Tension decreasers

So let's talk about tension decreasers today.

For those of you who don't have one, a tension decreaser is a person who needs to tap it off somehow by ranting. In babies, that can manifest itself as needing to cry to fall asleep. OK, "need" may be a strong word, as plenty of tension decreaser babies have fallen asleep without incident in a stroller or car or even accidentally while lying in a crib. But often the regular routine of falling asleep involves some crying or fussing.

I think two things could be going on, either separately or together:

1. The baby cries to create kind of a white noise and block out other stimulation to be able to fall asleep, and/or

2. The transition from awake to asleep sparks tension that the baby needs to get out before s/he can relax enough to fall asleep.

If you're reading this and it's making zero sense to you, let me tell you what my second son did so you can get what a tension decreaser/releaser acts like. Remember that I'd nursed/rocked my first one to sleep with enormous success. So somewhere in the second or third week of the second one's life, I was nursing him to sleep, and not only was he not falling asleep, but he was also moaning and crying WHILE HE WAS NURSING. And it seemed like he'd almost be calming down, and then I'd shush him or something and he'd get angry again.

Since he was the second kid I wasn't afraid of a little experimentation, so I said to him, "I need to go get a drink of water. I'll be back in a few minutes, love." (What I really wanted to say was "WTF? How are you not falling asleep??" but that wouldn't have been helpful.) So I walked out of the room and got a glass of water and stood there outside the door drinking it and taking a bunch of deep "was it really a good idea to ahve a second one?" breaths, and listened to him cry. First he wailed at the top of his lungs, but by the time I was halfway through the glass he started deescalating and then wimpering and by the time I put the glass in the sink and went back into the bedroom he was asleep.

Mind...frantically..recalibrating... So I tried it out a few more times, and it seemed like he would not fall asleep when I nursed him. Instead, he wanted to be nursed, and then I'd put him down and walk away and he'd wail for 4-5 minutes and then fall asleep.

He is still this way in many ways, at 5 1/2 years old. He can go to sleep without crying, but if he gets agitated or too excited or feels unacknowledged with no avenue for expression he gets into a tantrum and can't be calmed or ignored out of it. The only thing to do is escalate and let him go through the full cycle, and then he relaxes and is happy again.

He is also really, really good at calling people or situations out and getting very emotional about them and then letting it fade away.

Some thoughts about having a tension decreaser/releaser baby (because I have no real strategies, either, and had very easy kids who told me what they needed):

* In some ways it was like winning the lottery because I didn't go through the backbreaking hours of rocking and nursing to sleep, and then the toddler sitting-by-the-side-of-the-bed phase. I'd do the routine, put him down, and he'd cry and then go to sleep.

* But, and this is personality, not something innate about tension releasers, if he didn't fall asleep after crying, I was out of luck because other techniques did not work with him. My older one could always eventually be comforted to sleep. My tension decreaser either cried himself to sleep, or he was awake and we were just looking at each other wondering "what next?"

* His crying cycle was in the 3 to 12 minute range. I have no idea what I'd have done if he cried longer than that, because I don't think I could have stood it, and I'm not convinced that crying for long periods of time is good for people. (Certainly not good for me in the Great Ankle Panic of Sunday evening.) It would be so tempting to make up some arbitrary time and say "they should only cry for x amount of time," but we're looking for the truth of our children, not rules. It just makes me feel lucky that I never had to confront that, and sad for those of you who have had to puzzle out longer crying.

Parent of tension decreasers and adult tension decreasers: What do you think? What have you done? What works with you?