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Sometimes my wife would hold my 2 year old daughter's hand during her bedtime to put her to sleep. Recently when she wakes up in the middle of the night she would cry and ask for our hand so she can calm herself down to sleep.

Tonight she woke up many times and is driving nuts. She would insist on holding hands even though we would sit next to the crib and reassure that we're there for her.

We recently brought a new baby home and I don't know if there's any insecurity contributing to the situation. Mom's been spending lots of time with the new baby because of breast feeding. However she's not calling for Mom's hand when trying to calm herself.

What do I do?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Children believe what their parents tell them. I gave my toddlers what they asked for (back rub, hand hold, music, nightlight or whatever - none of them actually needed all of that) while at the same time telling them I was absolutely sure they would not need that to fall asleep soon. I pointed out that as children get older they need less and less help for sleeping, and that when they were older - perhaps just a few days from now, whatever - they would not need this help. I said this with complete conviction and I was reminding myself as much as I was predicting for them.

Whenever I took to saying this about a particular kind of help that I was perhaps wishing I could stop having to give, I was always able to stop giving it within a matter of days or weeks. I also stressed much less about it myself because tired as I was, I was convinced it was just a temporary thing.

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I could be wrong, but I heard somewhere that it's a few years before children grasp the idea of a future tense. That said, the tone of voice may work wonders. –  James Bradbury Nov 5 '13 at 8:39
    
@Chriys I was thinking this while I was trying to do the timing/soothing method. I hope this hand holding for soothing phase will pass. –  milesmeow Nov 5 '13 at 9:33

Does your child have a comfort object? If not, introducing a blanket or a lovie or stuffed animal might help soothe your child. My nieces have stuffed bunnies that live in their beds. They sleep with them and and visit them during the day when they need comfort. It helps them sleep as well as offering calming during the day.

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Great suggestion @meganaimous. She has a teddy bear and a doll, but she is not so attached to them where they're the sole object that she depends on for comfort and security. We tried ways to get her to associate security with the bear and the doll but it hasn't worked yet. –  milesmeow Nov 10 '13 at 9:22

I voted for @Chrys' comforting and beautifully respectful answer, but wanted to add an idea to what Chrys had to suggest. During periods of change, kids often just need to know that something is staying the same. For your daughter, maybe the thing she needs to cling to right now for "sameness" is that she can have a hand to hold while she falls asleep.

Babies change things - it is part of the deal, and learning how to cope with those changes is a good thing for kids. However, it probably goes without saying that keeping as much of her routine as similar to the way it used to be as you possibly can for now may be a tremendous help. I recommend that for a start, plus, let her have your finger to hold for a little while.

As you do decide to wean her away from this particular comfort object though, show her how she can even hold her own finger when you aren't there. It will have a similar (albeit, smaller) feel to your own. She may even learn to grab for her own hand in the middle of the night without really realizing what she is doing and be able to self-sooth again as a result. Start by having her hold your finger and her own. Then remove your finger but sit with her and rub her back or forehead a little while she drifts off, then spend a few nights just sitting with her (while she holds her own finger), and so on until you no longer need to be in the room at all.

Good Luck!

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The general consensus seems to be along the lines of gradually and consistently getting tougher and leaving the child alone for longer until she learns how to sleep on her own.

You still need to check periodically that there's nothing genuinely wrong - dirty nappy, too hot, too cold, thirsty, sick, etc. Once you've established that it's just "I'm lonely and can't sleep", you can gently encourage her to sleep on her own. One popular technique is controlled crying. In our experience this is hard work in the short term, but worth it in the longer term.

Also see: Getting a 2-year-old back to sleep in the middle of the night

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe controlled crying is intended for younger children than a two year old and is a part of some sleep-training methods for infants. –  balanced mama Nov 4 '13 at 21:14
    
I understood that it was best tried between 1 and 3 years. IIRC from the book my wife quoted to me. –  James Bradbury Nov 5 '13 at 8:38

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