2 1/2 year old night waking after new baby

Dr. Corwin,

My name is Kim, and I am a friend and neighbor of Dory Favero. She speaks very highly of you and has recommended I contact you with a question.

I have a 2 1/2 year old little girl, Abby, and a 4 month old little boy, Andy. For most of Abby’s life, she’s been a spectacular sleeper and has been wonderful at putting herself to sleep without much trouble. Of course, we’ve gone through our stages, but for the most part, she hasn’t had much trouble with sleep.

For the past 5 months or so, since before Andy was born, we’ve started having trouble with her waking up in the middle of the night screaming VERY, VERY loudly. We go down to her room, make sure she’s okay, give her a hug and a kiss, tell her it’s night night time, and go back to our room. That usually settles it.

The issue, however, is that it’s happening more and more frequently…in fact it happened 8 times one night last week and there was only one night last week that she slept completely through the night without waking up like this.

I’m aware of jealousy issues with bringing a new baby home and my husband and I have tried to be sure we’re giving Abby attention as well as the baby. We’ve also tried to be sure we each spend some one-on-one time with her without Andy. I’ve also tried to keep her on her regular schedule as much as possible while I’m on maternity leave which includes taking her to her day care lady at least 2 mornings a week. Furthermore, while I am nursing Andy, I ensure that Abby and I work on a puzzle, read a book, or watch an educational video so she doesn’t feel left out.

I’ve also heard of night terrors during this age, but don’t now how to handle that if this is the issue.I would greatly appreciate any help/advice you can give. I’d be happy to pay you a fee if needed and/or provide you any more information you may need. It’s quite ironic that my husband and I are sleep deprived because of our 2 1/2 year old and not our 4 month old!

Thank you so much for your time. Kim

Kim,

Dr. Ann Corwin, The Parenting Doctor Advice

You sound like excellent parents…and doing all the “right” things to help your 21/2 year old cope with her new brother. As you said it is an adjustment for a sibling to have a new baby around…yes, you prepared Abby, but she had no idea that this new baby would stay this long, be this cute and take up so much time.

Childhood fears are heightened at around 21/2-3 years anyway because they literally now know enough to feel scared. On top of that she cannot tell time and is not sure if she will be replaced by this new baby. So you need to help her during the day differenciate between “realistic and unrealistic” fears. For example, a realistic fear is not holding mommy’s hand in the mall parking lot! Continue to spend time with her, but also point out why she is so unique and irreplacable.

Plus, play lots of hide and go seek and then say to her “even though mom/dad cannot see you they are always with you and thinking of you”…this will help her conceptualize her permanence in the family.

She needs to concretely learn from the two of you what to do when she wakes…so during the day “tell her if she wakes in the night to grab her blanket and roll over and close her eyes” for example…I just made this up and you can decide what might work with Abby’s personality. Usually this waking is a technique or “checking back” behavior to make sure mom and dad are there.

She could also have night terrors and for more information on that I would recommend Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s book called Touchpoints 3-6 yrs. Basically your intervention at night should be as little contact as possible…in order for me to help you with more details on this I need to ask you some more questions.