Ask Joanne: My Two-Year-Old Wakes Up At Night

21/02/2010 21:26 | Updated 22 May 2015

What's your biggest challenge in family life? Send your questions and dilemmas to experienced life coach Joanne Mallon via this confidential form. Your name can be changed on request.

Angela asks:

We are expecting our second baby in four weeks' time. Our daughter who is nearly three years old was never a very good sleeper, but for the past six months she's been sleeping through the night from 8am til 8pm. However, this last week she will go to bed and go to sleep fine but then wake about 11pm and will not go back to sleep, saying she doesn't want to or isn't tired when clearly she is. We have tried putting her pack hundreds of times a night for the last week but this is just not working. She will stand on the stairs screaming or banging our bedroom door hysterically. This can go on for hours. If we manage to settle her back in her bed it doesn't last very long and she's up again.

She doesn't have a sleep in the day. She has a bath and relax time upstairs away from any distractions, then goes to bed with ease. Please help, I don't know what to do next and want to try and get some sleep before the new baby arrives.

Here's the life coach's reply:

Dear Angela

You've got to love the way children clamour for our attention just as soon as they feel it wandering. So you need a good night's sleep because you're pregnant, and your daughter is choosing right now to wake up and claim your attention at night. Children these days just have no consideration.

I think there are a number of different ways to approach this:

  • Investigate any medical reasons that might wake her up. As her behaviour has changed so suddenly, it could be health-related. Possible causes of sudden night waking could be teething – has she got her big back molars yet? Or if she complains of a sore bottom, investigate for a worm infection. These are fairly common amongst young children, with the worms coming to the surface at night to lay eggs. Not very nice, but thankfully easy to treat with advice from your local pharmacy.
  • Keep your bedtime routine fairly low key. So avoid any TV programmes or books that might over-stimulate her imagination and lead to later night time waking.
  • Give her as much one to one time as you can during the day. This might make her less likely to be looking for your attention at night.
  • Get your partner to deal with more of the night wakings. Surely you have first dibs on sleep, on account of having an extra person on board.
  • Use a sticker chart to reward spending all night in her own bed. Three-year-old girls often love sticker charts, especially if they're pink and sparkly. Let her build up to a small reward once she's got to five or ten stickers. Get her to choose her own stickers and reward, as she will then feel more in control of the process and more motivated to want it to work.
Overall, it sounds like you are taking a good approach. This may be one of those natural expressions to the arrival of a new sibling – your daughter is claiming your attention whilst she can – and as such it will pass eventually.

Best wishes and good luck,


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