Gentle Ways To Stop Your Toddler & Preschooler From Waking Up At Night

  • Parents Only

By: Marie Ashworth, ellaslist

In 10 weeks time, I’ll have a newborn again and I’m scared. It’s not the anxiety of being responsible for such a fragile being – second time around I feel more confident and happy to go with my maternal instinct which has proven to be right most of the time.

It’s not even the birth I’m dreading. Nope, I’m scared at how the hell I’m going to survive the lack of sleep. It was over two years before my son stopped waking multiple times through the night and the sleep deprivation took its toll. So, I’m all ears whenever I come across ways to encourage good sleep habits in young children.

Babies wake up during the night, that’s a fact. Toddlers and preschoolers often wake up at night, that’s also true. They may be sick, have had a bad dream or experiencing changes in their lives e.g. starting preschool, moving etc. It happens. It’s when the waking becomes regular at this age that there are a number of strategies you can employ to encourage less waking and more self-settling and sleeping for your child and the whole family.

1. Encourage Self Settling Early

Resist the temptation to go straight to your child when they move around or make initial noises. They may just resettle themselves without needing your help.


2. Don’t Hang Around

If your child calls out for you, go to them and gentle remind them it’s time for sleep, then leave the room.



3. How To Comfort

Cuddle your child as you settle in her bed. If they are too upset for you to leave, engage with them as little as possible, just sit on the edge of the bed and hold their hand or place a hand on their back, make limited eye contact and try not to get into a conversation. As soon as they’re calm, leave the room.



4. Lose The Crutch

When your child needs the comfort of something to fall asleep e.g. milk, a dummy or you, and that’s not available when your child awakes, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to self settle. So, if that’s the case, it’s time to gradually and gently phase out these sleep aids. You need their bedroom to be exactly as it will be in the middle of the night. We had this situation with our son and milk – my toddler loved his bottle of milk in bed and started to associate a bottle of milk and getting back to sleep. We switched to a very small cup of milk just before bedtime and before his story to stop this association. This process won’t be an overnight success – it will take time so be patient!



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5. Stop Night Terrors

Some paediatricians believe if your child is waking up inconsolable within 2-4 hours of falling asleep times every night it could be because they are experiencing night terrors. This happens when they are switching from REM sleep. One solution is to stir them slightly – not wake them – so they shift from one phase of sleep into another. Ways of stirring include rubbing their back, tucking them in or giving them a kiss on the check. There’s also a product out there called the Lully Sleep Guardian, a hockey-puck sized vibrator that goes under the mattress and claims to stop 80% of night terrors by vibrating at the perfect time to stir not wake your child.


6. Stop The Mid-Night Bed Hop

If you don’t mind sharing your bed with your child, there’s no harm in them climbing in during the night but if none of you are getting a good night’s sleep and you’re trying to knock this habit on the head, the best way to discourage it is to lead your child back to their bed without any cuddles or carrying – this is an incentive for them to keep doing it. Another option is to place a mattress next to your bed allowing your child to feel close and secure without encroaching on your space.



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7. Be Consistent

Once you’ve deployed your chosen tactics, stick to them. It will be hard, especially at 3 in the morning but if you give in, even just once or twice a week, your child will keep on trying. There may be times when your child is sick or has had a bad dream when want to bend the rules. Just be conscious of creating less of a setback by camping out in their room rather than letting them back into your bed.


8. Incentives Can Work

Rewards work with encouraging most things in children. Setting up a reward system may well encourage your child to comply with a new night-time routine. Whether it’s a new sticker book or small toy, the promise of a treat may be just what they need to put in the extra effort.



9. Seek Help

Sleep deprivation is a form of torture and can effect how parents manage everyday life. If you’re struggling to cope it’s time to seek additional support from friends and family who’ll be able to offer practical help or professionals for advice and support. Karitane  and Tresillian offer support to families who continue to struggle with getting babies or toddlers to sleep.



ellaslist would love to hear about tips and tactics that have worked for you – comment below and we’ll share with our readers



If you found this article useful, take a look at our other posts on sleeping and kids…



How long should your kids be sleeping for?



Pinky McKay offers advice on how to get your baby to sleep



The miracle baby hold to stop your baby crying





Tracy Makins

Oct 26 2016

Great tips. As a child sleep consultant I absolutely agree with what you have said here, and these little tips can really make all the difference when getting your little ones the rest they need. In terms of seeking professional help there is also the option of in home support provided by us lovely sleep consultants, which can add an extra element of reassurance for struggling parents, plus tailored solutions for families [enter self!]. Great article, thank you!