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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sleep and Behavioral Disruptions- Making a Big Change to Get Back on Track


The last month and a half has been full of changes in our house, and all of these changes, combined with Caroline's age, has made for the perfect storm.

Caroline is passionate. She is emotional. She is sensitive. Caroline is very aware of other people's feelings and what is going on around her. She is smart, and she is kind. She is extremely well behaved, and likes to please. She is polite. She is expressive and very good at communicating. Caroline is strong-willed- and not just a little bit. A lot.

In the weeks leading up to April's birth and death, Caroline had a lot of questions. We kept her in the loop and answered as truthfully as we could. We kept things simple so she'd understand the best she could. And the same was true after April's death.

For two solid weeks after April's death, Caroline had screaming fits every day, multiple times a day. These fits would last hours at a time. The fits weren't entirely new, but they used to be rare occurrences, and they were suddenly happening multiple times a day.


These fits extended to bedtime. Our amazing sleeper who had been putting herself to sleep since she was 4 months old, was suddenly refusing to go to bed. She'd scream, cry, call us, make up every excuse in the book to get out of bed or get us back in her room. If we didn't comply with her demands, another 2 hour screaming fit would ensue. She's also started refusing to listen to us at times and saying things like "I won't do that". And naps have also become a huge issue.

So, the hard part for us was/is deciphering what is due to grief and the loss of her sister, and the changes in our family, versus what is normal age related behavior that may have happened anyway. And honestly, it may not matter, but we want to be sensitive to her grief.

Initially, we responded assuming it was grief talking. We proceded cautiously with our responses. If she called us at night, we went in. If she told us she was "sad about the baby", we'd allow her to stay up and talk with us about it. We even stayed in her room until she fell asleep. Then things changed. She seemed to catch on to the fact that when she said she was "sad about the baby", we'd stay and give her that attention. She started using that as her go to excuse all the time. She's smart.

We knew we needed to go back to talking about emotions at a separate time, and staying consistent with expectations, rules, discipline, etc. Unfortunately, as soon as we made the change back to consistency, the fits turned up and all out screaming was happening at bedtime. Nothing was working- we tried offering choices, focusing on the positive, having lots of talks, taking things away, having a reward system. You name it we tried it. We were at a loss.

And it wasn't just Caroline. When she decided to scream and not listen, my husband and I were at our wits end and not responding well. We only had so much patience with her before we'd start yelling. We were all upset. Upset about April, upset that things with Caroline were suddenly a mess. Just upset.

So two weeks went by, and a big change happened. Grandparents went home.

The following week was better as we stumbled to get back to our normal routines. Seeing this little bit of normal return seemed to help Caroline refocus. It was absolutely amazing having grandparents here for a full month- one of the most helpful things. But no matter how much you keep routine, things just aren't exactly the same.

As positive changes in Caroline's behavior started happening, Joe and I started to get our patience back.

The week after that, things got even better.

We gained a little more patience, and Caroline started seeing good results and behaving better as a result.

Then everything plateaued. We are still struggling with bedtime, and naps, and fits here and there throughout the day. Usually the length of time is shorter than what it was initially, the intensity is less, and the frequency is less. We have a "handle" on it so to speak, but they are still happening. She's waking once a night and not going back to sleep. We've made good progress for sure. But we aren't back to "normal".

Then Caroline stopped napping! For the last week she has refused naps. When that happens you can insert a screaming fit in place of nap. I've started losing my patience again and have been far from the happy mom I desire to get back to.

Well, we made another big change and we are seeing results. We stopped calling naps, "naps", and we gave Caroline a bit more freedom and responsibility. We are calling it "rest time". We've implemented this change for two days now, and on both days we've gotten great naps out of Caroline, without any resistance!

Here's what "rest time" looks like:

Instead of turning her clock blue to indicate nap time, we are turning it green.

She is now allowed to get out of bed to get a different book or a "friend" (stuffed animal), and then return to bed.

The expectation is that she stay in bed once she has what she needs, and she can play with her stuffed animals or read quietly. She can have the radio on, as well.

We also let her know that she can sleep if she'd like to.

When her clock is yellow, rest time is over and we will come get her.

Well...she's doing awesome! She's no longer feeling like we are forcing a nap on her. She gets out of bed to get a book, then returns immediately just as we'd asked her to. And then, guess what!? She lays down and goes to sleep peacefully! Needless to say we are thrilled!

In addition to making this big change, we are now seeing a behavioral psychologist. We want to make sure we have a close eye on Caroline's behaviors in case they are grief related. Many of these things are normal behaviors for an almost 3 year old, but the timing is suspicious with Caroline, as it started intensifying right after April's death- and these aren't normal behaviors for her. We are hoping to gain some tools in our box of resources, along with keeping a close eye on any grief related behaviors.

And, if anyone has a good idea for eliminating the middle of the night waking, I'm all ears. She's losing a LOT of sleep as a result, since she's not going back to sleep, and that is obviously impacting her behavior during the day. We have her back on track with naps it looks like, so I am hoping that she was perhaps just overtired and things will even out soon, allowing her to sleep better.

We are taking it day by day. All I know, is that big changes are helping us, and Caroline, to get back on track. And every time we see progress, everyone's mood gets lifted and we all do better the next day, and the next.

I think our next step, is to implement the "rest time" before bed. The more trust we put in Caroline to make the right decisions, the better she does.



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