28 Month Old Suddenly Won't Go to Bed

Updated on February 03, 2009
K.M. asks from Granada Hills, CA
14 answers

We have been so lucky for 28 months. Our daughter has gone to bed like clockwork with no complaints. Except for a brief weening of the pacifier just before her 2nd birthday, she has just about always gone right down and slept through the night. 2 nights ago, though, she began screaming and grabbing me, begging me not to put her in bed. I calmed her down, and walked out only to hear her ramp up and start bawling again. I waited a few minutes and went in and held her to calm her down. But as soon as I put her in bed, the screaming started again. This time I waited 10 minutes and went in to comfort her without picking her up. She finally settled down, but still weeped herself to sleep.

Last night, it started again. This time her daddy went in and managed to get her calmed down after 2 visits. Tonight, we changed her sheets and made a big deal of how nice and soft her bed is with her new clean sheets. She helped us put her teddy bears and pillow back in the crib and seemed genuinely excited to go to bed. But after her routine of 3 stories and 3 songs she began screaming again. Daddy is up there right now calming her down but this can't go on every night.

I feel so spoiled that we had 2 years of bedtime bliss and maybe I am greedy to want it to go on. But, any advice for us is so very welcomed.

What can I do next?

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So What Happened?

Well it's been just about a month and things actually got better. We tried crying it out. That didn't work. She cried for over an hour and was not getting tired or calming down. For a week or so, we actually had to stay in there with her until she fell asleep. We'd do the previously "normal" bedtime routine of 3 books and 3 songs and then I would put her in her crib. Then, I would go back and sit in the rocking chair in the dark until I could hear that she was asleep. After about a week of this, I got brave and tried to leave right away. She fought me, but she only cried for a few minutes. Within a week, we were back to being able to put her down and in her crib, say "I love you, goodnight," and then leave.

In the end we think it may have been a result of some confusion about her status as a "big girl." She is in daycare and most of the kids are 6 months - a year older than her. They are all full into their transitions to underpants, using the potty and sleeping in big girl and boy beds. They talk about it a lot. We are slowly introducing potty learning with her and she has done well enough. But we weren't ready to take her out of the crib yet. We talked to her teachers and pediatrician and they all said that we could do it if we wanted. So, we have been talking about it and have taken her to a furniture store to look at and try out big girl beds. We plan to ease into it. Talk about it for a while, look at more beds, and make it an event of sorts. We will also have her help us take down her crib and bring in the new bed so she knows it is there to stay.

Things that DID NOT WORK

- putting her crib mattress on the floor so she wouldn't feel "trapped" by the crib. I don' don't think she ever really felt physically trapped. She just felt confused by us calling her a big girl, and still sleeping in the crib.

- a night light. I thought maybe her brain had developed to a point at which her imagination was suddenly getting the best of her. So all the previously ignored bumps in the night were now scary monsters in the corners. As it turns out, it was MY imagination that got the best of me. The night light just lit the room up enough so she could still see all her toys and books and all the things that she could be doing if she wasn't in bed sleeping.

Thanks so much to everyone for all of the advice and suggestions. I hope that some of this advice will help someone else along the way as well.

Featured Answers



answers from Los Angeles on

Get her a small toddler bed, the kind the crib mattress fits in. Buy new sheets etc. She will feel like a big girl and prolly stay in it! It worked for both my kids.

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answers from San Diego on

We had a similar situation, our DS suddenly wouldn't sleep in his big-boy (twin) bed. But, he would sleep with the mattress on the floor. We also gave him a little flash-light (get the kind that you wind-up to charge or you'll be going through batteries like water). And, for monsters, etc. we put a little vanilla extract in a spray bottle with water as 'monster-b-gone' spray and let him keep it by the bed. Good luck!

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answers from Los Angeles on

You and your husband sound so awesome and supportive to your lucky little girl. I'm wondering if she may have had either a nightmare, or some other kind of sleep disturbance she cannot understand, nor express to you. Either way, she will need lots of reassurance just as you're doing until she sees nothing bad will happen. It'll probably just take a little while longer, but little ones change phases pretty quickly, so don't panic just yet. I doubt she'll change drastically for long if she's always been a settled sleeper.

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answers from Honolulu on

*another idea: are you a SAHM or does your daughter go to a baby-sitter/daycare? Perhaps, if she does, is anything going on there that might have caused a change in your daughter? Just something to consider.*

the poor girl, I can sympathize with her.
At this age, ya know, they develop night 'fears.' It's purely developmental. And later at about 5 years old, they develop them again, but manifested differently.

If anything, this is a 'phase' and you just have to bear through it. If a child is scared, they are scared. It's not like they can completely 'control' their impulses and fears...it's all an "abstract" concept, but very 'real' to them.

Also, just talk WITH her, ask her about it, and see what she tells you. Certainly at this age, they may not be perfectly articulate about it...but for a child this young...just knowing that they are 'understood' and sympathized with, can go a long way, in consoling them.

You can let her just sleep in your room, on the floor, on a soft cozy place you make for her. Again, temporarily until she grows out of it or as needed. (and that way, the child knows that there is an 'option' for them). For us, we did that, or co-sleep, and we have no problem with it. My daughter, even at 6 years old.... explains to us that she gets 'afraid' of the dark... and the noises, and the shadows and anything, EVEN if we are right there by her. Her Dad even goes outside and with a flashlight to 'show' her that there is nothing 'scary' outside...it's just the wind or the rain etc. But still, a child gets scared. They can't help it. Each child being different.

Unless she has no other problems, new stresses in her life, no major changes or traumas, no health problems or illnesses... just be there for her, understanding that these night time fears and phases are indeed 'normal.'
It's all a part of 'growing pains' for a child... and for the Parent to ALL understand. NOT 'punish' for it. They are not doing this to make trouble. A child's 'emotions' is just starting to develop too, a FULL 'range' of emotions they never had before. And they can't always understand it all, completely yet. Patience.

It will pass....and it's okay. Normal. She is only 2 years old... and in fact, this age and the transition from 2-3 and 3-4 years old is rather hard for children. They are changing SO SO much and so rapidly, cognitively and emotionally, that they are BOUND to have trouble adjusting too. It's not a piece of cake for them either....

All the best,

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answers from Los Angeles on


Try asking her if there is anything that is scaring her in her room?

My son who is now 2.5 has over the last year developed night terrors, fear of the dark and shadows and my favorite closet creepys. Toddlers at this age/stage have a vivid imagination based on the things they see and experience around them every day. From this they can create and develop fears that can effect sleep routines and of course sleeping through the night.

For my son's fear of the dark and shadows, we had a night light party with the whole family. I took him to the local Target and he picked out the lights and some mini flashlights for by the bed. I let him run around the house and tell me where to put the night lights, and he placed the flashlights where he thought he'd need them. Now and then, we do a check of the shadows with the flashlights and sing a good night creepy's song. But, for the most part 7 months into it he's sort of past it.

We had a couple of scary nights like yours before I got it out of my son what was bothering him, and I did it while he was playing with blocks and distracted. Toddlers will spill their deepest secrets when they are involved in activities, if you just ask.

Keep an open dialogue with your little girl about emotions and fears, and help her learn to express them and she'll be able to talk to you whenever something gets scary and she can't handle it. Fears at this age are totally normal, and can be squished with some love and comfort. I love that you guys are going to her when she needs hugs and love!! Keep up the great work.

I hope some of this helps!

Good Luck,

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answers from Reno on

Try a trip to the doctor. Maybe she has an ear infection or something (those are more painful at night as they are laying down). If not...tell her that the doctor fixed it all up and bed time will be just fine. Explain that the whole world (even the sun) has gone to bed and that you and daddy are going to bed. Maybe she is worried she will miss something. Did anyone watch her recently that could have hurt her at bedtime, or neglect her if she needed them? Maybe you can rearrange her room so the bed is in another place, or give her an option every night of which blanket to take to bed. My son is almost three and he is in a toddler bed now and has been waking up at night. We went to the DR, told him she fixed it and leave him with a sippy cup with a little water. It's worked so far! Good luck!

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answers from Los Angeles on

Maybe she is adjusting her routine as her natural rhythms change? My daughter (same age) started giving up her nap a couple of months ago, and these days rarely naps at all. On the occasion that she does, she goes to bed MUCH later (like 3 - 3.5 hours later) than normal. If your daughter is still napping, especially late in the day, this may be something to consider.



answers from Los Angeles on

My daughter did the same exact thing in that same exact order! My doctor diagnosed it as night terrors! Your daughter probably had a bad dream or something that is making her frightened now! It will pass! Comfort and understanding is all you can do! Talk to her pediatrician about it! Hope all goes well!

Oh and my doctor suggested a toddler bed and it changed everything! He said some kids after awhile feel like they are caged in by their cribs and a toddler bed will make them feel like big kids! Totally worked! She has never had a problem again! Worked for my son as well! Good luck!



answers from San Diego on

This just happened to me with our 26 month old a month ago....I took the advice from a mom on this site of putting up the mesh baby gate in front of her door - it took two weeks on and off of LOUD crying but now she stays in her room and even tells us to put the gate up. It has been a blessing to sleep through the night again! Good luck.



answers from Los Angeles on

Hi Kelly,

Your daughter might be going thru the phase of seeing her dreams so she is scared to go to sleep or she might be having night tremors. My son is 30 months and it has also started for him he wakes up pleading for milk or juice or to sleep with someone. So I've started telling him if is seeing anything to tell it to go away and watch what happens. I also am leaving more lights on to help him feel comfortable. I hope it helps




answers from Los Angeles on

Typical toddler. Mine just turned 2 in December and started waking in the middle of the night, so my husband and I are taking turns. I'd like to see other responses. With my son (who's now 16), I was a single mom so he slept with me until almost 9 years old when my current husband came along.



answers from Los Angeles on

terrible twos and now whos the boss !!



answers from San Diego on

If it is a sudden cry in the night hours it might be 'pinworms'.



answers from Los Angeles on

I am sort of in the same boat right now. My 23 month old has been a parfect all night sleeper in her bed from the beginning and now at night after her bath, songs and books she says "holds you" with her cute little puppy eyes and when I put her in bed she cries. She has been in her toddler bed for almost 6 months now and has finally figured out she can get out whenever she wants and oh boy does she. She came in to our room last night saying "night" pointing at our bed. I can see how moms just pull their kids into bed with them and let them sleep there, but my bed is called my bed for a reason. I do not want to start any habits that will be even harder to break. I wish you luck and hope I can get a handle on the "holds you" of my own. I have the Ferber book and think I will be reading it again. Maybe something you could try too. Good luck.

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