Q&A: hand problem

Amy writes what she calls "a cautionary tale":

"My 22-month old has
a serious hand obsession. I know I created this problem, but now I
don’t know how to fix it. When she was a few months old, she had more
than the usual sleep issues, and the only way I could get her to sleep
was by letting her grip my hands tightly while she drifted off. This
continued, as I continued to rock her to sleep (and…I still do rock
her to sleep, but that’s another issue…although maybe the two are
inextricably intertwined). Anyway, now hands have become her security
objects. She wants "a hand" when she’s in her stroller, her carseat,
falling asleep, pretty much any time she gets a little bit anxious or
needs security. If it were a nice, gentle hand holding thing, that
would be kind of sweet and less problematic, but it’s very aggressive
and involved– kneading and pinching each finger almost to the point of
breaking skin, pushing back fingernails. It’s really painful. I’ve
tried to get her attached to various stuffed animals and blankets, all
to no avail. Do I just go cold turkey on the hand thing and not let her
hold my hands at all, or should I slowly ease her off of it, letting
her hold my hand only when she’s falling asleep? Or is there some other
solution?  We only semi-jokingly talked about buying a prosthetic hand."<>

You have to admit, it is a little bit funny. I was feeling all cocky about what I was going to tell Amy until I got to her last sentence. "Crap," I thought. "Now I guess I can’t tell her to get a prosthetic hand and try that."

In a follow-up email, Amy mentioned that her daughter still liked to be rocked and have a bottle as part of the bedtime routine, which, in conjunction with the hand thing (and I can’t stop laughing thinking about a toddler holding onto a prosthetic hand to fall asleep) makes me think that her daughter needs a lot of tactile stimulation to go to sleep.

So I’m wondering if there’s some way Amy can create enough tactile stimulation for her daughter to go to sleep that will also take Amy out of the loop. It would be nice if it was sustainable long-term and easily replicable when away from home.

The first thing that came to mind was a massage pad, to replicate the experience of sitting in the fancy massage chair at The Sharper Image. That would definitely give her some tactile stimulation. I don’t know if you want to spend $50 to try it out, though. (It seems like a lot to spend on trying to get a toddler to go to sleep, although it seems kind of cheap if someone’s going to buy that pad for me.)

A more accessible solution might be to heat one of those buckwheat pillows in the microwave to make it warm, and see if she’ll hold on to that. It would be heavy and solid but pliable like a human hand, and would be nice and warm. And if she doesn’t use it, at least you can use it yourself to soothe your tired, aching neck.

Or you could just go cold turkey. If you’re going to do that, I’d probably keep the rocking and the bottle for the time being so everything doesn’t change all at once. And if you do go cold turkey, talk about it during the day for a few days before you start. 22 months is old enough to understand that she’s a "big girl" and doesn’t need the hand anymore, or whatever you’re going to tell her to spin it. But giving her the advance prep and the chance to talk about it for a few days is going to make it easier emotionally for her when it’s gone, even if she does cry and complain.

Think about Amy’s hand problem, and tell her what you can come up with.

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