K.L. asks from Walnut Creek, CA on December 05, 2008
Advice/support on Middle of the Night Tantrums
My 4 year old daughter will wake up in the middle of the night, usually around 2 or 3 and will have tantrums often until it is time to wake up. This started when she turned 3 right after her birthday party. In the past, it usually occurred after a big or traumatic event and seemed to be "very extreme nightmares". We would go in and comfort her and try get her back to sleep. Now that she is a year older, it seems to have morphed into control issues -having someone sleep in her room (which we have on rare occasions), getting another hug or a kiss, having to go to the bathroom, drink of water, turn the light on, the list goes on. On the occasions that she will sleep through the night, she does not have any nighttime accidents so the bathroom requests are to get us in her room. We have also tried letting her sleep in our bed, but she does not go back to sleep and her tossing and turning also keeps us up. We have also tried a sleeping bag at the side of our bed, which has also not worked.
The past two times this happened it has been before birthday parties, so now I am not sure if it is anxiety. This time it has happened all week and I am exhausted. Her younger sister is having her birthday party tomorrow and I am wondering if there is a connection there.
Last night we tried putting her younger sister into her room to keep her company. She woke her up at 2:30 and proceeded to keep us all up until now. It first started that she had to go potty. I took her and put her right back in bed. then it started. She kept calling for us and I told her if she did not go back to sleep, I would move her sister to her own room. After that happened, the tantrums started. She kept coming to our room and we walked her right back 5 times. When that didn't work she continued to call out and scream from her room or her doorway constantly like a broken record for whatever she thought would get us in her room. I have done everything from comfort her to yelling in frustration and from exhaustion in the past. This time I let her scream it out, except for the 2 legitimate potty trips and the 1 non ligitimate one.
I told her this morning, tonight we will continue our bedtime routine of potty, stories, kisses and cuddles, a sip of water and then I will not be coming to her room or talking to her until the sun comes up. Am I being too ridged? Am I not seeing the obvious and just need to go through some very rough nights before it gets better? I'm just exhausted having little sleep over many nights and don't like the mommy I am when I am tired during the day. I feel more tired than when I had newborns!
Any advice is greatly appreciated!
So What Happened?™
Thanks you so much for all of your advice. Different perspectives definitely help to see things from all angles and hearing about other experiences were comforting. So, we told our daughter that we would continue with our usual routine of washing up, potty, books, kisses and cuddles and then that would be it for the night and we would see her in the morning. We put a water cup within reach, she could turn on her light if need be, but not make it brighter (it's a dimmer switch) and we left the bathroom light on. The first night, she woke up at 2am and cried for about 10 minutes saying she was scared, but stayed in bed and went back to sleep. The following nights she has decided to sleep in her younger sister's room on a futon, which seems to have helped her feel more comfortable and doesn't disturb my younger daughter's sleep (like when we moved her to the older one's room). The first 2 nights in her sister's room she woke up early 4:30 and 5:30, but we continued with the praise for sleeping solidly until then. The past two nights she has slept through the night until 6-6:30. Which is fantastic! I have tried to make a point of spending more special time with her during the day as suggested, which I'm sure has helped. I am still planning on talking to her doctor about it, since it has been going off and on for about a year. Anyways, thank you again for all that wrote me. I truly appreciated all the input!
D.G. answers from San Francisco on December 06, 2008
You could start out at bedtime with 3 free passes and each time she calls you in she loses one after 3 than she is out of luck. But also then you could tell her if she has all three then XXX will be her reward. After some time either make her go longer than one night and then eventually maybe you could wean her down from it. Have you tried putting a baby gate at her door to keep her from coming out of her room.
S.C. answers from Sacramento on December 06, 2008
I would say if there is a party don't tell her .just to see if it makes a differance. leave a night light on in her room and bathroom so she could go herself if she is able. a sippy cup of water at her bedside. a favorite cuddle toy or blanket that maybe a comfort. classic music playing. be consistant ask heer if something is going on . maybe she can tell you somthing that will help her. good luck S.
K.B. answers from San Francisco on December 05, 2008
I would give her as much attention and comforting as she needs during the day but explain that night time is for sleeping. Do the normal bed-time routine, then explain that you will come in in 5 minutes for a kiss and one potty break during the night. If she calls out/screams explain that favorite toys are going to go to the time out basket and she won't be allowed to play with them for "X" days. (Or she can "earn" them back one at a time by not making a fuss at night.)
You are NOT being too rigid. Children NEED boundries. As parents, we need to set these boundries. Right now, your daughter is running the household. This makes her uncertain and upset. Take control back, and everyone will be happier.
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C.O. answers from Sacramento on December 05, 2008
Sounds like you all have had a rough time.
I think anxiety and insecurity are two flags I see. The anxiety/excitement for the coming birthday parties are something you have already recognized. You might want to let her talk about that sometime when it isn't bed time. Have her talk it out, discuss it with her, help her identify her feelings, and so on.
The insecurity issue, needing attention; she is screaming for it literally. She needs closeness and reassurance. How you find a way to help fill this for you is going to be a puzzle. Each family dynamic is different. I am sorry I cannot be more helpful. Try special time during the day. Cuddles in the morning and or evenings. Family sleeping together (the first few nights may feel awkward) She may toss and turn because she wants to be close to you but feels you don't really want her there so her insecurity isn't resolved.
However you choose to deal with it, I wish you all luck and a good nights sleep.
1 mom found this helpful
J.B. answers from San Francisco on December 06, 2008
My colleague, who is a therapist and works a lot with children, says that tantrums for children are much like fevers. Children have fevers in order to "burn out" whatever they no longer need in their system. They have a healing purpose for some children, but are difficult for anyone else to have to be around. It is usually best and most effective to allow the child to go through the tantrum without any input, except letting the child know you love them and they can have their "space" to work this out alone. The causes can be so internal and personal as to not be identifiable externally, Reasoning is developmentally inappropriate at her age, but letting her know you love her and that she will be okay is important. As for her sister, perhaps it would be good at such times to let her sleep elsewhere in order to get her own rest, making sure the older child knows it is temporary and so she can have her own space for the moment - important for her to know that this is not a punishment.
I wish you all well and hope she will grow through soon. I know it is difficult. If it does not "lift" soon, she (and you) may need professional help.
Educator/consultant/mother of two
1 mom found this helpful
L.S. answers from San Francisco on December 06, 2008
My grandson went through that a lot. He is now 4 and it has slowed down a lot but not completely stopped. He lives with me (as does his mother and brother) and I have spent many nights rubbing his back to comfort him.
My daughter tends to ignore him and I tend to comfort him. I have never been able to let my children cry it out but, if you can handle it, your plan for tonight is probably for the best. I saw an episode of Super Nanny (I think that is what it is called) where the parents were having this problem.
The solution was much what you plan. She advised the parents not to get angry or frustrated and not to speak to the child. Just calmly walked her back to her room. It happened over and over for the first few nights and she stopped pretty quickly. I think the key was in staying calm (not easy to do in the middle of a nightly tantrum). I feel for you. This is a really hard situation.
H.J. answers from San Francisco on December 06, 2008
Is it a possibility that there is a medical issue?
Does she snore? If so she could have sleep apnea (sp?) which makes sleeping difficult. It can also cause kids to have challenging behavior because they are sleep deprived. You can ask your family doctor about it.
Have you tried holding her and rocking her when she wakes-up? I know she is older, but sometimes big kids need this type of attention too. Some people will tell you that responding this way will encourage her current behavior, but I disagree with that. It might be worth a try.
Good luck to you!
B.R. answers from Sacramento on December 06, 2008
Have you had a conversation with her during the day, when she's not upset, about why she thinks she does this? At four, she should be able to give you some idea unless she really doesn't know herself why she's doing it.
Also try to think about that last birtday party and see if you recall anything about it that might have triggered these episodes.
I liked the idea that one person mentioned about the three chances. Our daughter has three flamingo figurines that she puts up on the shelf in the closet of the room her two daughters share. They have three chances during the night, and a flamingo is taken out each time a parent has to go to them (for anything other than a necessary response). If all three flamingoes are still in the closet by morning, they get a special treat at breakfast. The girls come to our house for care three days a week and often burst through the door in excitement to tell us they had three flamingoes that morning. I think the flamingo idea is good, because it's an unusual item to have in a child's room.
R.C. answers from Sacramento on December 06, 2008
On nights that you feel it could be a high "anxiety" night for her you could try giving her a remedy before bed. The three that I use for my kids when we fly on airplanes or anytime they are having a really hard time with something are Rescue Remedy (this does have alcohol in it, but you can put a few drops in her water and you barely taste it), Calms Forte Homeopathic (it tastes good, so they readily take this), and chamomile tincture made for kids in glycerin instead of alcohol (again it tastes good). These are all safe remedies for kids and I use them together or by themselves. It sometimes takes 2 doses spaced out by about 15 minutes before I see a change. Good luck.
N.H. answers from San Francisco on December 09, 2008
I agree with what Joya below has said. My son is tantrum-prone and used to have them at night if he awakens or is woken up. He would wake up screaming and then have something fixed in his mind that had to be a certain way (i.e. light on, door open, someone there right away, etc.). If we would engage him then the tantrum would simply increase so our best strategy was to not engage, pretend we were asleep or quietly walk/carry him back to bed and lie with him without talking until he calmed himself down. When we would ask him about it the next morning, he would have little, if any, memory of it. I don't think at this age tantrums are 'deliberate'. I think they do serve a purpose and I also think they are quite terrifying to the child. So whatever you can do to not react with anger will be helpful to everyone (I know it's hard!).
My son is now 5 and doesn't have the tantrums hardly at all anymore, though he sometimes gets scared and cries. So, hopefully this will soon pass for you. And a call do the DR. couldn't hurt, either.
Best of luck to you!