2 Year Old Waking up Inconsolable in the Middle of the Night

Updated on May 19, 2012
H.H. asks from Mount Vernon, NY
15 answers

My daughter (who will be 2 on Saturday) is normally an excellent sleeper. Very rarely she will wake up in the middle of the night though, and scream and cry inconsolably for hours at a time.

In the last week, this has happened 3 times. She will wake up crying, and will not answer any questions about what is bothering her. I think that it sounds like night terrors, but some of what I am reading does not match up with her "symptoms"
This usually happens around 3-4 hours after she goes to sleep, and she is definitely awake when the screaming/crying is occurring. Last night she did eventually calm down, and spoke with me a bit (but of course could not articulate what the problem was) but then after 10 minutes of trying to sleep in our bed, it was another hour of screaming out of nowhere.

While screaming, she is also frantically trying to get closer to whoever is holding her, and can not keep still for a moment.

I spoke with her pediatrician about this, and while she doesn't seem too concerned (thinks it is just nightmares), she did recommend a pediatric neurologist (worst case scenario being seizures I guess?)

Just wanted to see if anyone had any experience with anything like this, or if there was anything I could do to help my little girl

Thanks so much!

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answers from New York on

Sounds like it could be night terrors. Try changing her
sleeping pattern,i.e. to be either earlier or later.
Sometimes the fix is simple and sometimes it can go on
for years. Then they actually outgrow it. That being said,
could just be nightmares. Good luck.

More Answers



answers from Albany on

Maybe she's hungry. Each of my children when they were around 2 years old used to wake up in the middle of the night starving. My son (he's 4 now) couldn't articulate the problem but we eventually guessed the cause and thereafter a small meal solved the problem. My daughter (now 2) won't tell us what's wrong, but if we ask if she's hungry she'll nod and say "eat!". So we'll feed her and she usually goes right back to bed. Eventually with our son we were able to give him a hearty snack (something heavy like oatmeal) right before bed and he was able to sleep the night, but our daughter is not interested in eating right before bed so it'll be awhile yet before she stops waking up hungry.

Ear infections hurt more when they're lying down, they could seem fine while awake. Definitely worth thinking about. If her nose is stuffed up, breast-milk (or saline drops) squirted up the nose will help drain the sinuses which in turn can help alleviate the blockage in the ears, but sometimes antibiotics are needed.

Maybe she needs to pee? Our daughter potty-trained really young (18 months or so), and is now starting to dislike peeing in her bedtime diaper, but if she drinks before bed her bladder is too small to hold it until morning. So we sometimes end up feeding her only to find out she just wants to go to the bathroom.

My son occasionally wakes up with what seems like night terrors, but once mommy or daddy come, he's usually fine and goes back to sleep.


answers from Norfolk on

2 to 2 1/2 is about when nightmares and night terrors can start up. Their imagination is in full swing day and night. It's a normal phase, but it can last quite a long while. I can remember my sister crying hysterically at night when my Mom took her to her room to comfort her because in her mind she thought my Mom's black shoes that she kept under a chair were a huge black spider. When I went to show her it was just shoes, she cried even louder. Night lights, checking for monsters under bed and in closets is typical. A lot of times it's just easier to set up a cot next to your bed to get through this. Child can't help being afraid in the dark and being alone. Show her some sympathy. Tell her you'd never let any monsters anywhere near the house. Keep a tight rein on any TV or movies she sees that might be the least bit scary. Some kids get through this sooner than others. It took my son a few years. They do out grow it eventually.



answers from New York on

Have you ruled out teething or an ear infection. My son did the same thing when he had a bad ear infection. He would be fine all day and at night he would just cry. At that age its hard to express how they feel. I would take her to the doctor just to be safe, especially if she was recently sick.



answers from New York on

My daughter will be 2 in about a month. She also has been doing this. Her doctor is not worried. I have taken to bringing her into our bed so I can hold her, cause she will not let go of me once I go to her. I am able to soothe her and she falls asleep with me and will stay cuddled with me until morning. it is not every night, but perhaps twice a week? something like that. I hope it passes soon.

I hope your daughter "out grows" this soon as well and that it is not an ear infection.



answers from New York on

Hi. I think it is nightmares. I have 2 year old twins and both my girls took turns doing the same thing. One would stand in the corner of her crib and look down so scared. She was so tired but just would not stop screaming. All you can do is console. Song a lullaby. Tell her it is ok and sweet dreams. She will remember your words. Mine do. They now repeat it to me if they happen to wake up for any reason in the night. When I go in their room, they say...it is ok. Lol.

This too shall pass. She is just having bad dreams and bot used to it so does not know bow to handle it.



answers from Glens Falls on

Hi, H.. My daughter has the same situation going on at times. She is 8 years old now but still wakes up with the screaming and crying. When this occurs she looks around the room wildly and won't, or can't, answer my questions. This lasts any where from 15 minutes to a half an hour. She will eventually go back to sleep and most times stays asleep for the rest of the night. I haven't mentioned it to her doctor as of yet because I thought it was just nightmares, but after reading your post I will discuss it with him. As for your daughter, I hope it's nothing serious. God bless you and your family and I hope your daughter's issue is resolved quickly.

A. C



answers from Jamestown on

My daughter went through this at that age too. She's 3 1/2 now.

What I did was to get her out of bed and take her in the living room. We'd sit in the recliner and rock for an hour with her blanket. I would console her, sing to her, or put the TV on an hour show. She seemed to calm down in an hour and I was able to get her back to bed for the rest of the night.

She went through this off and on for three weeks. No trouble since then.

Side note: Thank you Jessica V. I had forgotten about that. My daughter was getting ear infections around that time too.



answers from New York on

My 2 year old is doing the same thing. I think it is very common at this age. We tried many things with her. THe only thing that has worked was letting her sleep on our floor for a bit ( few weeks) until she was ready to go back to her bed (she wouldn't even go in her room without one of us). We now have her back in her bed and my husband lays on the floor until she falls asleep. We respond to her as soon as we hear her crying, so she knows that we are there. We are only two nights into her back in her room, so wish us luck. Just wanted you to know that you are not alone!



answers from Youngstown on

my daughter would do that like once a week,when she was that age...and she would be pointing up in the air like she was seeing something we wasent..do u believe in ghost???or spirit's??



answers from New York on

a few things come to mind. one poster was right, dreams, hence, nightmares start around her age.
since my kids were out of cribs, i gave each a wind-up lantern, and also put a night light in their room. i taught them how to use the lantern, and also made sur ei told them it's ok to come get me if they need to. before they fall asleep, as they're talking, they wind up their lanterns. the light stays on for about 30 minutes (you can set it up on very bright or just dim). i set theirs up on dim. they fall asleep with that light on which eventually dies down.
i also leave a light out in the hallway close to their bedroom. that light stays on all night long. so when they look out of their bedroom it's not scary dark.
so you will have to spend a few nights, which may turn into weeks, since you already know she's having scary dreams than not having her room pitch dark should be of some comfort to her. if i were you, worse case scenario, i'd allow her to come sleep with her mom until she grows out of it, reason being, she will be very tired during the day considering she's spent hours crying.
good luck



answers from Syracuse on

Hi H.,

I understand it's tearing you up to go through this with your daughter. Before you try to dismiss it like your doctor says, here's what I'd do. With all due respect to doctors, sometimes there IS something going on, and information is power, so lets get some information so we can decide if any source of terror is out there that we as a parent aren't fully aware of:

She started again last week. Go back two weeks in your calendar and write down ALL the things that influenced your daughter then and routine activities, who she watches, plays with, new neighborhood playmate like a grandchild visitin down the street, day care, babysitters, visitors (adult and children) TV shows, videos, everything.

I mean really write down, because it's a long list, and your daughter's terror is possibly in that list. I'll bet the reason she's replaying something in her head that is terrifying was inspired by something she saw or experienced from a trusted source around her. Heck, she may have seen something out the window happen at the neighbor's house or a dog catch a bunny, who knows?

Look at the list, and while you are thinking through the list, observe your daughter through this week, and see what she looks at and pays attention to (the family dog, the fish tank, etc) and add those to the list, see if any of those were there one to three weeks ago.

Now see if any of those sources had a major change in it (babysitter gets a new boyfriend who might stop by while you are gone, holiday guests who got too in-her-face-give-me-a-kiss invasive with her while holding her and passing her around, etc). And nonchelantly ask a few questions - anything happen unusual when you were babysitting here? (washer overloaded and pounded against the wall sounding like hell breaking loose?)

I know it takes discpline and concentration to make that list, however once you have that list, look at it and and see what might have put some violence into your daughter's world. If she's still doing the things you wrote down, notice when she's doin it, and while it's goin on, I'd ask your daughter a couple questions about how she likes that show, if she is in the midst of watching a violent TV show, video, or children fighting at the playground, or adults fighting. She'll tell you if it's scarey; I'd recommend you not fish for "is it scarey?" info, or you'll possibly train her to manipulate your attention. "how do you like it? or "what do you like most about it?" are non-directive questions when she is engaged in something that you think may be exposin her ot fear or violence"

Has she been left with an adult or couple recently when you were not around who might be going through holiday tensions or finanical issues (or simply abandoning her to isolation while they focus on their lives while a big dog in the family knocks her down and slobbers on her)? An adult fight about finances or inlaw behavior can turn ugly, and a child who witnesses doesn't care about the content of the messages or understand about how it's not about her personallly, she only understands the ugliness and unstable/emotionally unsafe adult behavior.

You get the kind of things that can scare kids that she might be exposed to by people who dont watch her surroundings.

I'd also go right over to the calendar and put on the calendar when the terrors occurred, and when they occur again if they do.

When they occur again, while she is engaged with you for comfort, ask her to point to what is scarey so you can take care of it. She may not be able to do this at first, but if she's a cooperative kid, she'll be pointing when her mind connects that you have asked her to help you understand what's scarey. Whatever you do, DONT tell her that her pointing isn't scarey. DO ASK - give her the benefit of the doubt and calmly like an adult to adult, not emotional, just ASK her to tell you what it does that is scarey.

She'll tell you eventually, because she trusts you are helping her. The danger is that if you coddle her and dote on her fears, it may encourage her to amplify her terrors to get more attention once she has processed the terror. So treat it like a spot on her shoe, just ask where it came from, no emotional overtones of overly concerned adult, I know that will be hard, but a matter of fact approach will tell her that terror is a matter of fact thing that adults can talk about, not a emotional chain she can pull on every time she is needy.

Be prepared for her to have beeen scared by a person, and simply allow her to live her life without being near that person (unless there's your supervision). She'll likely demonstate avoidance or ambivalance or fear toward that person or the person she perceives to be in charge when the problem happens (who didnt' protect her).

Some kids have a frightening overbearing (or worse) aunt or uncle who gets overly involved and is outright scarey to a small kid, especially if you are giving her a healthy environemnt so she is trusting of family. It could be nothing other than that, or it could be worse. Regardless, a systematic discipined list of things is where you start, and DON'T LEAD HER. if you lead her with quesitons "is this scarey?" type quesitons, she'll follow to please you. Let her lead you to eliminate things on the list, with non-directive questions "hwo do you like it" or explore it matter of factly; you're an adult, show her problem solving is a thoughtful focused acctivity, not a dramatic or terrifying thing or one that plays into her lead of intense emotion, especiallly if it happens again.

I wish you the best, and I hope it is nothing like your doctor said. However let's get the facts before eliminating your daughter's honesty and perceptions.

Peace and Joy this wonderful season.




answers from New York on

Well im not a parent but i am 19 i think she is probley hungry but not every bight maybe she has a full diaper im sorry if this does not answer ut problem but i suggest u check thank you ! wish u good luck



answers from Syracuse on

My son did that before he ended up with ear tubes. He had infections so bad, he would wake up screaming and was inconsolable. Now, his tubes are out and when he dreams, he occasionally talks in his sleep, rarely does he cry. My daughter also had boughts of this, again, she ended up with ear tubes. She hasn't done it since.



answers from New York on

My boys are 2 1/2 and one of them has been doing that occasionally for the past few months. Not every night-- just every now and then. He seems desperate for me to hold him no matter what. I've spent many hours sitting on the floor next to his bed trying to coax him back into bed while he just clings to me. The crying doesn't last too long, but he just won't let go.

I've associated it with him either having a cold or getting over the cold. Maybe she's fighting off something and this is her way of telling you that she needs some more love and attention to help get through it?

As exhausting as it is, my only advice would be to give her the love and security she needs and when you feel she's sufficiently calmed down try to remind her that her warm comfy bed is waiting for her. Keep her in her room (as I said, I sit on the floor next to his bed) so that when she does calm down and is looking to go back to sleep, she can do so on her own terms without having to ask you to bring her back to her bed. Eventually my boy will roll out of my arms onto his bed... then put his head on the pillow... then finally fall back to sleep.

Whew. I really feel for you. Good luck.

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