Thursday, January 17, 2008

Separation Anxiety and Naptime Refusal – Part I

I know there will be a Part II to this, at the very least, as this has been the major ongoing issue ruling my life over the past month.

My youngest baby never suffered from stranger or separation anxiety at nine months, the typical first peak. I thought myself lucky. I thought perhaps her being constantly around older siblings had effectively immunized her against the fear of strangers, much as breast milk immunized her against most of the germs the kids brought home.

But at the eighteenth month, the second average peak of separation anxiety, which just never occurred with my first three, hit us like a hurricane without warning. One day she was this happy-go-lucky toddler, happy to finally be up and about on two legs, refusing to say “mama”; and the next she was clinging to “nigh-night”, her favorite white blanket with tassles, and whining to be picked up by “mama” whenever she was in sight.

This started when we were in Florida for Christmas. I am sure the change of atmosphere brought it on. Then we left her for a full day while we went to Disney World. She reportedly was good for my grandparents, but the next day she apparently was quite afraid that I was going to pull another disappearing act. This is also when she started to be attached to the white blanket and calling it “nigh-night” (which is what we say when we put her to bed).

Now I must say I have been quite a stickler about naptime ever since she was born. She would never take a long nap as a newborn, so we settled into a one-time nap of two hours, from noon to two in the afternoon, pretty early on. I stubbornly refused to make plans during these hours, and even managed to maintain that time during our vacation.

As soon as I nursed her, I would carry her into her bed, say “nigh-night”, and kiss her. As recently as last week, she would say “nigh-night” back, wave, and sometimes even blow me a kiss. Then she would fall asleep within a minute or two. So it came rather as a shock to have her refuse her nap.

The naptime refusal started after I left her for several hours with my husband this past Saturday, to attend a baby shower. That night she gave me some trouble going to bed. The next night was worse – and I made the mistake of picking her up and bringing her downstairs for a while – quite rewarding. Monday she hollered when I put her down for a nap.

Finally, I brought her into my bed, where I nap-nursed her and she slept next to me for an hour. I put her to bed a half hour early that night and she whimpered for a few minutes, but then fell asleep okay.

Tuesday, she again refused to nap. I let her holler for a while, then brought her to my bed. She snuggled in for a while but stubbornly refused to sleep. I was pretty upset at this, having a list of things to do during her naptime. All these things would have to go undone. She and I were quite exhausted early in the evening. I put her to bed a full hour early – myself as well.

Today, Wednesday, was a repeat of Monday. She hollered for an hour – this was unavoidable, as I had to clean up a broken dish in the kitchen and scrupulously clean the entire floor to make sure there were no broken pieces anywhere. I brought her to my bed, nap-nursed her, and again she slept for an hour. She was cheery after that, and we stuck to our usual bedtime of 7:00. There were no problems here.

Having received my degree in psychology, I think back laughingly to my reading of case studies as a student. I can imagine myself reading mine and thinking critically about the “conditioning” that must be going on between this mother and this child. It was so easy in those days, with no children, to think theoretically about the best way to modify a child’s behavior!

How different when this real, living, breathing creature takes over your own life and you have that sometimes illogical feeling of parental love. The Cognitive Psychologists might call it the “Organism” factor that the Behaviorists had ignored between the Condition and the Response. I think of the scripture that asks what a father would do if his child asks for an egg – would he give him a scorpion instead? When a baby is asking for her mama, should she be ignored? Would that not be incorporated into her psyche, leading her to suppress her feelings because they were not responded to?

I welcome your thoughts on this as I continue my attempts to break this cycle. As my husband once commented, it is not just the baby that needs the nap. It’s Mom too.

To be continued. . .

Mother and Child by Mary Cassatt
1888 (40 Kb); pastel on paper; Art Institute of Chicago


Lori said...

Thank you for writing about this. I am a first-time mom of a beautiful 10-month old daughter. Since very early on, she has been a great sleeper. Of course we've had a few blips here and there brought on by teething, illness or travel, but for the most part her sleep habits have been a God-send. So at 9 months, it was quite a blow to not only be getting up with her at night but also not being able to get her down for naps. After scratching my head over every possible reason for this ongoing behavior, my final diagnosis is the same as yours - separation anxiety. From the research I've done, it seems we are doing all the right things, but we just have to power through this phase. One relief I have found is knowing I'm not alone and that what we're going through is apparently "normal." Not that this realization makes me feel any more rested, but at least we can be praying for each other! I look forward to your updates.

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Dear Lori,
I'm glad you were encouraged by my experience. This happened this time last year and I think you will get more hopeful as you look at the subsequent posts on this topic in Jan. '08. It was very difficult for me, but was resolved after about two weeks of persistence on my part, and two days of using Benadryl on the advice of my pediatrician. She is now 2 1/2 and still napping everyday from 12 to 2! I am also still nursing her at naptime. Good luck, Elizabeth

Courtney Baxter said...

My son is almost eleven months old and after the holidays started not wanting to nap. He was never a great napper, but I could always count on at least an hour in the morning and the afternoon, so when he started waking up after 20 minutes and refused to go back to bed my husband and I were upset. I have attributed it to separation anxiety for naps. He is willing at night to go down and sleep for the entire night from about 730- 630 or 7 am so I am blessed in that way, but the break I became used during the day was gone. We started rocking him to sleep and then letting him sleep with us in our bed and he would sleep for more than an hour each time, but once we put him in the crib he would not have it. Got to go now because he is now crying. Courtney

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Courtney, I know this is really difficult. Without that precious time you probably feel like you are going to go crazy. Hopefully this will be resolved after a week or two of persistence. That is how long it took for us. Copy and paste this into your web browser to get the other 4-5 posts I wrote as a followup to this first one.
Thank you for writing!