Why does my toddler cry in the middle of the night?

Posted on Posted in Child Development

Why does my child cries in the middle of the night? Are you facing mid night waking and screaming of your child? Then read the possible reasons and tips to help toddlers come out of the possible nightmares, as an experienced mama says. #nightmares #nightterrors #cryingchild #midnightcries

Why does my toddler cry in the middle of the night?

It is very common and normal that more than 70% of the babies in some phase of their life wake up in the night. They might seem to have some sort of sleep issues, even though they might have been one of the best sleepers you would have known. And I have seen this myself for my son. When he started crying in the middle of the night. This phase continued for around 2 months and then it went away.

Though he was never a great sleeper for full night, but I never saw him waking up, crying and screaming right in the middle of the night. It had become melodramatic every night for close to 2 months when he was around 2.5years. He would get up in the night shouting and crying to the loudest of his voice. Going closer to pacify him only rendered him being more aggressive, as he started jumping and kicking as well. It lasted for around 10-15minutes at the max and then he was again off to that beautiful sleep, as if nothing had happened. And it was all on his own. Though he never remembered a single moment the next morning, we were getting clouded over by these night terrors or nightmares or I really dunno what to call. Since they were neither truly characterised by Night terrors nor Nightmares. But, more of it these cries in the middle of night were definitely terror for us as we were losing our patience and getting sleep hangovers. Sometimes (though rarely), there were similar 2-3 wakings in the night.

I’m sure, many of us have experienced such behaviours of our babies when they reach toddlerhood, till 5-6years. Much has been spoken about sleep issues in infants and till babies turn one, but very less is spoken of the issues faced by kids from 2-6years.

After doing an exhaustive research, I could understand few reasons, which actually impacted these night wakings and night cries. I formulated my own strategy to deal with these midnight cries of my toddler.

Here are the points, I felt needs to be focussed, if your toddler cries in the middle of sleep :

1. Nursing :

Well, you might say 2.5-3year old and nursing? So nursing isn’t just for babies and complete weaning happens till 3-4years of age, specially the night nursings. And that is juts okay. If you have weaned off your baby of night nursing sessions lately, you could very easily expect such a midnight cry from your toddler. More so if you are bed sharing and your little one needs to nurse in the night. Toddlers are prone to any form of separation anxiety.

2. Scared or nightmares :

Toddlers more commonly have nightmares. Any sudden and extreme exposure may lead to it, like loud noises, darkness[darkness anxiety is very common in this age], thunders, imaginative figures. The reason why nightmares are so common in this age is that they have the cognitive awareness to look at the surroundings and happenings but yet they do not have the knowledge to process all of that exposure correctly. Their brains are processing lot many things and sometimes it leads to all dilemma and then these nightmares occur.

3. Great leap in Brain/cognitive development :

This is the phase when toddlers are expected to move out and join Play schools/Kindergartens and slowly the formal schools come along. There is so much happening in their lives, they are adjusting to new environment, new friends, teachers, they are trying to build up their social lives. The Lego blocks are not just “theirs” now, they ought to share! My goodness, sharing is not always caring for these toddlers. They are way too possessive for their loved toys or clothes or even mama-papa.

This massive growth in their Social, Psychological development does reflects in the form of nightmares or even night terrors. “Sometimes, during his crying phase, my son used to say, this bicycle is mine, he is not giving it to me. Sometimes, there used to be other story. I used to imaginatively say that , Hey XYZ, pls give the bicycle for sometime to your friend and after saying 2-3 times, he used to be satisfied and go back to sleep.[Guess, he would be dream cycling then, lol]”. Sometimes, when there would have been a kids party or an extra fun day for him with ample of his friends, he would be rolling up whole last day’s activities in his night sleep. That sleep used to be his most disturbed and I used to feel tortured arranging kids play or gathering. The reason for all this is sudden and too much exposure than usual routine days, which hamper your kids sleep.

4. Sleeping together :

For many families, attaining toddlerhood/pre-schooler phase is marked by “child’s own bed/room”. This transition is not very smooth for some kids, who long to the cuddles of their mama whole night. Specially for me, though I never tried giving him a separate room, but I used to get up early for my work. And initially, there were lots of cries asking me to come to sleep together. Toddlers may seek to return back to their family bed instead of their own bed. This is one sign of separation anxiety and can lead to midnight cries for your toddler.

5. Hunger / Ill-health:

Babies also wake up due to hunger and to use loo. This is the phase when you are trying to remove them off the diapers. Even if diapers are on, they would want to use washroom rather than doing in diaper. They are even more prone to nightmares when they are sick. But then, they are in their conscious state of mind and pacifying/answering their demands will help them sleep again happily.

Some tips to help you if your toddler cries in the middle of the night :

Why does my child cries in the middle of the night? Are you facing mid night waking and screaming of your child? Then read the possible reasons and tips to help toddlers come out of the possible nightmares, as an experienced mama says. #nightmares #nightterrors #cryingchild #midnightcries

1. Try observing more closely the time your toddler wakes up and cries in the night. Is it almost the same time every night? If the time is more or less the same, then, wake up your child 10 minutes before the clock ticks his time. Have some soft and cozy talks, give him a sip of water, take him to loo and then after 5-10minutes, pat him back to sleep. This will really help.

2. If he is undergoing a night terror, you will see that your child takes longer to settle back, if you try to intervene or even pacify. Kids also go aggressive and might harm themselves during night terrors. If it is such, sit calmly next to your child, do not try cuddle. Let him settle in next 5-15 minutes on his own. Be assured, he will be put off his night terror and sleep back on his own. Just keep a watch so that, your child doesn’t harms himself.

If its just a nightmare[which is usually in second half, later half of their sleep], then simply cuddling and reassurance will work.

3. Ensure that your child gets enough sleep. Get to know age wise sleep requirements and some tips to have great night sleep in children.

4. Observe their routine and social awareness more closely. Do not provoke scary videos or stories in the young minds. Some toddlers even fear reflections, explain to your child what reflections are.

5. Give some personal time to your child and understand his routine, class happenings. Get to know who his friends are and what did they do today. Try to process all the unprocessed knowledge in their minds.

6. Go slow on night weaning and try to explain the reason why your child needs to wean off nursing while he is awake.

Night terrors or nightmares cannot be classified as disease or psychological problem of a child. They are just growing too fast and their surroundings matter a lot to their minds. If none of these tips works, consult a child sleep specialist.

For me, Nursing, and start of schooling were the reasons, which I zeroed down in a 10-12 days of the onset of this issue. I started working and it went off the way it came suddenly.

Love your toddler as much as you can, cuddle and give them lots of hugs. they are in their most beautiful phase!

Happy parenting!

52 thoughts on “Why does my toddler cry in the middle of the night?

  1. OH my goodness. My oldest has started having horrible nightmares to the point where he’s afraid to go to sleep. He’s already got autism and doesn’t sleep well, so it’s been FUN TIMES around here. Poor kid.

  2. I remember that phase very well. She would get up in the middle of night sometimes and cry like crazy. Post partum was tough and her sudden crying would cause havoc. But together we sailed through that time. Informative and detailed post.

  3. This was some good info.. My kiddos get nightmares sometimes and sometimes even remember them when they get up… We discuss it and they now slowly are starting to understand that it’s generally related to something that happened during the day…

  4. This is part of being a parent. You have to expect interruptions by your babies and toddlers during the day and also during the nights. As the child ages there will be fewer of these incidents but yes there will still be some. You cannot ever be angry at the child because he or she cannot help it. As you instruct, much of this is a normal part of a transition that comes with a bit of separation anxiety, and some children feel more anxious than others. Try these tips.

  5. My eldest and my youngest have/had night terrors, really quite bad. My eldest ended up under a consultant for them as they were happening so frequently several times a night and he got quite violent, he ended up on medication to help him sleep better but did grow out of them eventually.

  6. Also I think we should remember to read some soothing stories and not stories that have demons and other scary stuff. It can effect their sleep and dreams

  7. Thanks for the tips…Just about a week ago I was asking my husband what happened to our son because he started crying badly after 2-3 hours into his sleep…This definitely helped ❤️

  8. It can be quite difficult for parents to see their child crying in the middle of the night. I am sure these tips will be really helpful for everyone!

  9. Wow! I never considered the stress of mental adaptation a young child needs to go through. I work with two and three year olds, so this is definitely valuable information to me.

    Thank you 🙂

  10. My daughter is a little bit two years old and I still nurse her once before she goes to bed for the night. And so far she hasnt had any night terror yet but only a small cry and just a tap on her back and she is back to sleep. It has to be horrible waking up every night seeing your kid screaming like crazy. But I guess it is just a phase and I hope my daughters will not last long!

  11. We don’t realise it but kids are always seeing and observing everything and it affects them harshly at times. Observing and talking to them is necessary to cure sleep problems.

  12. I don’t have children, but I do have nieces and nephews that experienced many of these things. The one thing I didn’t ever consider, though, was cognitive development! The way you explained it made total sense! Great info!

  13. Great tips! As being parents, it’s must know why your child is crying in the middle of night. Lots of great details that I need to look more detail when my child cries at night. Thank you!

  14. Hey these were some awesome tips, yes my little one too cries in the night sometimes in deep sleep. We even took lot of time before night weaning off!!!

  15. This is a good resource for parents to understand why a child would have night terrors. My youngest had them and thankfully, we were able to get through that phase of growing up. I got him a big teddy bear which sat beside him on the bed. We told him the teddy bear was his “protector.” He had that stuffed toy until he was a pre-teen.

  16. This is valuable advice, and is a wonderful help anyone seeking an answer to a problem that can be so troubling and traumatic for a parent (No one wants to see their kid cry without trying to help them). So glad you wrote this article as I resonate with many of your points. Thanks!

  17. I didn’t have a chance of having blessed with a child yet, but this really calls my attention as I would always want to prepare myself as a responsible parent. I agree that giving much attention to our toddler is required to observe and addressed their issues right away.

  18. It must be terrible to have a child who suffers from night terrors. I can imagine how terrifying it must be for a child to experience his first nightmares and how important it is for the parents to be there and reassure him that everything is ok.

  19. Your post sounds like a comprehensive guide for all the new mommies how to tackle with their kids night terrors. It is an important issue to address and support the kids to overcome from separation anxiety or any kind of nightmare or fear!

  20. we were always quite lucky that our little guy was a good sleeper, he usually only wakes up because he’s not very well or a nightmare

  21. Oh my goodness. My baby is only 4 months old. I can’t imagine when she starts going through this. Very good tips on how to handle this. Thank you!

  22. Thank you for sharing this, I am actually going through this with my toddler right now. Sometimes he cried with his eyes still closed and asks for random things, I feel so bad! He def gets enough sleep, but I will try apply some of your tips and see if it helps. Thank you so much mama, great article and topic that so many of us moms have to deal with!

    1. Hey Nicky, I really hope that my tips help you out, yes kids cry keeping their eyes closed and asking for something random. Do try to focus on his day activities and surroundings. It will help you ascertain a lot. Thanks

  23. Thank you for sharing all this information. I always wondered why small children get upset at night. I will definitely take all these reasons and tips into consideration when I have my own children.

Your valuable comments are welcome!