19 answers

Almost 3 Year Old Suddenly Crying Out During the Night

Hi, this is my first time writing in. We have a almost 3 year old boy who has always slept well. He still takes a 2 hour nap in the day and goes to bed at 7:30-8 pm and sleeps to 7 am. But recently our son has been fighting us at bedtime (asking for water saying he needs to go the bathroom), basically trying to delay his bedtime. And this past week he has been crying out through the entire night. Sometimes he cries out and goes back to sleep other times it wakes him up and he cannot be soothed. I am 7 months pregnant and we have talked about the new baby in the house for awhile, I don't know if this is just now registering with him, or he is having nightmares? I believe he still needs his sleep and naptime because he is now having tired tantrums in the daytime when he doesn't get his way. Any suggestions to help have normal nights?

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So What Happened?™

Hi! wow thank you everyone for the advice, this really helps. I checked his ears and mouth and he is good. (though drooling a bit more so maybe his molars are on the way). I think he is having night terrors and will do some research and start talking about dreams in the morning with him. As for his bedtime delays, we went away for the weekend which seemed to interrupt his procrastination routine, he hasn't tried his usual antics since we have been back. Thanks again.

Featured Answers

Just a thought - ear infection? My daughter is a great sleeper, too, and she does this when she has ear pain.
Good luck, S.

My son went through a similar experience when he was 3. He has always been a great sleeper, took great naps, no problem....until August 2007 when he was 3. We had a big thunderstorm and he completely freaked out! He had never been afraid of thunder before, never wanted me to sleep with him, but after that he wanted me every night and would just be terrified of something every night.
I tried comforting him, but he was up so much that no one was getting any sleep. Then I tried sticker charts, more strict bedtime rules, earlier/later bedtimes... Finally I just started sleeping on the floor of his room (I wasn't pregnant though). That way he knew I was there and he wouldn't be afraid when he woke up and could go back to sleep by himself. We were all finally able to get some sleep! Then I moved into the hallway, then stayed with him until he fell asleep- I had to gradually wean him off me. It wasn't a lot of fun, but it did work.
What I later discovered was that he was anxious about starting PreK and that's what the sleep problems were really all about. Once he started school and felt comfortable there, all the sleep problems stopped. He's still afraid of thunder, but now he just sleeps with us when there's a storm and goes back to the regular routine the next night. No problems again!

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M. - DITTO! And I think it is their active little brains at this stage. Not anything we're doing or not doing - just another phase they will move through. Mine seems like he is just REALLY frustrated by waking up and is crying in the middle of the night cos he's tired and mad to be awake - but he's not fully awake. When my husband took him out of the crib to rock and console him it got worse and lasted longer. I go in at those times and leave him in bed, don't speak to wake him further - unless he's talking, and rub his back or tummy to let him know I'm there. He calms back down and goes back to sleep. Why he wakes up? We have no idea. He doesn't say he's scared - nor remembers it in the morning. He has also started the bedtime stall tactics. I really think it's a typical stage of developement and nothing to worry about. Just one more thing as a Mom we have to figure out how to manage with the unique little people in our lives.

Blessings, S.

If he is crying and cannot be comforted, he is probably having night terrors. (My son went through this.) You should get on-line and look up night terrors--there is a lot of interesting information. Basically from what I read, there is nothing you can do except to hold him and comfort him once he wakes from it. I know this can be exhausting (especially with being pregnant). My son would be crying and calling out for mommy and I would be standing right beside him telling him I was there, but until he was done this, there was no talking to him or getting him to wake up. I would rub his arm or face or shake his leg during one of these and it did not matter. It seems to me that something in the brain is going on and has to run its cycle (for lack of a better term).

Good luck!
K. W.

I have a 4 and a half year old daughter who actually started doing the same thing around that age. I think it is just a growing thing. Have you tried to talk to him and ask him what is wrong? I'm sure you have, but I just thought it might help. Also if you don't all ready have a night light in his room you may want to do that. And congrats on the new baby.

It's very normal for kids to procrastinate at bedtime. My oldest is 5 and he'll still do it on occasion. And I do remember somewhere around the age of 3 he would cry out in the middle of the night. What I would do is go in and lay with him and he'd be back asleep in minutes if not seconds and then go back to my own bed. I guess it would happen maybe 4ish times a week and went on for a few months. He very well could be reliving a moment during the day when he didn't get his way. Don't worry, it won't last forever. Good luck.

You have to stick with it and be firm. If you are going to let him cry it out at bedtime then you can not ever go in.(at bed time) On the other hand I have a 4 yr old and just turned 3 yr old son. Both started with nightmares at 3 yrs old. I do believe they need reassurance for those times. But going to bed itself is a different story.
Good luck!
Just remember these years will be gone before you know it and like all stages this to will pass and soon you will be dealing with a different issue.

We are having the same problem with our 2-1/2 year old daughter (and I am also pregnant, but I don't think it's related). In her case, I think it is a combination of normal procrastination and not understanding the difference between dreams and reality. Sometimes she wakes up crying about dinosaurs or spiders. We have started to talk about dreams every morning and whether things are pretend or real -- that has helped, as has sticking to a firm routine at bedtime. Also, your son might be constipated, particularly if you are potty training and he has concerns about that. That was part of our problem last week, solved by having baby-food prunes in the afternoon and drinking lots of water all day.

This is pretty common, even for kids not expecting younger arrivals--they are called night terrors--I think that it is just part of becoming more aware of things and concepts psychologically. I just know that most 2-3 year olds get them. My (3) kids didn't have them very long--and I had my kids very close together--it could be a little scary and frustrating, too--as they seem completely out of control, and lots of times push their parents away in their fear and irrationality. I'm sure you're covering all the bases in the expecting the new baby department--mostly it is just something that the older siblings have to get used to. And the way they handle it is not necessarily the way your friends' kids may have handled it--kids are all different. But they all adjust in some way or another. My kids love each other and had different reactions to the others being born. My oldest was almost a year and a half when her sister was born and she just pinched her and kicked her, and experimentally poked her all over naming her body parts. But she was also very loving and comforting at times--she could get very jealous of the attention and act out. She had just turned 3 when her brother was born--and she was all over wanted to be his mommy--she could not love or take care of him enough. My middle one had no interest in him at all. But quickly they became best friends. Anyhow--back to the original subject--it always has helped me to remember that most things are just a phase and I just need to love them, comfort them, and teach them consistently. Good Luck and Gld Bless!--K.

Dreams can be very revealing, whether they are of actual events, or not. What are his cry outs at night about? I would try to ask alot of questions of him (you are lucky he can talk!). I wonder if there have been any changes in his time away from parents place or at home that you might check out?

I can totally relate! I have a 3 yr old boay and am 8 months preg. with another boy. My son has been sleeping in his own bed since he was 2 and had been doing great. I think it was about when I was 2 months or so, he started getting up in the middle of the night wanting water or to sleep with me. He does sometimes talk in his sleep and yells for me and when I check on him he is still sleeping. Who knows what they dream about. But now, he seems to be getting back to his bedtime schedule. You are lucky that yours goes to bed as early as he does. Mine would not and we had to push his bed time back a little to avoid the fight. My son still takes a nap in the afternoon as well. Anywhere from and hour to 2 1/2 hours, depending on when he woke up and when he laid down for his nap. Have you tried lights out with stories or a quite activity like an hour before bed. With my son that works pretty well. We have him brush his teeth I get him some water and he lays in bed and I sit on the floor buy his beed( with lots of pillows for my back) and read him 2-3 books and he will ask questions and drink his water, but he knows that it is quite time. Then after the stories we pray and I tuck him in. Sometimes he will get up 2 times or so, but he goes to bed around 9, so he is usually tired. Hope this helps some. Just keep at it and let your son help you prepare for the baby in any way you can. Mine loves to help and can't wait to be a big brother! Good luck!

My son went through a similar experience when he was 3. He has always been a great sleeper, took great naps, no problem....until August 2007 when he was 3. We had a big thunderstorm and he completely freaked out! He had never been afraid of thunder before, never wanted me to sleep with him, but after that he wanted me every night and would just be terrified of something every night.
I tried comforting him, but he was up so much that no one was getting any sleep. Then I tried sticker charts, more strict bedtime rules, earlier/later bedtimes... Finally I just started sleeping on the floor of his room (I wasn't pregnant though). That way he knew I was there and he wouldn't be afraid when he woke up and could go back to sleep by himself. We were all finally able to get some sleep! Then I moved into the hallway, then stayed with him until he fell asleep- I had to gradually wean him off me. It wasn't a lot of fun, but it did work.
What I later discovered was that he was anxious about starting PreK and that's what the sleep problems were really all about. Once he started school and felt comfortable there, all the sleep problems stopped. He's still afraid of thunder, but now he just sleeps with us when there's a storm and goes back to the regular routine the next night. No problems again!

Just a thought - ear infection? My daughter is a great sleeper, too, and she does this when she has ear pain.
Good luck, S.

My 3 yr old boy started dreaming at that stage too, often a recurrent dream about a fox licking his face that left him crying out at night. So we talked about foxes and got a book titled "Fox Makes Friends" to make the scary animal of his dreams seem cute and friendly. It worked. Now he's afraid of thunder and lightening, etc. etc...

Hi M.,

Chesapeake and Portsmouth have a Family Resource Center.

###-###-#### or ###-###-####. Hampton Roads Parenting Education Network at ###-###-####.

Old Dominion University Child Study Center at ###-###-####.

Pendleton Child Service Center at ###-###-####.

Any of these resources may answer some of your questions.

What do you do when the toddler can not be soothed? A support group for parents is http://attachmentparenting.meetup.com

Hope this helps. Good luck. D.

I know this may sound ridiculous, but maybe try hanging a Dream Catcher in his room. Our baby would cry out numerous times every night. He would just start screaming & he didn't want to lay down for his naps.
My 7 yr. old has a dream catcher in his room & never has bad dreams. I had an extra one & hung it in the baby's room & that night...not a peep! He never wakes up crying now & also goes right down for his naps without a fight!
Hey-whatever works, right?

my son had nightmares at this same age. they lasted for a while and tapered off over the next several months. limiting tv in the evenings/late afternoons helped a little. sometimes making sure he went to bed early helped too....they tend to come more when over tired. good luck ! (ps i have two boys 3 years apart too! enjoy!)

J.
jack 6 and logan 2

Here is a shot in the dark - but any chance it is his teeth or his ears hurting him? Whenever my daughter, age 4, had sleep issues like this, it ended up being one of those things. She was generally a good sleeper like your son, but it usually took me a few days to realize it was pain because she was fine during the day and even going to sleep.

As for the bedtime procrastination, it might just be coincidence. And it is probably the start of a couple years of preschooler antics, especially after the baby comes.

By all means don't ignore your instincts if you feel it is a different sort of emotional or behavioral issue and contact your pediatrician if it continues. But sometimes the simplist answer is the best. YOU are worried it is about the pregnancy and the baby, but HE may not even be thinking about it.

Hi!
I agree with the woman who posted that you might see about getting his ears checked, or checking to see if he's getting teeth. Did he get his 2 year molars already?

Also, we have a four year old who went through a period of night terrors recently. It only lasted a few weeks, thank heavens, but he would wake up inconsolable in the night, and typically he sleeps pretty well. Strangely, it happened not long after we told him we're having another baby, too, though I can't imagine that that is related! (who knows, totally could be!!)
But when kids are having nightmares, they are going to be afraid to go to sleep, and therefore the procrastination may be stemming from that!

On the ears/teeth thing, my kids never cried during the day with teething or ear infections, just in the night.

Good luck!!
B.

Maybe he has been having nightmares- pretty scary stuff if you don't understand what dreaming and nightmare are. My son, now almost 5, used to cry out like that sometimes. We just talked about dreams and now he wakes up and reports his nighttime adventure. Sometimes we just ask- "Did you have any cool dreams last night?" . He was pretty disturbed when it first happened- He told us a big shark was chasing him(so much for early exposure to educational TV!) and he was understandably terrified, SO we limited his nighttime TV to Sprout and books to the Happy Happy themes. We also let him get comforted/safe by coming into our bed til he fell asleep, then we'd put him back. He hasn't had a problem for quite some time now.
Three is right about the time they are distinguishing reality from fantasy. We also started 'quizzing' him in fun conversations about 'is that real or is it make believe?' and related it to stuff he might have been 'seeing' in his dreams/head at night.
If it doesn't get any better, I would DEFINATELY bring it up to your pediatrician. If he sleeps quietly thru the night is one of those questions mine always asks.
Good luck and hope my morning babble helps a little!
A. - an OLD new mother!

Maybe he hasn't had enough to eat before going to sleep. I know that my daughter when she would not eat all of her food or plenty of food before bed, she would wake up in the middle of the night sometimes hungry, but mostly she would toss and turn, sometimes if it was too hot, that would make her uncomfortable too, and she would whine.

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