These days we have so much information at our fingertips to help solve any parenting dilemma (admittedly, most of the times we may have too much). You could argue the Internet was both the best and worst thing to ever happen to parenting.
Despite the sometimes overwhelming amount of information, it’s still nice to consult a parenting expert once in a while to get some new ideas, advice and even a dose of perspective.
At LiveMom, we want to help answer your questions, and so we’ll be starting a regular feature called Ask the Expert. We’ll take on anything from potty training to car seats to dealing with kids and technology to anything in between. Then, we’ll find local and national experts to help guide us to make the best choices for our families.
Sleep can be a huge issue for parents. It’s so important for our kiddos, and for us, and it doesn’t always come naturally. Once you’re through those newborn and infant sleep (or lack thereof) stages, and firmly into sleeping-though-the-night territory, though, sleep can still be an issue — especially if your little one starts waking at night after being a reliable sleeper. This leads us to today’s question:
My two-year-old sometimes wakes up at night and calls out for me. She usually goes back to bed pretty easily after a song and some cuddles, but other times she has a very hard time settling back down. I assume she’s having nightmares, but she doesn’t answer when I ask her about it. How should I be handling these night wakings so they don’t become a habit (especially the extended wakings)?
Helping us answer today’s question is Lori Strong. Lori is a sleep consultant with Cheer Up Buttercups, which is a local resource for parents dealing with issues concerning child development, lactation, sleep training and nutrition. Cheer Up Buttercups aims to be a “one-stop shop” for struggling parents from the newborn years through early childhood. Lori is a certified infant and child sleep consultant. Before becoming certified though the Family Sleep Institute and joining Cheer Up Buttercups, Lori was an elementary school teacher and reading specialist for 8 years. She discovered her passion for helping families with sleep problems through establishing good sleep habits for her own two children, and eventually helping other families who asked for her counsel. Here’s her advice:
Wake-ups are natural for all of us when we sleep. As adults, we may partially wake at the end of a sleep cycle, check our surrounds, and go right back to sleep. We generally don’t remember doing this at all. However, wake-ups can be different for children if they do not have the tools to put themselves back to sleep. An occasional call to mom or dad at night followed by extra hugs at kisses well after bedtime is not necessarily a problem. If your child is doing this frequently, we may need to look at some things that might be causing those wake-ups to occur. Overtiredness is often the culprit of many sleep issues for children. You may want to check your child’s bedtime. A great way to gauge a good bedtime for a two year old is to make bedtime approximately 4-4.5 hours after she wakes from her afternoon nap. Moving to an earlier bedtime will allow your child to get more restorative sleep, which can eventually help to minimize those nighttime wakings. Children who are overtired may have trouble falling asleep or going back to sleep when they wake up. Again, that earlier bedtime can really work wonders!
Is your child able to put herself to sleep initially at bedtime? If she needs extra help from mom or dad, she may be having trouble going back to sleep on her own because her associations for sleep have changed. There are ways to help a child become a more confident sleeper. A consistent bedtime and routine, maintaining a calm sleeping environment, and limiting tv and other screen time two hours or more before sleep are all ways to help your child sleep better.
It can be very difficult on parents when their child wakes up in the middle of the night and appears to have had a nightmare. If your child cannot tell you about her nightmare, it’s possible that it was actually a night terror instead. Children do not remember night terrors because they are a wake up that occurs while the child is still somewhat asleep. They commonly occur when children are hitting developmental milestones and their brains are working overtime to master new skills. They can also occur because of being overtired. Try moving your child’s bedtime earlier in 15 minute increments for a few days to see if this helps. If you feel that you need some more support in implementing some of these strategies, a sleep consultant is a wonderful resource for you and will be able to address your child’s sleep issues in greater detail.