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Steven Olsen
Steven Olsen, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 1765
Experience:  More than twenty years of expertise in counseling, psychological diagnosis and education
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Dear Dr, Our 21mnth old baby got an "anxiety attack" this

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Dear Dr,

Our 21mnth old baby got an "anxiety attack" this morning, after waking up his father brought him to our room...and we were making fun...laughing....teasing as always..... He started "hissing like a snake" few days ago....thought he was taught something like that at the creche....but his teacher denied it when I asked her....only bees & flowers etc....zzzzz.....she said.
The attack was quite severe....he screamed and started clinging onto his father & me.....seemed afraid that there was a snake or spider in the bed......We reassured him, cuddled him etc.....a little later on the same thing happened....slightly less severe intensity.... We are worried that it might need special attention and do not just want to wave it away.
He also had almost the same reaction towards the noise of a roaring motorbike +- 1week ago.... happened 3 times in the past week.
Do we need to be concerned?
As this behaviour is increasing now....

Wonderful question.


The botXXXXX XXXXXne here is that your baby is normal. Some children, often the creative and highly intelligent ones, tend to show significant anxiety responses to things like bugs and snakes and noises etc. The reason for this is how the young child's mind works.


To an adult these scary things, bugs and snakes and so on are processed much more in the brain's logic center than in the part Zander is accessing called the Amygdala. Adult reaction, even if fearful, tends to be somewhat logical. And, we know as adults that bugs and snakes do not suddenly arrive in beds, basements and so forth because our brains prepare us for where they should/might be. Sounds also are not treated in a reactive manner but in a more logical one.




Your son is so young that his brain cannot yet distinguish between what is real and imagination. And, some reactions to things such as to bugs and snakes and loud noises are instinctual to being human child. Some of us just have the reaction a bit more pronounced than others, but it is still normal. As a matter of fact, between 18-2.5 years of age, fears of this type are very common.


What to do? First off, I think you can relax. Although a bit more reactive than some children, Zander is well within normal behavior patterns. Fear response at his age can be quite harsh and scary for the parents though, and as the father of three myself, I saw this reaction many, many times.


Realize that Zander thinks in an imaginative world that seems totally real to him. Use that to your advantage. We created invisible "sprays", light switches that made bugs go away, monster barriers made of paper and tape...anything really that reassures the child that they are safe. It doesn't matter that it is not real or effective to us adults, it is real for him.


Unless Zander shows reactions of a severe nature such as marked insomnia or a consistent more than thirty-forty minute severe fear reaction I think he will be fine. Indeed, some studies I read show that children who have these strong emotional reactions turn out to be adults who possess creative intelligence, the most valued type.


A pleasure helping you. Steven

Customer: replied 4 years ago.
Steven, I just want to make sure...forgot to add....that he also wakes up a lot during the night.....between 3 to 5 times or sometimes more.... Seems as if he was dreaming and will comment on that.... Struggle to get him back to sleep at times. Will then call for his father....and I have to stand his father cuddles & put him back to sleep then. The sleeping problem is since birth. Still drinks a bottle of milk once or twice during the night......

I do not believe the two issues are related and I feel confident that your son is totally fine as far as his fear reaction.


However, this is a different issue and could be one of two things. Now, your son is of an age where he should be sleeping through the night and should not need to wake up to drink milk.


Let's approach this as best practice: Although I feel this is behavioral there is a small possibility that your son has a sleep disorder. Breathing related issues; REM cycle problems, etc. can exist and cause sleep issues.


I suspect this is not the case, but to be safe he should be evaluated by a pediatrician for a sleep issue. If there is a problem a treatment plan can be created to help your son sleep deeply.


If this is not a physical issue, and I suspect it is not, a behavioral method can be used. First, the feedings at night must be eliminated. We do walk up several times during the night naturally but then fall asleep again in seconds. In children who are used to being fed, they wake fully and disturb their (and your) sleep.

This process is typically done by reducing the richness of the milk 20% every other night until plain water is given. This usually takes about a week and a half and typically the child will no longer wake to drink plain water as the reinforcement is not great enough.


If this is related to separation anxiety that can be dealt with similarly, with a parent each taking a turn on a two week deconditioning process. It is simple and effective. Each night a parent sleeps near Zander, in a cot a sleeping bag or similar, but each night thereafter the parent moves further and further away until both are fully separated in one another's respective rooms. In conjunction with the milk reduction strategy this is often very successful in restoring sleep to its desired pattern.


Thank you for your questions. If you're satisfied with my response, please rate me highly

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Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Hi Steven,


I would like to ask.... our son is now 3yrs and 5months.


1. We still struggle to wean him off his night milk comsumption..... He refuses to wear nappies, but still drinks 4 - 5 servings of milk per night. We reduced the amount per serving - drinks from a sippy cup. We wake him up every 2 hours during the night to pass urine or else he wets the bed, and is VERY upset, with everybody...... then he drinks milk again to fall asleep...if he doesn't get the milk....he doesn't fall back to sleep again.... and it is tantrums galore!!


2. He touches his private parts ALL the time. Initially we didn't say much about it as we hoped that it was just a phase that will pass, but it actually got worse..... we started to tell him gently not to do that everytime he does that, but he still does it.

His teacher from creche also commented on that and that he touches (rubs) his hair a lot. He usually does that in order to fall asleep, but does that now also more frequently, even after his naps / night's sleep.....


I will appreciate your feedback on this as we are quite concerned.


Kind regards,



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