Posted , updated Dec 08, 2008.
Children wake up in the middle of the night when we are least able to focus and make decisions about what to do. They can be frightened or hungry, or just be ready to play. Your actions can help your child learn to calm down and fall asleep again. It's important to ask, "what does this child need?" instead of, "what do I feel like doing for this child?"
In the middle of the night many young children experience what is called "night terrors" that frighten them so much they might wake up screaming. Very young children often do not know what woke them, and it might be hard to calm them down. Calm, soothing and relaxing words or actions work best, and these are different for different children. Some children relax when they hear music while others might be over-stimulated by music. Some children calm down with holding and rocking while others calm down by just hearing your voice.
Dreams can wake a child from a sound sleep, but it may not be out of fear. He might be awakened and just want to stay awake. This is a time when you need to help your child learn to relax and just stay in bed to rest. In times of restless sleep, your child needs to know that even though she might be awake, rest is what is needed. If your child is older you can explain this with words. If your child is younger, just calmly follow a bedtime routine to help your child relax (i.e., keep the light off, speak calmly, don’t stay long).
If your child is waking in the middle of the night often, it is important for you to learn why this is happening, and to help your child relax and fall back to sleep. Your child might be experiencing a medical problem that is causing sleep troubles. If your child wakes in the night often, and complains about aches or pains, take him to the doctor to make sure that everything is physically fine.
Remember that you need to concentrate on what the child needs from you, and what is best for your child.
Waking in the night is normal. Adults wake but are often able to fall back to sleep without fully waking up. Children need to learn how to soothe themselves and fall back to sleep. Each child needs a different amount of sleep to develop, but all children need consistent sleep time to feel "right."
This does not mean to forget your own needs. You need sleep too, and by helping your child learn how to calm down and go back to sleep on her own, you will also be able to sleep more in the future.
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