21-month-old responding to fear by falling asleep. Concerned. - Mothering Forums
Life with a Toddler > 21-month-old responding to fear by falling asleep. Concerned.
DaisyO's Avatar DaisyO 12:31 PM 06-20-2012

Hi ladies (and men!)


My daughter is going to be 2 in September, so she is 21 months old or so.  She is a very curious, sweet child who has a stubborn streak that I assume must be part of being almost 2.  She can get very shy or angry, and these things seem to manifest themselves in pretty basic ways (hiding her face in my skirt; stamping around while shouting and waving her arms).  The things that make her shy or angry are also predictable--strangers, men with long pointy beards (lots of those around here, including my own brother), nosy old ladies, etc will make her shy; not getting what she wants (ie messing around with the stroller when she's not in it), or getting what she doesn't want (ie clean diapers when she has something else to do) will make her angry.  So, I think she is pretty normal in most ways.


The thing that concerns me is something I noticed on Monday.  It was totally unpredictable and seemed bizarre.  We signed up for a parent/child swim class, which is meant to familiarize babies with the water.  The swimming lesson was difficult.  She was okay at first when we went in, then she got very scared and started to cry for Daddy (I was in with her, he was in the bleachers).  When I went to take her out, she calmed down a little so we stayed in.  But then she kind of started falling asleep, which I thought was a bad sign so I took her out straight away.  I was holding her, like I had been doing the whole time, but she just put her head on my shoulder and started to nod off.  Her tense and frightened body even started to relax into sleep.   


What do you think of this?  I think it is very strange.  Have any of you experienced this with your own toddlers?  At any rate, all of the other children at the lesson--her age and younger--either did fine or only cried for a second, so I felt kind of awkward.  I want her to be comfortable in the water because I think that it is dangerous to not know how to swim, even for little children.  I know it is normal for her to get scared, and to cry.  But, this falling asleep reaction kind of freaked me out. 


thanks for reading

chel's Avatar chel 03:26 PM 06-20-2012
If it was just this one time I wouldn't worry. I would think it was a combination of a stressful event with the calmingness of the water.

My baby hated swim lessons. I felt like I was trying to bathe a cat as she spent most of the time climbing up my neck and head to get out. She loves the water in general, but this was more instruction than play.
We've stopped for now and will start back at age3
bananabee's Avatar bananabee 06:35 PM 06-21-2012

If it becomes a phenomenon you start to see regularly in her, or if the same thing starts to happen with other emotions, read up on narcolepsy and cataplexy and take her to a pediatric sleep specialist or neurologist that sees pediatric patients. 


I have narcolepsy, which is a sleep disorder, and have definitely had reactions just like that, particularly if I was startled. When I get really angry, I get a symptom called cataplexy, which is loss of control over my muscles, and my knees get weak and/or my hands and arms get week, my eyelids droop, but I don't actually fall asleep, I just sink down and then feel really tired and may need a nap. Other people who have severe cataplexy experience an emotion, some appear to collapse as if they have passed out, but are conscious and not able to control their muscles enough to respond until it wears off a few minutes later. It could be any emotion - stress, laughter, hearing a newborn's first cry, anticipating a punchline in a joke, being surprised by something, hearing a sad song, winning a game, etc. As a child, I was very unresponsive emotionally because I instinctively felt that being emotional made me weak and vulnerable, so my parents never really noticed something physical was going on with me. Most people get diagnosed in their teens or early twenties, so I just wanted to throw it out here in case that might what is going on. 


Hopefully your DD is completely normal and just happened to be overtired or teething or might be coming down with something and is more tired than usual. My 2 yr old daughter pretends to fall asleep sometimes to avoid having her teeth brushed, and she can also be quite the drama queen when she feels like it. 

DaisyO's Avatar DaisyO 07:38 AM 06-22-2012

very interesting!  Thank you for the comment...

I will keep my eye on her and see how things go with swimming class on Monday

thanks again


4evermom's Avatar 4evermom 07:58 AM 06-22-2012

I know two kids who would fall asleep when they were toddlers if there was something scary. One was my brother who would go to sleep if you said talked about something he thought was scary and the other was a friend's son who would fall asleep at the fireworks. I wouldn't worry too much but I would find a way to let her get comfortable in the water at her own pace so she doesn't shut down.

Kuba'sMama's Avatar Kuba'sMama 08:58 AM 06-22-2012

Hi; my daughter, 2 does that too.  more than once. When i started taking her to playgroups, I would carry her out asleep EVERY TIME. (playgroup wasn't at regular nap time) She just found all the kids, noise etc, way overstimulating and would fall asleep on my shoulder too.


As you replied to my thread in special parenting you know that I am in the process of getting her screened for ASD.  However, that is MY daughter, not yours.  All on its own, I don't think it's a very serious sign.  Some kids deal with overwhelming events by screaming and melting down (my son used to freak out, literally). Some kids like our dd's seem to go inwards and withdraw to the point of sleep.  I don't think it's alarming, but if it happens again, I'd mention it to your dr if you're concerned.

DaisyO's Avatar DaisyO 01:22 PM 06-22-2012

Thank you for the advice--and hello again, Kuba's Mama!  I think that is a good point about not getting her to the point where she shuts down out of fear.  Not to derail my own thread here, but does anybody have tips for me on that?  The swim class is pretty basic--get in the water and move around.  If we're not doing that, she won't be learning.  But she won't be learning if she's wicked scared, either.


thanks bye!

hillary77's Avatar hillary77 02:15 PM 06-22-2012
My dd would do this occasionally starting at around 9 m old if she had a scare...usually a fall when I wasn't riight there to catch her or make reassuring eye contact. The last time it happened was when she was around 6 and had a cut that was bleeding. Since then she has had falls scares & cuts but no sleep episodes. There were maybe 15 or so during those 6 years. She is a great bright kid. I suspect her nervous system was a bit immature. Incidentally her Dad (my XH) had episodes like this at times of high stress conflict for us. We would be having an intense conversation on the sofa and he would take a long time to reply to something - not that unusual since he liked to think about things for a long time...eyes closed...then I would hear him start to snore! Thankfully DD has grown out of it cause that was pretty annoying!
4evermom's Avatar 4evermom 06:02 PM 06-23-2012

I just today saw a toddler in arms in a lake acting all sleepy. When I commented to the mom that she looked like she was about to fall asleep, the mom said it was because she didn't like the water. I suspect it's a pretty common toddler response...


Maybe you could try going to open swims rather than classes? Then there is no time pressure. Just being near water is a good first step. And seeing a loved one in the water while dd herself is on dry land is another good step. Some places have baby pools. Others have zero entry shallow ends so dd could be only ankle deep if she wanted. That's part of why I like taking my ds to the lake. It gets deep slowly so he can go as deep as he dares at his own speed. And there are no waves like at an ocean. I suppose some big lakes have waves but this one is small.

~cassie~'s Avatar ~cassie~ 10:32 AM 06-24-2012

My 5 yr old used to do it.  He did it maybe 3-4 times.  They were always after getting really upset/frightened.    The last time he did it was when he was around 3 1/2 and flipped a grocery cart onto his nose.  Another time was when I got very angry with him and lost my temper and yelled at him :( I brought it up to the Dr but she wasn't too concerned.  And it hasn't happened since.

KellyandBean's Avatar KellyandBean 05:58 PM 06-24-2012

My daughter is very shy and fearful too and has done similar things. She will hide her face in my neck and stay there for so long she almost seems to go into a catatonic state.

Parker'smommy's Avatar Parker'smommy 10:16 AM 06-26-2012

My ds did this when he was younger. Some examples were that we were at Dodger Stadium, and pretty high up. He was 2 years old. He was very scared by how enormous the stadium was, and the amount of people. He held onto me tight and then promptly fell asleep. It was clearly a coping mechanism he was using to cope with his fear. Another time, we were on a flight from Colorado to San Diego. He as 2 1/2. It got VERY turbulent with the plane dropping drastically. He started saying, " uh oh, the plane is falling" and then fell asleep very abruptly. 



He is 10, and is fine :)  I strongly feel that he was coping with his fear by simply checking out and sleeping, ya know? When he learned how to cope with his fears better as he got older and more mature, he stopped doing it. Don't worry, momma. 

DaisyO's Avatar DaisyO 08:20 AM 06-28-2012

hey all--


Thanks for the supportive comments.  We did the swim class on Monday (with Memere) and she was much better...still scared at first, but slowly got into it.  She was yawning by the end but never totally fell to sleep!  I think it was only a response to both the startling situation she found herself in and the cold water.  Thermal suit next time.


thanks so much