2 Year Old Waking Scared at Night

Updated on October 22, 2008
S.S. asks from Dedham, MA
8 answers

Dear Moms,
I have an almost 2 year old little boy. He has been a rock star sleeper from about 4 months old! However now he is waking up in the middle of the night with his scared cry. As soon as I walk in to his room he stops. As soon as I walk out he starts again. We were at the Dr last week for other stuff. He doesn’t have an ear infection. He takes a 2 hour nap every early afternoon. We put him to bed around 7:00pm.

When he wakes I have been resorting to curling up on his floor, until he falls asleep. We successfully used the cry it out method when he was little. We are not against it. Now I am reluctant because he seems so scared. What should I do? I don’t want him to start relying on me sleeping on his floor.


What can I do next?

  • Add your own comment
  • Ask your own question
  • Join the Mamapedia community
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

More Answers



answers from Boston on

We went through something very similar about 2 weeks ago with my 22 month old. He even stopped wanting to go to bed. In desperation, I tried putting a baby-gate at his door instead of shutting it (which we always had) and leaving the hallway light on. That solved the problem. The first night, I sat outside his door until he went to sleep and when he woke-up I told him that I was right there. Now I just tell him that we'll be right outside and he's back to sleeping through the night.
Hope this helps.



answers from Boston on

Both my girls had night terrors when they were around 2 years old. With my first, it helped to put up Christmas lights in her bedroom (even though it was the middle of summer). She thought it was fun and helped her think about something else and she thought it was cooler than her regular night light. Unfortunately with my second, she would only go back to sleep unless I stood outside her door where she could see me. I got a lot of reading done that year. But they both outgrew it by about 3 years old. They are 9 and 5 years old respectively and sleeping very well.



answers from Springfield on

maybe he is beginning to have nightmares so all you can really do is comfort him. Maybe a special stuffed animal or blanket and a night light will do the trick. You could also try shortening his nap a little.



answers from Boston on

Same problem! We let my daughter "cry it out" when she was an infant and she eventually slept pretty well on her own until this summer (just after she turned two). We went on a few long trips to visit relatives and the changes really threw her off. We couldn't get her back on track when we returned home and the "crying it out" became much more traumatic. She would get so hysterical and her crying fits would last so long that bed time became a huge, fearful ordeal. She started waking throughout the night too. The Dr. insisted we should let her cry it out and she'd eventually get over it. Well, after two weeks of that (we'd find her crumpled asleep in a heap on the floor of her room with one hand reaching under the baby gate for someone to come get her!!!). Suffice it to say, we at some point felt more like we were torturing her than "teaching" her how to "cope" on her own. So we moved her toddler bed into our room next to ours and she is doing much better! I used to really be against sleeping with your kid, but I've learned that you have to do what works for you and your family. My son (the older one) did much better on his own with a little coaxing. My daughter was just a mess - and so were the rest of us with the loss of sleep. I am now embracing the sleep and harmony we're all getting in the same room!
Good luck.



answers from Burlington on

My son turned 2 a month ago, and right before his birthday, I noticed that he was suddenly afraid of the dark, too. I've since figured out a few things; his batteries had died in his Ocean Wonders Aquarium, which I thought he had grown out of. However, this confirmed that he uses it as a night light in the middle of the night if he awakens slightly in the night. Also, his imagination has strongly kicked in. I've noticed during the day as he plays that he is pretending a lot all of a sudden, and at night I think this translates into fears of the unknown.
I figured out a few things that seem to help. First, new batteries for his night light, secondly, I leave the hall light on, or his closet light with the door barely open.
This may or may not be what your son is dealing with- I hope it is as simple as this for you. In addition, I recommend the book "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. He's actually a sleep specialist, not merely someone with a philosophy. Hope this helps!



answers from Boston on


My daughter turned 2 on August 4th and we had the same problem with her. We had done the cry it out method with her, and she is an amazing sleeper (and has been since 4 months).. but, right around her 2nd birthday she would wake up scared. Because she is such a good sleeper, whenever she cries at night I usually run in there like lightning (because it is so unusual), but we did go through about 3 weeks where she was up a few times a night crying like she was scared.

I found that I put in a brighter night light and just waiting it out. She is now back to sleeping like a champ. She may wake up about once every 2 or 3 weeks crying in the night, but it is not as intense as it was around her 2nd birthday.

Good luck!!




answers from Providence on

two year olds often have night terrors that they cannot control. They often don't know who you are or where they are when they are screaming. If this is the case, just help him calm and sleep, he doesn't have any control over it and it will pass. If he is awake and having a hard time going back to sleep talk to him about it during the day to enlist cooperation and to ask what is happening for him. At that age, my daughter told me she was scared of all her stuffed animals' eyes in the dark. So we would prepare her room at bedtime so if she did wake up she wouldn't see any eyes etc. She also wanted nightlights. Then in the middle of the night, you can remind them of the plan and stay a shorter time.



answers from Boston on

Dear S.,
Does he seem to still be asleep? Although it is unusual as such a young age(my boys were about 6) Your child can be going through"night terrors". Iremember them as a very scary period, my sons would wake in the night very scared, I would comfort them and then let them fall back to sleep. I too remember sleeping on the floor until they fell back asleep. Fortunately, they only occurred on a few occassions and then they stopped. I hope they stop for you as well. There is nothing worse then a frigtenend child.-S.

Next question: 21 Month Old That Just Started Waking up at Night