Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Behaviour

What should I be doing to help my 11mth son who has had a few changes recently and is far less settled?

My son was previously a perfect Gina baby, sleeping well for all naps and eating well. We moved house 2 months ago, I started work 1 month ago. My son started to become more unsettled. Now he always wakes crying and screaming whereas he used to chatter in his cot. He jumps up and down in cot in anger until we pick him up. Usually we control cry for at least 45mins in morning. We never bring him out of cot before 6.30am which is a fine time for us. We tend to give up more quickly when he wakes from day time naps.

Now he won’t settle for morning nap any longer, but really is too tired to drop it. So I give him quiet time in buggy, early lunch, and settle him early for his lunch time nap. But he is only sleeping a maximum of one hour at lunch time resulting in overtiredness in evening and early waking.

His chronic over tiredness is starting to make him cranky and now he has also started rousing frequently in the night although we don’t get up to him and he does settle again. How can we get back on track? It is difficult not being sole carer to enforce routines more rigidly but other the carers are on board to try things out. He is cared for by a child minder 2 days a week, my mother takes him for 2 days and I care for him the other 3.

He is ever so active during the day chasing cats and toddling around everywhere but is not as contented as he used to be and is becoming more wingy, clingy and he seems to be regressing further away from the routine that he kept so happily for so long. Is this normal for this age? I also carry a lot of guilt about returning to work and am unsure whether I am meant to be firm setting consistent boundaries or whether I should be reassuring and relieving new anxieties he may be having?

My son eats three meals a day having breakfast of cereal and fruit. He drinks cow’s milk and formula mixed from a beaker. He will have a small snack midmorning followed by lunch at 11.30-1145am. This is his protein meal of the day which he eats well. He drinks milk from a beaker at 2.30pm and eats a vegetarian tea with finger food. At 6.45pm he takes 7fl oz milk from a cup.

Your son has had two quite big changes in his life recently. He is of the age where separation anxiety can become quite intense so it is not surprising that he is a little more clingy and demanding of you.

How you deal with it is important. It can be so difficult when you have to return to work but feel it may be affecting your child. But given sympathetic, consistent but firm handling your son will begin to adapt to his new surroundings and daily routine. It may take a few months but will gradually improve. Being sympathetic to his needs doesn’t mean you need to give in to him all the time to compensate for your return to work.

The energy levels of a newly walking toddler are amazing but they can easily get overtired and so lose their good sleep habits, as you have already realized.

Try to build rest times into his day at regular intervals. As well as the quiet time you give him in his buggy before lunch take him out in it around 4pm. Even just a short walk at this time will help him to rest as he watches the world go by. Until he is more settled at night bring his bath and bedtime forward to nearer 6.30pm if this is possible. Having a quiet time after tea, followed by a warm bath, a short time spent looking at a book and then being settled for the night by 6.30/6.40pm should help him not become so overtired. This earlier bedtime may not show any immediate effects on his early waking or night time restlessness for a week or so, but keep with it. Make sure you follow the same simple routine every night so he begins to feel more secure and able to relax to sleep, rather than falling asleep exhausted. Keep bath time quiet and try not to let him run around too much afterwards. Getting him to his room and into his cot within half an hour of coming out of the bath will really help him calm down.

The early mornings should begin to disappear once he has more rest periods in the day and an earlier bedtime. In the morning you do need to be firm and consistent about telling him it is not daytime yet. He is still young but, if you use the same words every morning when he begins to cry and scream for you, he will come to realize that no matter what noise he makes you are not willing to start the day before 6.30am. Put a few board books and soft toys at the end of his cot when you go to bed so he has something to amuse himself when he wakes in the morning. It may take a few days for him to do this but eventually he will find them.

Controlled crying, when carried out, would mean you lengthen the time before going in to your child each morning. Have a look in Gina’s Complete Sleeping Guide, page 45, for a full description. As your son is waking early and demanding attention it would be a good idea to leave him for about ten minutes and then go in to him. Lay him down in his cot and using the same words each morning tell him; “Go to sleep, it is not daytime yet” then leave. You may have to do this every ten minutes or so for at least a week before he realises that you do mean what you say. This will also help him trust you. Although you are not giving in to his demands to get out of his cot, you are acknowledging that he is awake. By using the same few words you are not rewarding his shouting and crying but teaching him that he has to wait for you in the mornings. Boundaries do need to begin to be put in place at this age, but they need to be appropriate for a very young toddler whose comprehension is still limited. Your tone of voice and body language are the way he understands that you are not going to change your mind about early mornings.

As well as needing to set boundaries you also need to relieve your son’s anxieties, which is hard work for you. Keeping to his routine, asking his other carers to do the same in terms of quiet times in the day and accepting that he no longer needs as much daytime sleep, should all help him. The consistency he receives from all who care for him will help him over this phase of his development. By using the routines and the same rituals when you leave in the morning and come home at night will all help him feel more secure in himself. A toddler of this age thrives on knowing what is going to happen next. He will accept the changes in his life with your help and guidance. Acknowledging and understanding this next stage of his life will help you. You seem already to realise that his needs are changing and you are adapting to them as best you can. How you handle the early mornings will help you as he grows more independent and assertive in other areas of his life.