MOLLY: This question came from a reader in Boston.
Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): First, of course, this mom would want to check on the obvious things in her child's environment. Is the child overheating at night from too much heat in the room? Or, is it too cold in the room?
MOLLY: If she's still using a night diaper, I'd think she'd want to check to see if the child was wet, too.
MOM: Yes, yes: is the diaper wet or dirty? Is there a noisy appliance disturbing the quiet? Is the child hungry when she wakes, or thirsty? Is she having acid reflux?
These things are all fixable and I wouldn't be surprised if the parents have already gone through this checklist, though acid reflux or GERD in a toddler is harder to distinguish and treat. So, now we have to look at the psychological aspects and wonder why she is waking.
If the child is waking because she is frightened about being alone in the dark, a small night light can do wonders, along with saying something like, “Mommy (or Daddy) is in the other room, everybody’s here, there's no problem, but you’re going to wake everyone else up with your crying. Go to sleep now and in the morning we’ll get together and have a big hug." This gives the child something to look forward to in the morning.
If a kid is really shrieking every night and can't be calmed quickly it can be a miserable time for both the parents and for the child. It’s obviously quite disruptive to an entire household. She might want to sit on the edge of the child’s bed and just sit with her for a few moments while she goes to sleep. This routine might take a few minutes to carry out but it might be worth it in the end.
MOLLY: It’s hard to know because you have to determine if it is a physical problem or is it an emotional issue. One thing that really helped me that you told me when I went through this with when my little guy was 18 months old was to straight up tell him, “You really need to sleep through the night and Mommy will be here for you in the morning.” You told me to talk to him as if he were an adult and tell him my expectation.
MOM: Absolutely. Children understand way more than parents give them credit for. I would say those things in a......
Molly Skyar and Dr. Rutherford are behind the blog “Conversations With My Mother”: a blog about raising kids and how our parenting decisions now can have long term effects.
Dr. Rutherford is a Clinical Psychologist in practice for over 30 years. She has degrees from Duke University, New York University (NYU), and the University of Denver.
Molly is Dr. Rutherford's younger daughter and the mother of two children under six.