of the bath, I have to do it. His Dad can't do anything for him as only I can do it according to him. If my husband tries to give me a sleep in it is all in vain as my 2.5 year old will sob uncontrollably without any let up and refuse to eat breakfast. The hysterics go on for 20 mins and only stop when either I get up or my husband brings him in to our room. If he loses sight of me at Playgroup or any of the indoor play centres all hell breaks loose, even when he is in the company of people he knows well. He pleads with me to play with him constantly while at these place and when we are at home. It's almost as if he is obsessed. Up until January (when I had our second son) I worked 2 days a week, he was left with my Mum or husband on these days. Prior to our new addition I had an active social life so it's not like he was never without me. He has no reason to feel anxious or insecure (which is what his behaviour seems to indicate) as he comes from a good home, where we tell him and show him he is loved all the time, if anything he is loved too much! He has a comfort toy (a stuffed donkey) but also loves playing with my hair. Sometimes he comes up to me and asks for my hair!

2) He has always been an amazing little sleeper but he has recently started playing up at bed time. We have been using the same bed time routine for 18 months (bath, dinner, play/wind down, teeth, book, bed). I lay with him for 5 mins and we talk about the day or just cuddle. Bed time starts at 7pm and by the time I leave the bedroom it is around 7.30pm. Last night he kept getting up and crying and didn't go to sleep until 10pm!!!! There was nothing wrong with him, he just wanted Mummy to sleep with him. He claims to have a sore tummy/neck/hand or be scared. Leaving him to cry just isn't an option for me (as I am a soft touch) so I am constantly going in there. My husband tries to have a turn but my son won't have it, he wants me. At around 4am he will come in to our room and end up in our bed, which poses problems as our 17 week old sleeps in a crib next to me and wakes around 4.30 for a feed which disturbs my older son. He still has a day sleep 6 days out of 7 and goes down at 11am and sleeps for 2 hrs. Sometimes it takes a bit of an effort to get him down but regardless of what time he starts his sleep I wake him at 2pm.

Both of these issues started happening around the same time. I don't believe it has anything to do with the new addition as he has been fine up until 3 weeks ago. He is a model big brother and has never displayed any jealousy issues.

Any advice would be great as this is causing a lot of disharmony between my husband and I and is resulting in many arguments.
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Re: Major sleep and & anxiety issues in 2.5 year old

Postby NgalaOnline » Wed 15 May, 2013 8:30 pm

Hi Twocentpiece

Thank you for your post. The behaviour your son is showing does sound very normal and common for a child his age, although it is also understandably frustrating and draining. It does sound as though it is very likely a delayed reaction to the presence of the new baby in your home and in your affections. It is quite common for toddlers to initially appear unconcerned by the presence of a new sibling, but once the baby is a few months old (or often when the baby begins to get mobile) the toddler will suddenly show a sudden phase of aggressive, clingy, jealous or insecure behaviour. This may be when the toddler realises that the baby is a permanent part of the family. The behaviours your son is showing (clinging to you, demanding attention, and having a regression in sleep) are all very common types of behaviours shown in response to a new baby.

Separation anxiety is something that babies and toddlers often experience "peaks" of several times in their early years. These phases of very clingy behaviour are often very concerning for parents (as well as frustrating) and it is common for parents to begin to feel anxious that this behaviour will continue on for a long period. Usually, though, these peaks of intense separation anxiety do fade again within a few weeks or occasionally months. Parents will often receive advice to "be tough" and to force the toddler to separate to "toughen him up". This often serves to intensify the toddler's anxiety and desire to cling. Generally the best approach is to be responsive to your child's need for increased closeness and affection from you at this time, as this can help him to feel reassured and to move on from this clingy phase. It is very common for toddlers to go through phases where they appear to prefer one carer and seem to reject the other. This can be upsetting for the "rejected" parent and draining for the "preferred" parent. It is a normal phase for children to go through and it can be helpful to reassure the "rejected" parent of this and that the child does still love them. If your child is rejecting your partner being involved in usual family routines such as getting him from the bath it can be helpful to both do the routine together - first with dad just being present in the room whilst you do the majority of the caregiving, then moving up to dad providing more of the care whilst you are present, before gradually phasing yourself out of the routine over a week or two. Toddlers are very good at picking up on parental anxiety and this can make them more clingy. It is best to treat tantrums, refusals of one parent, or other clingy behaviour very neutrally and matter of factly without a lot of attention or discussion given to it. If you are attempting to "phase dad in" to a routine and your child reacts against this, just matter of factly having you take over that bit of care on that occasion without attention given to the child's reaction, but having dad try the same thing again the next day can be helpful.

Short periods of separation where your child can access you if he wishes can be helpful. For instance you may set him up to play and then when he is settled walk out of the room briefly - calling to him from the bathroom or the next room to assure him that you are still nearby. Returning quickly before he gets distressed can help him to realise you are nearby and that it is not alarming to have you temporarily absent from his view. Having a period of floor play with him early in the morning can be helpful to reassure him of your love and give him some of the attention he is seeking as a normal response to having a new sibling. If he is able to be in control of playing until he is ready to get up and move away from you on his accord some of the time, this can be helpful for getting him accustomed to some separations.

Sleep regression is very commonly linked with separation anxiety. Usually the best approach to settling with a child with separation anxiety is to remain in the room or nearby to provide reassurance (such as sitting in a chair in the room or lying on a mattress) but avoid introducing new sleep associations such as holding him to sleep, feeding to sleep or getting him out of his cot. Usually the child will only need the presence of the parent for a few days to weeks whilst be readjusts to settling in his cot and feeling familiar and safe about going to sleep in his bed. After a few days of settled sleeping when the child's anxiety surrounding sleeping appears to have settled, the parent can then begin to phase herself out of the child's room over several days - first moving the chair closer to the door every day and then sitting in the doorway, before beginning short "excursions" from the chair that build up in length. Calling to the child from the doorway or nearby room can sometimes be enough to reassure the child that you are still nearby. This can be draining for the parent at the end of a long day, but it is usually a successful way at getting the child who is experiencing separation anxiety to relax and drop their anxiety about settling to sleep. Often the child will be comfortable with going to sleep again within a short period. Things as leaving the child to cry alone can sometimes exacerbate his fear of going to sleep or being in his room alone.
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Please ring the Ngala helpline if you would like some more help or support with these issues.
This information is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for the personalized assistance that can be received from the Ngala Helpline by telephone.

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