How to Handle a Toddler Who Wakes Up in the Middle of the Night
Being awakened in the middle of the night by a toddler is something every parent faces sooner or later. When a child is sick or tormented by a nightmare, it’s normal for her to seek out the safety and security of her parents. However, if your child is making it a habit of waking up every night, you need to take action – unless you are okay with never getting a full night’s sleep.
Understanding Kids’ Motivation
You won’t be able to stop the mid-night wakings if you are unaware of what is causing them. Therefore, the first thing you ought to do is figure out what’s bothering your toddler and interfering with her ability to sleep soundly.
It may be that nothing is wrong and it has simply become a habit to wake at a certain time each night in order to seek you out. On the other hand, you may be dealing with fears or medical conditions. So right off the bat, start observing your child’s sleeping habits and asking her what’s wrong and what she needs when she wakes at night.
Breaking the Habit
If your child has just gotten used to waking up and climbing into your bed at night, this is a fairly easy fix. When you put your child to bed, let her know that you want her to try to stay in her bed tonight and that she will earn a sticker if she can do it. Create a plan with your child based around what she should do if she wakes up at night. Perhaps she can snuggle with her favorite stuffed animal or turn on a musical toy and try to fall back to sleep in her own bed instead of coming to yours. If she succeeds in this, make sure you make a big deal out of it the next morning and tell her how big and brave she is.
If your child gets up at night and is afraid, you’ll have more work cut out for you. Try to discover what exactly your child is afraid of so that you can address these things with her. Let her know that you’re absolutely sure there are no monsters in her closet, but that you will check her room for her at night if she needs you to anyway. Sometimes, allowing the child to have a flashlight on her nightstand helps so that she can use it if she wakes up afraid in the middle of the night. You can even just try to change the routine around a bit by coming to your child’s room instead of letting her come to yours, or by letting her call you on a walkie-talkie so that she still stays in bed. Taking baby steps to get your child to brave the whole night alone is what the end goal is, even if you have to take your time to reach it.
Look for the Obvious
Sometimes, the reasons toddlers wake up in the night make perfect sense. Perhaps a train goes by each night at two in the morning, or the neighbor’s dog starts barking every night at eleven. You may be used to these sounds and not notice them, but your child may be more sensitive. If something like this is the culprit, consider a white noise maker to drown out the sounds.
Consider Medical Issues
A lot of kids, particularly boys, wake in the middle of the night with terrible leg pain colloquially known as growing pains. There’s little you can do to avoid this one, other than to have some children’s pain reliever on hand and an ice pack ready. As your child gets older, you may be able to teach him to handle this on his own, but toddlers usually want Mom or Dad when pain hits.
Your toddler may also have an overactive bladder. If he is wetting the bed or needing to take trips to the bathroom every few hours throughout the night, you might want to bring this up to your pediatrician and see if anything can be done for him,
A more serious issue that seems to be fairly common in kids is sleep apnea. If your child snores and wakes frequently at night, you may want to have a sleep study performed in order to rule out this particular culprit.
If you put your child to sleep each night by staying with her, singing to her or rubbing her back until she is fully asleep, then when she cycles through sleep she won’t be able to fall back into a deep slumber without you when you are not there to provide this same service. For this reason, you should make sure you put your child to bed and allow her to fall asleep on her own. This way, she will learn how to fall asleep without any help and not need to come looking for you throughout the night.
Is it Okay Sometimes?
If you don’t mind having sleepovers with your toddler occasionally, you can let her know that if she stays in bed, for example, Monday through Friday, she can earn a sleepover in your room on the weekend. This can provide the comfort and security your child is looking for, but in a more reasonable manner. Of course, only do this if you’re actually on board with the plan and don’t mind the occasional little visitor. It’s perfectly okay to want your bed to yourself. You can always just watch a movie together or read a story in your bed on the weekend, and then have your child sleep in her room.
When it comes down to it, it’s important for everyone to get a full night’s sleep. After all, there can be no real family fun if everyone is tired and cranky.← What Discipline Strategy is Right for You? | 20 Blogs with Tips for Interpreting Your Dreams →
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