11 answers

20 Month Old Still Waking up at Night Crying

My toddler has been waking up screaming and crying for months now. At first, I would let him cry it out a bit until he got out of control, and then he started throwing his beloved "bun-bun" (a bunny he has had since birth). Once that bunny is out of his reach, he screams and cries for it...if I don't go get it immediately, he screams until his whole face is beet red...he has literally screamed for over an hour before when I wouldn't pick it up.

So I have been holding him now to get him to sleep, while we watch something boring on tv. Then he finally goes to sleep, and I put him in his crib. Later that night, he wakes up about 3 times. I have to take him to bed with me, wait until he falls asleep, and then put him in his crib...over and over. It's a cycle, every night.

I know this is a bad idea...I just don't know what to do! I'm 36 weeks pregnant with our next son and this nightly ritual is very hard on me, as I can barely even roll over in bed, much less pick him up! I really don't know what I'm going to do once the next baby gets here. Help!

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

One question: what is dad doing? Is he present? If he is, he should be the one to get up and deal with the screaming toddler, barring physical disability or a job that won't allow sleep interruption. Especially as you're 36 weeks pregnant with the next one!

More Answers

Dear T., First I am a mother of five, the last two were twins. This is going to be the hardest thing for you to do but you have to let him learn how to comfort himself back to sleep. With twins, at the same age as your son they started doing the same thing. This is what worked for us. When they would wake up, we would do the normal thing, make sure they were not wet, knew they were not hungry as they had eaten plenty. We got a cd player that played soft music over and over again. We started playing this when they napped in the afternoons so they were already used to it. We would put them in the bed, big kisses and leave the room. We would not return to the room again. The first night was 3 hours of crying, but you could tell that they were getting tired. By the 5th night they slept all through the night. If you start to put them in bed with you, you will have a hard time of breaking that. Especially in your situation with another one on the way. Always do what works best for you, but letting them into your room to find comfort creates a hole other issue. Soon there will be two sleeping with you.
Good luck and have a blessed day.
Mother of Five

1 mom found this helpful

have you gotten his ears checked lately? my son used to go through this and it turned out that the screaming and waking throughout the night was caused by an ear infection.
Another thing could be that something in his room at night is scaring him. does he have a night light? shadows on the wall can do it and I'm guessing he probably doesn't yet have the vocabulary to tell you if this were it.
Also have you tried doing the same routine each night, maybe a bath and then a book while holding him? My son always craved the rooutine and I would tell him what came next and that after x, y, & z we would go to bed. He fought it in the beginning, but I finally figured out that what he wanted was a bit of soft music playing and a night light.
Is there someone else in the house that you can take turns with on the bedtime thing? you sound completely exhausted already and having a newborn will only add to it. is it possible that he senses the impending birth and is trying what he can to get and hold on to your attention? maybe giving him some things he can do when the baby comes will give him something to look forward to, he might be a bit young but a disposable camera helped with my daughter. If all else fails stickers for going to bed with a reward after x amount might help.
Anything you can do to break this pattern before the new baby is going to help keep your sanity. I wish you the best of luck and hope you get some suggestions that might help.

One question: what is dad doing? Is he present? If he is, he should be the one to get up and deal with the screaming toddler, barring physical disability or a job that won't allow sleep interruption. Especially as you're 36 weeks pregnant with the next one!

My little boy is 10 now but I still remember this! I found out he had acid reflux and was in pain when he laid down. His pediatrician put him on zantac drops and he started sleeping! I layed with him and told him a couple of stories, then it was time to be quiet. I turned a fan on for white noise. He did great after that! I'm so glad I didn't try to "be tough." Your motherly instincts tell you when something isn't right. At 10, he talks to me about things and we are very close. I'm glad I responded when he needed me instead of letting him cry. Good luck! God bless you!

do you think it would help if he was in a toddler bed instead of a crib? declan hated his crib and woke up frequently but when he moved to a bigger bed, he slept through instantly.

Hi T.,

Have you tried a white noise machine or turn a TV on in his room, turn it to face the wall and put it on something uninteresting? Sometmes, there's something waking them up and the noise helps to cover it and it allows them to sleep better. I'm guilty of bribing my older one to stay in his room by letting him watch TV to go to sleep when he was younger. Sometimes, you have to do whatever works for you and your family.

Good luck!

T., I am so sorry you are going through this while pregnant. I made a mistake with my 2 year old son while I was pregnant with my second, by laying down with him until he went to sleep. Then I couldn't stop doing it without him screaming for an hour and trying to come into my bed throughout the night. Here's what I think you should do, now before the baby comes. Take him to the store with you to buy a "big boy's bed", toddler bed, regular twin bed with rails, whatever fits your child's and your needs. Give him a "big boy bedroom" complete with all his toys and books. He shouldn't be sharing the room with the baby unless you have no alternative. Let him help pick the sheets and comforter. He is now too old to be in the crib and needs to be able to pick up his bunny himself. That's why the big boy bed is so important. Night time routine should include quiet before bed reading a book or two, a nightlight in the room and even soft gentle music on the tape recorder (just one side of the tape one time per night) and you firmly saying goodnight and leaving the room when you turn on the recorder. If he refuses to stay in the room, you'll have to lock your own door to keep him from coming into your room. I know it's hard but you must do this if you want the ability to take care of the baby without him horning in all night long. Let him sleep in the hallway if he wants - when he figures out that he won't get his way, he'll end up in his own bed eventually. If he's wandering the house, you'll need to lock him into his room. Don't think I'm bad for saying that - my own doctor gave me that advice. I didn't end up having to do it after all because after just a few nights, he went back to his room (first in the floor, then in his bed) but I'll tell you what, my son made the transition and now he's 15 years old and has slept in his own bed ever since. You can do this - just don't give in. He needs to be able to sleep without using you as a crutch. Hope this helps.

Hi T.,
I can only imagine how hard this must be for you!
I too suggest a white noise machine for his room. I post this over and over, but I think it really helps. My son was extremely colicky, and white noise has been a must since day one. We have the Marpac Sleepmate 980, which is a small machine with a sound similar to a box fan that produces no wind. My son knows that when this thing is on or is turned on, its time for sleep until it is turned off. Since we have been using this, bedtime and naps have been no problem (except when sick or teething).
Cry-it-out is so painful to listen to (take it from this colic survivor), but at his age, is necessary sometimes. I did a modified version of CIO- When he started crying, I would let him cry for a bit, then go in and lay him back down without saying a word or picking him up, and then let him cry for a little while- repeat. Eventually, he will learn that you are not going to pick him up, he is not going to get snuggles with mom, and that its time for sleep. Also, I would take "bun-bun" away during sleep times- I wouldn't even lay him down with it. My son has his "lambity-lamb" which he likes to throw out of the crib, as well. Lambity-lamb is no longer a sleep companion now.
Good luck!

Boy does this sound all too familiar... my daughter just turned 2yrs old on the 10th... and I have another daughter who'll be turning 2months old on the 22nd... I remember how difficult it was when I was pregnant... My daughter's been in a big girl bed since she was 15months... she stopped waking up at night I guess since she knew she was free it was fine some kids are different like my little cousin is 2 and still in a crib she loves feeling confined for some reason... anyway my daughter started waking up at night about 2months before I gave birth... and was always cranky and fussy ... I found it wierd because she hadn't done it for a long time... the doctor told me that children may start doing that because they feel the changes ... meaning the new baby almost here... I don't know if your situation is the same... did he ever sleep all the way through the night? I'm guilty of letting my daughter fall asleep on the couch with us while watching tv ... she won't stay in bed if I put her in it awake... she used to though... it all stopped and changed when we moved here from florida so it seems she doesn't deal well with change...
I know this wasn't much help...if at all but just letting you know you're not alone

This book looks good "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Sleep Training your Child" and this website http://www.babysleepsystem.com/babysleep/william.htm.

I had a friend who had this problem with a toddler and I happened to see a show on 20/20 at the time and told them about it. Just based on what I told them, they did it and it worked! They were so thankful.

They went in when he was crying and soothingly talked and patted him in the crib and did not pick him up. They stayed until he calmed down some. Then they left and timed how long he cried. After 1 minute they went back in and soothed him again. Then 5 minutes, then 15 minutes. They said he was doing great after just a couple of nights.

I did something similar with my daughter when I put her down to sleep. If she was crying, I just timed it for 5 minutes and if she was still crying I went in to soothe her. But usually she stopped crying and fell asleep within 5 minutes and then she got over that stage pretty quickly. Timing it really helps because it seems like so much longer than it is when your kid is crying!

It's time to get tough! Have you thought about putting him in a toddler bed or a twin "big boy" bed?? I'm 32 weeks pregnant with an almost 25 month old daughter. We transitioned her into her "big girl" bed 2 months ago. It was a little tough at first, but she's doing really well in her new bed now & sleeping thru the night. I would suggest putting a safety thing on the door or a baby gate so they cannot run around at night. At first, she would climb out of bed & go to the door crying. I would go in & lead her right back to bed, then stand right by the doorway (but out of her sight). She would climb back down & head for the door, but then when she saw me, she would head back to bed. I was always pretty firm & consistant saying "back in bed, it's na-night time." Now, she pretty much stays in bed...if she drops something she will climb out on her own, pick it up, and bring it back into bed with her. For a while she would wake up once in the middle of the night...I'd go in, make her lay back down & cover her up and say "it's na-night time, I love you." Sometimes she'd cry for a bit, but then she'd fall back to sleep. It took a few weeks but I was just very consistant & now she does very well.

Also, you might want to check to see if your son is cutting his 2-year molars. My daughter went thru a very fussy night time phase when she was cutting her molars....she already has all 4 of hers!!!!

I know it is hard, b/c we've all been thru it....it's late...you're tired....the easiest solution is to hold them & rock them to sleep. But the more you do it, the more they want it....and the less sleep the both of you will get!

Hope this helps some....good luck!

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