What to do if your toddler is waking in the middle of the night

What to Do if Your Toddler is Waking in the Middle of the Night

When your brain hijacks your sleep

Of course, every toddler has a brain. A toddler’s brain is a splendored thing that ironically can “have a mind of its own.” But, we rarely discuss how to care for this beautiful, mysterious organ that controls our functions and behaviors. But, wow, is it easy for that brain to hijack all kinds of experiences…like sleep. And because a toddler is learning and processing at record speed in the first four years of life, it needs a lot of rest. Keep reading for what to do if your toddler is waking in the middle of the night.

So, as a toddler’s brain is rebooting, resetting, and getting all the rest it needs, sometimes it wakes up…in the night. And if we provide additional stimulation by, say…engaging them in conversation or turning on the lights….we undermine the skill that the brain needs to rest and reset. The lack of additional stimulation over time helps the brain to lull itself back to restorative sleep.

So, if your toddler is waking in the night and you are following all the Moms on Call principles…from safety to that wonderful nighttime “tender time” right before bed, here are some more tips to help in the battle for a continuous night’s sleep.

5 Tips for a Continuous Night’s Sleep

  1. Enact a “no engagement” policy, during the night. As long as they are healthy, a toddler does not need to engage in the middle of the night. It is quite stimulating and actually makes it HARDER for them to get back to sleep.
  2. Set the expectations right before bed, so you do not feel like you have to do it in the middle of the night. Before bed, instead of reacting to the toddler’s inconsistent and often exaggerated responses to life, we establish the truth and help them to recognize that truth with clear, confident repetition. So they are not in control of how we all feel about the sleep environment; we are in control of how we present the sleep environment to them. (See the Moms on Call Toddler book chapter entitled “Between awake and asleep” for more great ideas about what to say and do to promote all-night rest)
  3. Keep a consistent schedule of events. Toddlers find excellent security when things go in the same order simultaneously. Have a definable schedule so that even if the stuff in life changes from week to week, the schedule remains the same.
  4. Do not let Toddlers “sleep in” even if they had a bad night. Start the day on time. Have an opening routine that is the start of each day. It provides a great distraction and indicates that you are starting the day. We cannot make the toddlers participate, but we sure can make life look fun and non-optional.
  5. Remember, the time to address sleep is right before bed with great confidence in what they are capable of doing. Keep a calm, friendly face throughout your parenting experience (as much as is realistic – we know!). Let them know that you are confident and have things under control (even when it feels like you don't!) Communicate clearly that you believe they are safe and loved and your house sleeps when the moon is out. And in the middle of the night, let them work out the truths you told them before they drifted off to sleep.

Check out the Moms on Call Toddler Online Video Course! The course includes simple ways to communicate with your toddler in a way that brings out the best in them!

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