It’s hard when your toddler wakes up every night crying and not going back to sleep. Learn how to help him stop waking up and sleep all night.
You forget how good you have it until your child starts waking up in the middle of the night again. You get used to sleeping eight hours of sleep without interruption. But when your toddler wakes up every night, the sleep deprivation kicks in.
It can feel like the newborn stage all over again, as if you were up feeding and changing diapers and not getting enough sleep.
Maybe he had never been a good sleeper and still struggles with sleeping through the night. Except now these toddler night wakings are happening every night, for what feels like weeks and even months.
You’ve tried ignoring him, even when he just yells for you the entire time. Except he keeps getting louder the longer he goes, and his siblings aren’t getting much sleep, either. But if you relent and go to his room, you realize that his frantic cries are really for silly and little reasons, like he wants another goodnight kiss or that his blanket fell to the ground.
Giving him solutions—like saying it’s okay to get out of bed to go to the bathroom, or even come to your room—doesn’t seem to work. He still wakes up every night, unable to calm down unless you come to him.
What to do when your toddler wakes up every night
So, what gives? What can you do to get your toddler to finally stop waking up every single night? What are you doing wrong that’s making him scream for no reason in the middle of the night?
Turns out, we can do plenty to make sure our kids don’t get in the habit of crying for us every time. Of course, it’s not about forcing them to stay quiet when they truly have a concern. But we need to equip them with other, more appropriate options to solve their problems.
In other words, if they’re afraid to use the potty by themselves, they shouldn’t believe that screaming in bed is the only solution. And that perhaps, a blanket tossed on the ground shouldn’t elicit such a strong reaction.
And it all starts with setting those expectations and holding your ground. Take a look at these four things you can do to end this sleep regression once and for all:
1. Prevent common issues
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Think about typical reasons your child wakes up at night. Is she scared because it’s darker in her room than when she first fell asleep? Does she always wake up needing to use the potty? Or perhaps she says she’s thirsty or needs a snack.
Then ask yourself how you can prevent many of these issues from even happening in the first place.
Installing a nightlight (this one is a popular one among parents) could keep her room lit and provide the comfort she needs if she’s afraid of the dark.
You can withhold water for the last few hours before the bedtime routine to prevent her from needing to use the potty (or take her one last time before tucking her in).
You can fill a sippy cup of water and place it by her bed so she has it next to her when she wakes up thirsty. Or try tucking her sheets in tightly so she doesn’t fuss about messed-up blankets.
Get creative in how you might prevent the excuses from happening in the first place, so she’s less likely to wake up every night.
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2. Have your child handle the task himself
Does your toddler wake up for the smallest of reasons, from needing a cup of water to rearranging his pillow?
More often than not, these are tasks he can do himself, or at least learn to do for himself. And while no one is completely coherent in the middle of the night, this is actually the perfect opportunity for him to do so. Because the more you comply and do these for him, the more he continues to rely on you to do just that.
Instead, show him how to rearrange and fluff his pillow, cover himself in a blanket, or turn the fan on and off. Give him a sippy cup of water and let him know he can grab it himself instead of calling for you. And try to be as hands-off as possible if he needs to use the bathroom, so he can be more independent.
Right now, he still relies on you to do these tasks for him. By having him do them, he’ll learn that he can’t simply scream for you to do it, but needs to take the initiative to do it himself.
3. Praise your child for progress
I know it can feel like your toddler isn’t doing anything right, especially when it seems like her night waking is getting worse. But one of the best ways to curb unwanted behavior is to find even the smallest, positive ones to praise.
Let’s say she wakes up every night insisting on sleeping in your bed, not hers. The next morning, you might say, “Did you know that you stayed in your room for six hours before coming to ours? Usually you go into our room much earlier than that, but you were able to stay in bed for six hours!”
It seems so small, but praising her for even the simplest steps can bolster her confidence and remind her that she can sleep through the night. And fueled with your positive attention, she’s more likely to continue this type of behavior moving forward.
4. Follow through with consequences
No parent is in the right state of mind to have earnest conversations, much less enforce consequences, in the middle of the night. But consequences—and holding your child accountable for his choices—is one of the most important lessons he’ll learn.
So, while you might not do anything in the middle of the night, you can certainly discuss the consequences of his behavior before bedtime. And we’re not talking about unrelated consequences here. Instead, stick to natural consequences that directly tie to his behavior.
You might say, “Everyone gets really tired when you wake up crying for us every night. If I get too tired, I won’t be able to prepare tomorrow’s pancake breakfast.”
Or “It doesn’t look like you’re ready to sleep with all these stuffed animals if you cry when they fall off the bed. If you do that tonight, we’ll have to remove them from your bed until you can sleep through the night.”
His choice to wake up crying directly affects the loss of a privilege, whether it’s pancake breakfast or sleeping with stuffed animals.
As I say in my book, Parenting with Purpose:
“No finger-pointing here. Kids learn accountability for decisions they make when the consequences tie directly with their choices. They didn’t pick up the toys = They don’t get to play with them. Parents are enforcers, but a child’s actions determined the outcome.”
And the most important part? Follow through with those consequences if he still wakes up at night. Otherwise, you’ll lose your credibility, and no progress would have been made.
Whether to use the potty, a fear of the dark, or a fallen stuffed animal, kids find all sorts of reasons to wake up crying for us to come. Thankfully, you can do plenty to curb this behavior and get the sleep you and the entire family need.
For instance, stop the excuses and reasons from even happening in the first place by preventing common issues. If you can’t, encourage your toddler to handle the task herself so that she relies less on you doing it for her.
Then, make sure to praise her for any and all positive progress she’s making about sleeping through the night. Doing this will help her more than reprimanding her for negative behavior. And finally, follow through with the natural consequences of what happens when she continues to wake up every night.
You can get a good night’s sleep again, without the “this feels like the newborn stage” sleep schedules any longer.
Get more tips for when your toddler wakes up every night:
- Effective Techniques to Help Your Child’s Separation Anxiety at Night
- 7 Proven Strategies to Handle Bedtime Tantrums
- 10 Things You Should Do when You Transition from Crib to Toddler Bed
- Smart Ways to Cope When You Feel Tired All the Time
- 6 Tips to Help Your Kids Sleep in Their Own Beds
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