My nearly 2 1/2 year old daughter has now started waking up during the night mostly after 1am and waking into our room. We recently took down the cot side rail (it was one of those that converts into a bed) becuase she was able to scale up and over it. For safety and for transition we turned it into a bed (still cot size).

However she can now get in and out when she feels like it and that happens many times during the night. We promptly take her back to the room and tell her that it is not time to get up and needs to go to sleep. Yet 15 mins later she is back in the room. This could happen 6-7 times over a 2-3 hr period.

She does not cry or complain about going back to bed and will climb back in herself, but just does not stay there. She calmy walks out of her room and pretty much stands next to our bed.

Until 2 months ago she would happily sleep through the night, maybe waking up once on the odd occassion.

We put her down between 8pm - 8:30.

Temperature is kept stable as we have a externally connected air conditioner. She has white noise that has been used since she was a baby. She still has 1-2 hours afternoon sleep also.

Is there anything we can do?

  • Aqwert - this sounds normal and is in fact very common. Please have a look at the posts in the Related sidebar to the right on this topic to see if any of them help you. – Rory Alsop Mar 30 '17 at 6:13
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    Rishi- living with different cultural norms to the OP doesn't make yours right (or theirs) - they are just different. Please don't use comments to challenge the culture. – Rory Alsop Mar 30 '17 at 6:15
  • @Rory, I did look at other questions which seemed to be more around under 1yr olds, and waking up crying. Wondering if 2 1/2 is any different as she just started doing this in the last few days – aqwert Mar 30 '17 at 6:28
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    Thanks for all your comments. I suspect it is a number of things everyone has touched upon. She very aware it is bedtime and should be in bed as she does it in that way to see if she can get away with it. Maybe mightmares or her imagination preventing her from sleeping. She can put herself back to bed when told but only if we get up – aqwert Mar 30 '17 at 20:04
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    oddly enough she slept through last night without getting up. go figure – aqwert Mar 30 '17 at 20:04

In regards to nightmares or night terrors. These are real and like an illness this means all consequences change. You cannot teach anyone to be well when they are sick or how to not have a nightmare. This is the age for nightmares. If you think it is possible that she is having bad dreams, perhaps you could camp out in her room to make sure. Knowing what you are facing is important. Link: Kid's Health on nightmares and how to help.

However, if you know this is a behavioural problem and nothing else is wrong:

My niece did this at around 2 1/2 years of age. We now think that it was because her father was working long hours and she wanted time with him, but we will never know.

They made a very big deal of it and the problem continued until she was nearly five.

  1. Sit down during the day and discuss night and day and that night is mostly for sleeping and staying in "our own beds". (It goes without saying that she should be perfectly comfortable telling you she is sick, has a wet bed, or had a nightmare.)
  2. Tell her that if she stays in her own bed tonight (a weekend), tomorrow you will go to the park/go swimming -- something she likes but not a lesson you have paid for, or changes a commitment you made.
  3. On a weekend or holiday when your own sleep is not as important as a work night, you firmly return her to bed. I do not mean you are nasty. If you know nothing is 'wrong' and that she is okay -- take her by the hand (preferable to picking her up and snuggling her), put her back in her bed. Use the same language every time. Whisper,"It is time to sleep, please stay in your own bed."
  4. You repeat this as many times as necessary, hopefully without any anger -- being low key shows that it is night and quiet time. Model the quiet. Take turns to ensure that each parent gets at least four hours of uninterrupted sleep.
  5. In the morning, if you are tired, change the plan. "I'm sorry. I did not get enough sleep last night. We cannot go to the park today. I am too tired." You are not mad, you are showing your child that there are natural consequences for not letting you sleep.
  6. Repeat the next night. Any night that you must sleep -- don't fight it. Let her sleep on the floor beside your bed, but call it the 'no TV bed'. If she decides to sleep there, she misses her TV time or something she likes. Her choice. When you tell her she cannot have TV today, you say, "I'm sorry you chose the 'no TV bed' last night. I hope you will make a different choice tonight."

This is the time to make certain that you give your daughter choices. You make the selections you are okay with and then allow her to choose from them. Red/blue shirt. Cereal or toast? Read a story or colour? Use choosing language all the time. "You chose the red shirt." "What do you choose to have for breakfast?" "I am choosing my sneakers because I want to run at the park." When you have choosing language in place, your child will start to understand that she made the choice for no TV today. You can commiserate with her. "I am sorry that you chose no TV. I hope you will choose to stay in your own bed tonight." None of this requires anger. Being as calm as possible means less fighting all the way to her leaving home for college. You talk. There are natural consequences. You have modelled problem solving and how we should act when we have a problem or disagree.

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    Thanks. We try some of these but your point of being calm is important. She does understand what we are saying so being more consistant and clear in what we are saying will eventually sink in. – aqwert Mar 30 '17 at 20:09

Here's two things that worked for us in a similar scenario, each is based on the simple psychological principle of positive reinforcement.

(1) Kids that age can't tell the time yet, but they can tell if a lamp is on or off. So, we made a big deal/even out of creating a small grid of squares that we decorated together and put on her closet door. The grid had roughly one inch squares in five columns and a dozen or so rows (latter doesn't matter). We explained to her that, for every night she sleeps through the night, without waking us, she will get a special star sticker in a box. When she gets five such stickers, she'll get a special reward (initially it was a coin, later it was a cheap paperback book, but think of something healthy the kid likes that isn't expensive, and you're set). This got us 80% of the way to ideal nights.

(2) We bought a $10 digital lamp timer and connected it to a table lamp in her room. We keep her room super dark, so this may be less effective if you haven't taught your kid to sleep in darkness (which is healthier, by the way). We set the timer for when she should get up (7am for us, as she goes to sleep at 7pm, and at her age 12 hours was what the guidelines recommend). Again, we told her that, if the lamp is on, you can come to our room, but if the light is off, you must stay in your bed, or you won't get a reward. This got us to 95%+ good nights.

When she got a bit older and we allowed her to have a cartoon daily (<25 min), the cartoon was linked to the sleeping. If she slept well, she was rewarded with a cartoon that day. We tried to couch it as a reward and not a punishment, to avoid her internalizing that she isn't "good," when she failed. Also, research says that white noise isn't great for you, so you might consider weaning her off of that over time.

Good luck!

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    Thanks, I like your idea of a reward chart. Might give that a go – aqwert Mar 30 '17 at 20:09

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