If your child has started waking in the night, you’re not alone. Health visitor Kate Daymond explains what’s going on
Your child has slept like an angel for three years but this week they’ve been up in middle of the night crying, shouting out or climbing into your bed. Why are they waking now, when they’ve previously slept so well?
Fears and nightmares
Your child’s imagination is in overdrive now they’re older, which can result in lots of frightening thoughts – especially at night.
Explain that although their fears seem genuine, they aren’t actually real and won’t hurt them. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the TV programmes they’re watching to make sure they’re suitable, and switch them off at least half an hour before bedtime.
From cot to bed
Once your child has moved from a cot to a bed, they can feel unsettled by the change. Try not to bring them into bed with you, unless you’re prepared to bed-share regularly – they’ll start believing they’re allowed to sleep there! Be consistent – so if you want them to sleep in their bed, return them to their own room every time.
Bedtimes tend to be less rigid on holiday, which isn’t all bad as it teaches children to cope with different rules in different places. Just make sure you reinstate the old sleep routines on your return (like sleeping in their own bed) to avoid giving mixed messages.
Becoming dry at night
Many three-year-olds aren’t ready to ‘hold on’ through the night, but if your child is out of nappies at night, they may wake up needing the toilet. Place a potty by their bed to help minimise accidents, keep conversation brief and stay calm. Find out more about when potty-trained children will be dry at night.
Changes at home
Big changes, such as moving house, relationship tensions or a new baby, affect the whole family’s sleep patterns. Young children are sensitive to parental mood so don’t just pretend that everything is normal – your child will know it’s not. Try to explain the situation in simple terms, and reassure your child that it’s not their fault. Be prepared for extra demands for attention and keep telling your child that you love them.
It’s easier to change routines once a child is over three – they will have a better understanding of parental expectations and react to praise for good behaviour. A star chart is a great way to re-establish a good sleep routine and habits. Just write the days of the week on a piece of paper, leaving a space next to each day for a sticker, then let them decorate the chart with their favourite stickers. Pick the most important thing you wish to change, such as them coming into your room at night, then each morning they can place a sticker on the chart if they’ve done what you’ve asked – which earns them a small reward. Make sure they earn at least one sticker in the first few days, as seeing visible results will encourage them. If they don’t manage it, leave a blank space and encourage them to try again tomorrow.
Find out more about preschool development on Tesco Baby Club.