Expert advice for one mom whose 2-year-old often wakes in the night when mom attends to a newborn sibling.
Q. My 2-year-old used to sleep well. But since we had a new baby, she gets up frequently. What can I do?
A. While a sibling is a gift to your older child, she may not realize that now, and sharing your attention, your lap, and your love doesn't seem like much of a gift. Because 2-year-olds don't have the ability to reflect on and talk about their feelings, they act out, expressing themselves through their behavior.
Toddlers who are adjusting to a new baby in the family often regress in one area or another, be it sleep, potty training, or by returning to more babyish behaviors, such as wanting to be held and carried or using a pacifier or bottle again. Waking at night also provides the attention they miss during the day and the reassurance that they're still loved.
To let your toddler know she is still important, you and your husband should each set aside some one-on-one time with her every day. In addition, make her feel needed and included in caring for her new sibling: Ask her to get diapers or pick out baby's clothing.
At bedtime, be sure to have a very consistent routine for your older child so she doesn't become overtired and find it even harder to fall and stay asleep. Try to avoid postponing bedtime, which often occurs when a family adjusts to having a newborn in the house again.
When your child wakes at night, keep her in her room. Peek your head through the door to tell her everything is okay and that it's time to go back to sleep. After the second or third waking, call to her from the hallway -- "Everything's okay. I love you. Time to go back to sleep." Decide how many times you'd like to repeat this, then let your daughter know you are going back to sleep yourself, and stop responding. Another strategy is to sit in her room with her until she falls asleep, but without talking, singing, or cuddling. Each night, move your chair farther from her bed until you are completely out of the room. The idea is to let her know she is safe and loved but not to make waking up at night a rewarding, fun experience.
Claire Lerner, LCSW, is a child development specialist at Zero to Three, a national nonprofit promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers (zerotothree.org).
Originally published in American Baby magazine, November 2005.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.