Few issues cause parents more anxiety than toddlers and sleeping through the night. Most babies are capable of sleeping through the night by the time they reach three months old. Some do not sleep through the night until they are much older. No matter when you got your baby to sleep through the night, it is a major milestone for both baby and parents. Many parents are surprised and frustrated when their toddler, who has been sleeping through the night for a very long time, starts to wake up again.
Reasons Toddlers Wake in the Night
Toddlers and sleeping through the night are a possibility for most family. Simply finding the reasons for the night wakings is the first step to getting kids to sleep through the night.
As your baby becomes a toddler she will experience periods of anxiety when you are not with her. Most toddlers experience this between 18 months and two years. They may cling to you more, not let you leave the room without them, cry when you leave them with a sitter, and they may even begin waking in the night. At some point little ones begin to develop the understanding that Mommy and baby are separate beings and that Mommy still exists when she is not with baby. This often creates anxiety in the child. Toddlers are also discovering that they are capable of doing lots of things on their own. Childhood milestones, like walking and potty training often come hand in hand with periods of separation anxiety. It is important to remember that this anxiety varies in intensity from child to child and that it is a normal developmental stage that will pass in time.
Toddlers are beginning to explore and understand their world more and more. As their brains develop, so do their fears. Toddlers can become fearful of just about anything. They may become afraid of the dark, the space under the bed, their closet, shadows, or noises in the night. These fears may surface in the middle of the night as they move through normal sleep patterns and cause them to cry for you. In fact, fear is at the heart of most problems with toddlers sleeping through the night.
Sometimes a toddler who is potty training may feel pressure or anxiety about wetting the bed. Toddlers are often not ready to hold their bladders through the night, especially if they take in a lot of liquids in the evening. This can interrupt a toddler's sleep and make it difficult for him to fall back to sleep on his own. Even if a toddler is learning to use the potty during the day, nighttime diapers should be used until around three years.
These are not the only reason a toddler may wake up in the night. Sometimes the reason may be as simple as a cold or ear infection. If a child has difficulty breathing through his nose or is suffering with a cough, it is likely that he will not be able to sleep through the night. Ear infections often hurt more when a child is laying down. If a child struggles with an illness that interrupts his sleep, he may continue to wake in the night after he is healthy from habit. He may need to readjust to sleeping through the night again without seeing Mom or Dad.
Ways of Handling Toddler-Waking
Every child is different and not all toddlers wake in the night for the same reason. Many parents feel strongly about not letting a child 'cry it out' in the night. Other parents feel it is the best way for everyone to get a good night's sleep. Every parent needs to decide what methods are right for their situation and parenting style. Nonetheless there are some general guidelines to keep in mind when dealing with a waking toddler:
- Try to understand why your toddler is waking. Has he just passed an important milestone in development? Is he showing signs of separation anxiety during the day? Has he just gotten over a cold or is he coming down with one? Try to remember that toddler-waking is normal and your little one is not being bad. Avoid handling the problem with anger because it will only intensify a child's anxiety.
- Also remember that everyone wakes up or sleeps very lightly at some point in the night as we move through the cycle of sleep. It is important that a young child learns to put himself back to sleep without your help when this happens. Your goal should be to help your child learn to do this in a way that creates as little anxiety as possible.
- Sometimes a toddler just needs a quick reassurance that you are still there even in the night. Try going in his room, calmly tucking him in and kissing him, and then retreating. Don't jump out of bed in the first minute he fusses though. Let him try to comfort himself first. If he is waking every night, gradually increase the time before you go to him each night.
- Try to meet the toddler's needs without taking him out of his bed. Keep the lights off, keep your voice to a whisper, be reassuring but don't reward the waking with fun. Don't read to him, turn on the television, or take him into your room unless you are prepared to make that your routine. If your child comes into your room in the night, gently and quickly guide him back to his own room.
- Sometimes a child can find comfort from something other than Mom or Dad. Stereotypically we think of the security blanket. Such an item can help a toddler fall back to sleep without the help of a parent. Try to encourage such a connection with a stuffed toy or special blanket if your toddler seeks your comfort in the middle of the night. Meeting irrational fears like fear of monsters with an irrational solution often works. Fill a spray bottle with water and a drop of food coloring and tell your toddler it is a monster repellant. Let him spray it under the bed or in his closet. Let him sleep with it next to his bed if it makes him feel safer. Don't worry too much about letting your child get too attached to these kinds of methods. When he no longer needs the security, he will give them up on his own.
- However you choose to handle your toddler's waking in the night, be consistent and gradually wean him from your assistance. Talk about his fears or worries during the day. Set goals with your toddler and reward success. When he does sleep through the night, tell him how proud you are of him. Keep in mind that this developmental stage will pass eventually!
Toddlers and Sleeping Through the Night Summary
Most toddlers will experience night-waking at some point. It is a normal stage of development and can be caused by normal, age-appropriate fears and anxieties. Every parent needs to determine how he or she will handle the situation. By understanding the causes of the waking, being consistent, not rewarding the behavior, and avoiding anger, in time both toddler and parent will return to sleeping through the night.