Question: My 15- month-old son, Cole, wakes up three to five times every night. He doesn’t need anything—he just wakes up. I go in and give him his pacifier or a bottle and he’ll fall back to sleep—but only for a while. He shares the room with my 8-year-old son, Beck, so I don’t want him to cry too much and wake his brother. During the day Cole takes a two- to two-and-half-hour nap, but sometimes he falls asleep in the car in the afternoon when I pick up Beck from school. I’m tired! What can I do? —Sarah Saunders, North Hollywood, Calif.
Expert advice: For mothers of children under 3 years of age, sleep seems to be the issue of greatest concern. Being tired creates a terrible feeling of frustration. It’s not easy to be a good parent when you’re tired, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Here are some ideas and suggestions that might help:
» Check to see if your son is teething or has any other physical reason for waking up, such as itchy skin. » Is he overstimulated? Make sure that he’s not watching something too scary on television.
» Some kids look for intimacy at night if they don’t have enough one-on-one contact with their parents during the day.
» Kids are little animals: To sleep well at night, they need plenty of fresh air, nutritious food and exercise throughout the day. Is he getting enough of these?
» Make nighttime as low-key and predictable as possible so that your son doesn’t feel like he’s going to miss anything by sleeping. Keep the house quiet. He might want to stay up to play with your older son or your husband. Try to make sure he gets plenty of playtime with them in the late afternoon.
» At bedtime, give him a sense of responsibility about sleeping. Try saying, “This is your job to sleep—you need it.” Keep your evening routine calm and moving forward: dinner, bath, book, bed. When he wakes up, you could reassure him by saying something like “You’re okay, you’re safe, you’re tired, you need to sleep. We all love you. And we’re going to sleep, too. Sleep is good for you.”
» Cole could be going through a natural developmental shift. If so, there’s nothing to do but wait it out. Remember, you will live through this. Try to keep your sense of humor!
» Kids should like their beds and feel attached to them. Give him soft sheets and calm surroundings so he feels safe and comfortable in his crib or bed.
» Maybe he’s not tired. I have a rule: No being asleep after 3 p.m. Late naps can interfere with nighttime sleep.
Sarah’s feedback: We have a pretty good evening routine: We have dinner at 5, then Cole gets to play a little bit with his brother. Next, we read a book, Cole gets a bath and he’s in bed at 7. My husband usually comes home at 6, so this is hard because Cole wants to play with Daddy, since he hasn’t seen him all day. Cole recently got a terrible cold and then pinkeye, and this completely disrupted his sleep schedule. But I was able to keep him from napping after 3 in the afternoon. It worked! Without the lateafternoon naps, he has been waking up just once a night.
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Anne Schiller is a master teacher at Pacific Oaks Children’s School in Pasadena, Calif., and has worked with children for more than 25 years. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education. Nicole Gregory is a writer and editor who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.