Getting Toddlers Back to Sleep

Carol Osborn is an early childhood educator and president of CAO Training Associates which offers workshops on parenting and early childhood education. She is the mother of six grown children and grandmother of thirteen.

Dear Carol,

For the past two months or so, my soon to be three-year old will not sleep through the night. She wakes up around 2:30, sometimes 4:00 crying. She will ask for milk, please turn on the light in the hallway, etc. She does go back to sleep once she is attended to, but is this normal? She has a nightlight in her room and we follow a consistent bedtime routine every night. Do you have any tips? We have another baby on the way and would like to get some sleep before baby no. 2 arrives.

Stephanie M., Elkridge, MD.

Dear Stephanie:

There are several factors that may be contributing to your child’s disruption in sleep patterns, including her rapidly developing skills and the exciting changes happening in her own life and with your family.

As your baby grows and develops new skills, she will constantly practice what she is learning. I am sure you had seen this in the past when she first started to walk; she didn’t want to sit down for more than a few moments She became a baby on the go. This need to practice new skills over and over is there even when a child is sleeping. As babies go from one milestone of development to another, they often become restless and their sleep can be disrupted as they work toward mastering their new skills.

Additionally, your child is very connected to you and your feelings. She senses that there is something very exiting happening in your family. You may have talked about a new brother or sister, or you may even be bringing new items into the home and setting up a nursery. Her sense of time is not developed, and this anticipation can be overwhelming.

Young children are sensitive to change and any transition can be challenging. We try to prepare children, but this takes time and patience. Most of all it takes your love and attention at a time when you are the busiest and most tired.

Be assured that your child is experiencing a typical stage of development. Here is how you can support her through this exciting time:

Talk about the things she is learning and describe what you see her doing. For instance when she rolls a ball back and forth with you say, “You are using your strong arms to push that ball to me and then you catch it with both your hands!”
When you talk about the new baby describe the things that you will all be doing together and reinforce how much you love her.
Take an extra few minutes each day to read to your child from books about routine things babies do and books about feelings. This will support her social emotional development as well as her literacy skills.
When she awakes at night, stay calm and talk to her briefly about what she has accomplished that day, then lovingly put her back to bed.
Infant massage is a wonderful technique for relaxing children, bonding with them, and helping them to fall asleep and stay asleep. Since it stimulates the mind and body, it can also help to build cognitive skills like language development. Find our more about infant massage and locate an instructor near you at

Best wishes to you and your growing family!


Do you have a parenting question that you’d like answered?
Email Carol Osborn at


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