For most of his life our toddler had no issue settling down to sleep on his own (in fact leaving him alone in a crib was the only way, as an infant, we could get him to sleep, and it worked reliably; he slept through the night at 3 months and always napped well) -- but at 25 months he abruptly developed an infuriating evening habit.
When I put him down to bed at night (typically 7:30pm, following the bedtime routine we established years ago), he'll spend an hour or more lying with his eyes open, writhing around in bed, babbling, fiddling with his stuffed animals, blankets, pillow, or water cup, and occasionally shouting for my attention (sometimes there's a pretext like dropping things from his bed, sometimes he's just bored or frustrated); he isn't crying, and seems to be making a good faith effort to relax, but gives up easily. I don't interrupt him much -- trying to balance encouraging him to relax and lie down with not rewarding his attention-seeking behavior -- but it doesn't seem to make a difference whether I do or don't. Sometimes it's 9pm or even later before he finally passes out.
At first I thought it was a temporary separation anxiety thing (it cropped up right after I'd been gone for a two-day trip, one of just a few times I've ever left him at night) -- but that was over two months ago. None of our subsequent interventions have dislodged this behavior; we've tried later bedtime, earlier bedtime, earlier nap, shorter nap, no nap, regular reassuring visits, ignoring him completely, white noise, lavender scent, different styles of pillows and pajamas, transitioning from crib to bed (no problems but no improvement), all with no luck.
I would just let it slide, but he isn't gaining back sleep time in the morning -- he usually wakes like clockwork at 6 AM despite being obviously tired (yawning, cranky), then winds up crashing for a huge nap of 2 or even 3+ hours. (We wake him up if the nap encroaches on 4pm, to make 7:30 bedtime less absurd.) If naps are interrupted or missed due to life circumstances, he becomes impossibly overtired and hyper -- he doesn't seem ready to drop his nap at such a young age -- and the same bedtime behavior recurs anyway. In the aggregate, most days he is sleeping less than 12 hours total, which is low for his age and clearly not enough for him.
The past couple months have been stressful for him and me because he's so obviously always tired -- it's leading to less disciplined behavior and frayed nerves for everyone. And this sleep resistance is beginning to invade naptime as well; today his 12:45pm nap met 90 minutes of resistance, until he passed out at 2:10.
Do we just have to wait this phase out, or is there something else we can try to get his rhythm right?