Children love to get kisses and hugs from parents. And parents love to cuddle back…But 3am is NOT the time to swap affection!
Most parents want to put a stop to these middle of the night visits quickly because, let’s face it, it’s much harder to function without a good night sleep! But there may be some out there who aren’t bothered by them right now. (I’m guessing you drink a lot of caffeine…) It’s important to remember that your child has to wake fully to be able to get out of bed, walk down the hall and climb in your bed. (Unless your child is sleep walking, but that’s a story for another day…) These wanderings are interfering not only with your child’s consolidated sleep, but yours as well. And consolidated sleep is necessary for growth, development, learning, behavior…oh, the list would go on for days!
So if you’re experiencing nightly visits from your child, there’s likely a reason…and knowing what that is will help squelch these nocturnal wanderings! Take a look and see which of these fit your situation:
# 1. Transitioned too early from crib
If you moved your child out of the crib before age 3, your child was likely not yet ready for the amount of freedom you bestowed on him…and is now taking advantage of his increased independence! If your child is closer to 2, it’s best to pull that crib out of storage (or if you used his crib for your new baby, give him back the crib and have baby in a bassinet or pack n play…or purchase a second crib).
I’ve worked with so many families in this situation…trust me, it’s much easier to bring the crib back than to modify a 2 year old’s wandering tendencies!
# 2. Loneliness
If your child is used to co-sleeping and now is in his own room, or you moved to a bigger place and he isn’t sharing a room with a sibling, chances are good that he’s feeling lonely.
My best advice is to make sure he has a blanket or lovey and remind him that if he wakes up and feels lonely, to give it a big hug. Teddy bears are quite good in this situation…and the squishier, the better! And if you hold it on your lap during the bedtime routine, it will likely start to smell like mom (or dad). And be sure you’re spending spend quality time during the day with him so he isn’t looking for that connection in the middle of the night.
# 3. Loud or Unexpected Noises
Do you live by a hospital or fire house where there are frequently ambulances or fire trucks coming and going at all hours of the night? Do you get up for work super early and those creaky floors outside his door are unavoidable?
My advice is to talk about the noises he may hear during the day…point them out and make him aware of what a “normal” noise could be in the middle of the night. For those squeaky floors, I’ve had families put an “X” on the squeak with painters tape so they remember not to step on that part at 5am. And using a white noise machine is ideal to muffle those sounds, so he doesn’t wake up from them in the first place!
# 4. Scared of the Dark
Maybe your child has expressed fears of being in the dark alone, or thinks he’ll have a bad dream. These are legitimate reasons for not wanting to stay in bed all night, BUT there are things you can do to ease his fears.
Using a nightlight or keeping the closet light on with the door slightly ajar is a good option. Word to the wise: make sure you test out which outlet you put the nightlight in…it may create “spooky” shadows on one wall and not another!
I also recommend the book Mommy, Daddy, I Had a Bad Dream by Martha Heineman Peiper. I actually wrote a post on why I like this book so be sure to check that out…
# 5. Bad Habit
If your child has been getting up in the middle of the night for a few months (or longer), this is likely a habit that will require some good old fashioned behavior modification…or in plain terms, rewards and consequences! I would much rather reward a child for good behavior than punish for bad behavior, so focus on the rewards first.
If you don’t already have a reward chart, get one or make one. Be sure to include your child in choosing stickers, decorating it and make the terms crystal clear. Make sure to think of rewards that are enticing, but don’t go out and spend a fortune. A small toy or book is fine, but I much prefer an experience–going to a new park with mom and dad, baking a special treat, etc.
These are the top 5 behavioral reasons that I see, but of course this isn’t an exhaustive list because there are always medical reasons, too, when it comes to sleep disturbances…If none of the reasons above seem to fit your situation, you’ll want to have a conversation with your pediatrician.
But if you read through these and had a light bulb moment, then you’ve got a behavioral sleep issue on your hands, which is definitely “fixable.”
These suggestions are just some that I’ve used with clients that have had proven success, but I would love to hear what has worked for you!
What have you tried with your child to stop the night wanderings into your room? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!