It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Calculated Risk

Little Timmy, you remember him? He’s been coming to my place for two mornings a week for the last couple of months. The idea is to get him used to me and this place before he starts full-time in the fall.

Is it working?

Mom would give answer that with an unqualified “Yes!” He wriggles with enthusiasm when he sees me, he smiles at the other children, he rarely fusses when she leaves.

“He’s settling in so well,” she says. “He just loves being here, I can tell.” I think he does, too, as much as he loves anything.

However, I would answer with a qualified yes. Timmy does have the sweetest smile. He can take pleasure in his little accomplishments – finally touching the cat (!!!), pulling himself to stand on the furniture. He can interact nicely with the other children, to the limits of his age. He can play on his own, or alongside the others. He can do all these things, but the truth is, he doesn’t often.

His problem? Here are the symptoms:

He’s fretful and clingy. He needs a lot of attention. He wants to be carried most of the time. He demands to be in the same room as me at all times. If I get more than three feet from him, he crawls after me, wailing. When he is held, he’s twitchy, pinching at my arms with his fingernails and clutching my hair and clothing. If another child gets too close, he cries. He doesn’t eat much, he drinks only when being held. He plays when I’m sitting beside him, or when he’s in physical contact with me (his back leaning against my shin, say), but even then, rarely for more than five minutes. When we read, he sits in my lap, but again, is twitchy, tossing his head side to side, flailing at the pages.

So what’s the problem here? It’s not that he’s not settled in. As his mother notes, he greets me with a smile, and he includes the other children in his greeting. He’s not teething, and he’s been perfectly healthy since he started. Not even a sniffle.

The problem is that this boy is chronically and severely sleep-deprived.

His mother believes that he “doesn’t need much sleep”. She knows this because “he never sleeps more than 20 minutes at a stretch, except at night”. At night, he sleeps eight hours. A ten-and-a-half-month-old who gets eight hours at night and another hour during the day is not getting enough sleep. Not nearly enough. By my calculations, he’s about three hours short per night, and another hour or two short per day. This kid is getting a good four to five hours less – per day! – than he needs. And it shows.

His mother is delightful, quite sensible in all other child-rearing practices, but this is her blind spot. And, as he’s her first child, she sees his behaviour as normal – that’s just what babies are like!

So I’m taking this child on the assumption that with a little sleep training under his belt, he will turn into a different child. A calm, relaxed, non-twitchy child, able to play independently for more than a few seconds.

I sure hope I’m right!

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© 2006, Mary P

August 1, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 16 Comments