Ask Joanne: How Do I Get My Child To Stop Waking At Night For Milk?

16/07/2009 12:34 | Updated 22 May 2015

What's your parenting question for our life coach Joanne Mallon? Send it in to this address and say if you'd like your name changed.

Carol asks:

How do you get your toddler to eat proper meals? My 18 month old daughter used to eat square meals but now tends to graze, and on some days she hardly eats anything at all. The problem is that she is then hungry through the night and wakes up for bottles of milk.

How can I get her to eat well through the day so that she doesn't wake at night?

Here's life coach Joanne's reply:

Dear Carol

These children just don't play by the rules, do they? Haven't you told her that it's three square meals and 12 hours solid at night? And she still doesn't listen? How dreadful, send her to bed with no supper. Oh hang on...that's the problem.

Actually, this sort of behaviour is fairly usual for this age, and it's all part of the toddler's curiosity about the world. Who wants to sit at the table for a full meal (Dullsville!) when there are toys to be played with? Also, children's appetite can take a dip after the age of one as their growth rate slows to considerably less than in their first year. So she may genuinely not need that much food.

Let's look at it from a different angle. Many people believe that grazing is our natural state, and that we've been conditioned by the world into focusing our meals into three times a day. Though at this age she will need healthy snacks between meals, so all in all a healthy toddler's diet could look like one long buffet anyway.

So the main problem seems to be that she's waking for milk, and the obvious solution is to cut back on the milk. Give her a substantial snack and bedtime bottle, but during the night offer only water. Yes, she will object, and things will probably get worse before they get better. Start with watered down milk if you want to do this gradually.

And during the day, make sure that whatever she's eating is as calorie-dense as possible - full fat milk and hearty puddings all round. Sit down with her at mealtimes - have a snack or a cup of tea even if you're not having a full meal. Give her the sense that there are more to meals than just the food, it's a chance to share time together too.

Good luck


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