Desperate for advice regarding raging night wakings - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 3 Old 04-03-2011, 01:03 AM - Thread Starter
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My DS just turned 3. For about the last 2 months, most of his night wakings have been angry. He'll be asleep and not stirring. Then suddenly he'll start bucking his body and kicking and making a really annoyed noise (the same one he makes when very frustrated by something while awake). Maybe he'll say something like "I want the BLUE one!!!" or "I want to do it THAT way!!" or "This car is too difficult!!!" or something else that seems to indicate that whatever is going on in his head is not profound.

If I'm already in bed with him (we co-sleep but of course sometimes I'm not in bed yet), I can sometimes just mutter something like "here's the blue one," grab him, and stuff a boob in his mouth. Then he's fine. But sometimes he resists. And this happens much more if this is a waking when I'm not there yet so it takes me longer to get to him. When he resists, it turns into a sort of half-asleep tantrum. (In this same period he's had WAY more tantrums during the day as well.)

Last night was horrible. He woke up around 10:15. I went up, but he was asleep again by the time I got there. 5 minutes later he woke up again (this pattern is common). I went up there and he let me pick him up and start to get in position to lie down with him and then he just freaked out and started yelling his usual stuff: don't look at me! don't see me! I don't want that! Go away! (Then I try to go away.) Don't LEAVE!!! Shut your mouth Mama! and on and on, all the while flailing and kicking and bucking. Last night was strange though. I just laid there with him, shutting my mouth as directed, and he fell asleep on top of my arm. That was very uncomfortable so I kept trying to get it out, but if I moved at all, he'd snap back into his freak out. So I laid there for a while hoping that he'd start sleeping more deeply but I never managed it. So I ended up waking him up and he just descended into a worse version of the above. I finally brought him downstairs because that's what he wanted, but he just kept screaming at me.

By now, I had lost my cool. My husband was out for the evening so he couldn't help me, but DS basically treats DH like Satan when he's having a tantrum so he wouldn't have been able to do much anyway, other than restrain him while I hid to try to regain my composure.

Anyway, I lost it and am ashamed of my behavior. It all eventually ended when he got over the angry part and was just screaming for boobs. For a while I just couldn't give them to him because I'm pregnant and it's extremely irritating at the best of times and simply beyond my ability to tolerate when I'm angry. I finally gave in to him and he nursed briefly and then announced that he was finished. Then we sat there and watched TV while I cried.

Somebody please give me some advice about something. Why is my kid so angry? It's worth mentioning that he's extremely cheerful and charming most of the time while he's awake, but he does have a very short temper and is easily frustrated.

Sarah, mother to Eloïse (5/2005), Lucas (3/2008) and Ilias (7/2011), and due with #4 (March 1, 2014)

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#2 of 3 Old 04-03-2011, 08:37 AM
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My 2 years and 9 month old younger son is like this.  For the past month or so he has occasionally been SCREAMING in the middle of the night.  But on the occasions where he talks along with the yelling, it's things like "give ((toy)) back!!!" and 'I need TWO knights!!!!"    These usually don't last too long at night, but during the day it's been up to 45 minutes of inconsolable screaming, the subject of which repeatedly changes.  His older brother never did this- just the 5 minute long I'm-angry-now-I'm-over-it tantrums.  I also happen to be pregnant, and I've wondered if that's related somehow.


So I don't have any advice, just sympathy.  If you figure it out, let me know, hah!


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#3 of 3 Old 04-03-2011, 03:54 PM
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My son, who just turned 4, did this through most of the time he was 3 - suddenly waking (or talking in his sleep) because he is frustrated about a dream.  It wasn't all the time, mind you, but at least once a month.  I think it's really a sign that they're having more dreams about their frustrations in daily life and they don't know what to do about it.  What we did was teach our son that if he practiced it, he could control his dreams, that he could do whatever he wanted in dreams.  I would talk to him about how exciting dreams could be, that you could fly or turn into animals or be a knight riding a horse or drive a firetruck or do whatever else he might think it really awesome but he can't do for whatever reason.  When he actually woke in a tantrum, we would first do what you mention - verbalize doing what he says he wants.  This sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, obviously.  When it didn't work, we would tell him that he was sleeping and that was a dream, sometimes turning on the lights to point out that he is in bed, in the bedroom, etc.  This usually doesn't stop the frustration because it is real to them, they are frustrated because something bad just happened in their dream.  The trick, for us was teaching him that he had control of his dreams if he practiced and distracting him from his frustration when it occurs.  It might mean doing the bedtime routine all over again or singing a few songs or doing whatever you might do to calm a tantrum during the daytime and getting him back into bedtime-mode.


Another thing to work on is teaching him to calm himself down during a very frustrating time.  We taught our son to take a deep breath to calm down, sometimes even squatting down and putting his hands on the ground.  We taught him to use a calm voice to explain what is happening so we can help him.  Then we would praise him and hug him and hold him for being so calm and for taking a breath, etc etc.


In going back to sleep after a waking-tantrum, we would remind him of how he can decide what to dream about and we would talk about some of the things that would be fun to dream.  Something like, "now what do you want to dream about?  How about playing with grandma at the park?  Oh, that would be so fun!  Okay, let's get ready for that dream.  Think about grandma and the park, the grass and trees and the playground" etc etc.  After you talk to them for a while about dream-control, how they can just say "hey!  I don't like this dream" and change it, they should get better at it and have fewer frustrations.  Teaching him how to control his emotions and voice his frustrations in daily life will also help.


One of the biggest problems we had with him doing this in the beginning is that we would get frustrated and just repeatedly tell him things like, "it's not real! It's a dream!"  The truth of the matter is that to him, it IS real.  There is no difference to him if a kid takes his toy while he's awake or while he's asleep.  No difference at all.  Same emotional response, same experience, same everything except where you end up during the tantrum.  Actually, a dream might be even more frustrating because if you wake up, you can't get back what you had, you can't go back and fix it (unless you teach yourself how to choose your dreams).  It's not like you get a turn with the toy you want or a turn on the slide or that you get to use the blue marker when you wake up from a dream and you didn't get to use it... you're in a suddenly even more frustrating place than you were in the dream because not only did you lose out in the dream, but you don't have a way of "winning" now.  That's incredibly frustrating.  So the important things to do, in my opinion, are to sympathize and teach dream control.


Have you read "Adventures in Tandem Nursing"?  It's a fantastic book about nursing while pregnant and nursing an older child and new baby at the same time.  It helped me so much when I was pregnant with DS2 and nursing DS1, to realize that the things I was going through (like aversion to breastfeeding DS1) were completely normal.  It helped me to cope better with what was going on and it helped me to feel better about my decision to wean DS2 when I was half-way through my pregnancy with # 3 - I couldn't stand feeling aggression towards my son simply for nursing and I knew it was my body that was telling me to stop.  DS1 didn't wean until after DS2 was born, but it was miserable for me (it's not for everyone, but breastfeeding aversion towards an older child is really common) and I couldn't stand having such negative feelings toward my older son.  I just wanted to love him, not feel like a total monster every time he wanted to nurse.  I bring this up because you mention it, and it may have something to do with your anger towards him during his night tantrums.  It's totally normal, but something you really have to think about.  


Good luck!  This phase will pass.  ^_^

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