Q&A: midnight tantrums

A writes:

"So, J is 2-1/2 (will be 3 in August).  Some nights, he sleeps great –
either all the way through (9:30pm-8:30am or so) or only has a minor
wakeup.  But 3-4 nights a week, one of us will go into his room because
we hear him crying, and he won't be consoled.  It doesn't matter which
parent goes in, he wants the other one.  He won't let either of us pick
him up.  He doesn't want a different pacifier, or a drink of water, or
his nose blown, or anything – he just kicks his feet and grumps at us. 
If we try to leave, it goes into full-blown temper tantrum.  Eventually –
after 15 minutes or more – we can usually get him out of the crib
without a fight.  But there's still at least 5 more minutes of trying to
convince him to accept a pacifier and go back to sleep.  This isn't a
nightmare – he doesn't talk when he has a nightmare, just cries, and in
these temper tantrum episodes tells us very clearly that he doesn't want
any of the things we're offering.

Of course, this is always at like 2am, so it's completely
exhausting.  We've tried talking about it during the day, to no avail.  I
would be okay with him being awake in the middle of the night if he
would leave us out of it!  It's been happening for at least a month, so I
feel like we're at the point where we need to DO something and not just
assume he'll grow out of it.

Any thoughts?"

Have you ever had a nightmare that your partner did something really horrible to you, and you wake up and you're really angry at him/her, even though you know intellectually that it was just a dream?

That's what this makes me think of. I wonder if he's having some dreams in which he doesn't get what he wants, and that triggers a waking tantrum. And he's made at *you*, mostly because you're there. But maybe also in the middle of the night while you were asleep you actually did do something that made him really, really angry, in his dream.

It's not a night terror. It's not a nightmare. It really is what you're saying, a middle-of-the-night tantrum.

And I pretty much have nothing. You could just wait it out. If J is like my older child, the tantrums (at all times of day) should stop around the age of 4. If he's like my younger child, they will probably stretch on forever.

Has anyone else experienced this? Did you figure out anything to do about it? Was there anything that *didn't* work that A should not even bother trying?

55 thoughts on “Q&A: midnight tantrums”

  1. We are dealing with the same thing at my house, and my son is the same age. I have been chalking it up to kids are weird, and have been working under the assumption that the only way out of it is through it. Like @sueinithica, the night tantrums seem to be related to really huge daytime tantrums. I call them aftershocks, and it is almost like my son needs to work through the whole thing again, either to understand it or to reach a more acceptable (to him) conclusion. Or it could just be that kids are weird.

  2. Oh I’ve been there! Nothing seemed to help. They just sort of faded away. Sorry, no good advice. But they did go away! Mine is 31 months and they stopped about three months ago. He still cries out at night but it isn’t a tantrum anymore. He does still sometimes wake up from a nap in a horrible funk that looks like a tantrum but I think it’s just disequilibrium of some sort.

  3. I’m glad we aren’t the only ones who’ve lived through this. In the end we won with a sticker chart & promises of whatever duplo/dinosaur/vehicle he took a fancy to that week as the weekly prize. But he was well & truly 3 before this worked. We lived with the tantrums for years before that. By then end it had faded into him coming into our bed without a fuss for a cuddle, then spending the rest of the night there. I haven’t decided if that’s a win or not.

  4. DD has similar episodes. Regularly. But she also has Night Terrors and it is sometimes hard to distinguish the two. One thing I am certain of is that she has these episodes much more around developmental or growth spurts. She had them loads between 2.5 and 3 and recently she’s started up again ( she is going on 3.5).I know that sometimes when she wakes up in the middle of the night and she is pisssed off that she has somehow been woken up she gets like this and it takes a bit to calm her down. Sometimes I try to calm her with hugs or some water, and if it doesn’t work I’ll leave her a moment to get thru it by herself ( like 30 seconds) and then when I go back in she is ready to settle down.

  5. My son used to have frequent bouts of inconsolable crying in the middle of the night, and what helped the most as he got older was taking him out of his bedroom and into the living room, where he could look out the window.We would point out that it was night time. It was dark. The people in the building across the street were sleeping. The cars in the parking lot were sleeping. We’d make as many simplistic two-year-old observations about “tired, middle-of-the-night, sleepy time” as we could think of. He would repeat all this back to us, and then more often than not accept to be quickly and quietly ushered back off to bed. I think my son needed the change of scenery from his bedroom and some connection with the outside world.
    As with daytime tantrums, sometimes you hit upon that magic distraction strategy that suddenly makes them snap out of it and it feels miraculous, but it never works all the time.
    We’ve also had a lot of luck waiting a few minutes before rushing in to confort our son, because more often than not, he’s not really awake and if we wake him up, he’s even more confused and upset. Sometimes he seems to cycle himself out of it more easily without our intervention. Or I’m just proof that laziness sometimes pays off.
    Of course, all this depends completely on the kid; it’s not advice as much as an example of what worked for us.
    Good luck! Those middle of the night tantrums are SO MUCH FUN, I remember all too well.

  6. Oh, YES. Our younger has nightmares about arguments that we’ve had. He’s a bit over 3 and right now his main trigger is that he wants to do something HIMSELF and if he can’t, we have to go back to hte beginning and start the whole sequence over again. Sometimes this can’t happen. For example, one day we were late to meet the school bus and I had to run quickly up the driveway to grab his sister because there were 10 cars stuck behind it. He screamed for over an hour about how I had to chase the bus and put his sister back and make it come again so he could walk up and meet it himself. And so on. It seems to happen once a week or so that we just can’t budge on something, usually for safety reasons. Well, that night, or the night after, he’ll have a full on nightmare where he’ll scream and cry and repeat what he was saying during the tantrum the day before. Usually it’ something like “Drive back! I want to buckle myself! Go Back! Go BAAAACCCCCKKKKK!” (late for a doctor’s appt, pokey to buckle his booster. if just pulling over would work, I’d do it, but we have to return to the geographical location where it all started. ah, three)Anyway, I wonder if the poster’s son is doing something like this but is more subtle about the reason/wakes himself up before they come in. What sometimes (but not always) works for my son is to pat his back and say “It’s ok, we’ll go back so you can buckle your seatbelt/catch the bus/throw your own pee in the toilet) – Basically, we replay the tantrum and let him win it. It generally calms him down and then he goes back to sleep. Maybe if she can think about any big arguments they might’ve had and console him about those, it might help? It sounds like he’s not coming out and yelling about it like mine (sometimes having unsubtle children is a blessing) but I think you’re on the right track.

  7. Kids ARE weird, and I did think they were night terrors (or at least it helped to think of them as that). They eventually went away, but it was very distressing at the time.

  8. I kind of think (and this may be an unpopular suggestion) that if they’re not nightmares or night terrors, they should be treated as you would treat a daytime tantrum: quick check-in to make sure he’s physically safe, and then, ignore, ignore, ignore. I might come in every few minutes just so the kid doesn’t feel totally abandoned, but I don’t reward daytime tantrums with cajoling… so I wouldn’t want to do that for night-time ones. I suspect short-term it will be harder (worse tantrum) but long-term might help these fade faster. IDK, my daughter is a total drama queen, so attention is like a drug to her. Good luck!

  9. We went through this with Eldest. It was horrible. Horrible! It would also happen if she was woken too soon from a daytime nap. Oh, my goodness, you’d think her head was going to start spinning around, like she was possessed. A, you don’t mention a sibling… In hindsight, I feel pretty certain this was part of Eldest’s working through having Younger around. Outwardly, she always loved her little sister and adjusted swimmingly… but I can’t think it’s a coincidence that we had some very rocky times with her during this period (lasted about 3 years–the night rages lasted about 2 years, the crazy lurking anger and storminess for about 3–that said, though, Eldest is stormy in many ways, still, and always will be.) So I think Moxie is on to something… that something is being worked through here? I was incapable of soothing her–and the sessions pushed all my wrong buttons so I really let her down during that time. But DH could usually calm her by speaking in a soft soothing voice, saying things she had to try and listen to in order to hear…. this would often distract her and soothe. Mostly, what I would say, having been through it–is if you find yourself losing it when these happen, walk away. My big mistake is I would get sucked into the crazy energy (also, was exhausted). And, hard as it is, sometimes our children are angry and can’t be soothed or, at least, we cannot soothe them, not right then.

  10. I had thoughts along those of parisienne and mama bird. I’m wondering if it makes things worse to go in and try to comfort him, because then he wakes up and is more pissed off and has to calm down and go back to sleep. And then you’re kind of training his body to wake up more often at night. If he’s half awake maybe leaving him alone would allow him to self-soothe and fall back asleep. Maybe bite the bullet and try not going in, or at least waiting a while before you do?

  11. Our oldest did that. We ended up just turning on the sleepy time music and letting her calm down before we tried to pick her up or anything; hard to do, but she did calm down faster than if we went straight in an tried to pick her up. She outgrew this at around 4. Now (at 5.5) she gets up and turns on the music herself when she’s upset at night!

  12. Here too. Around the same age – we thought it might be discomfort from holding pee since her pee-holding skills were improving but she wasn’t trained yet. But yes, the shrieking, the fear the neighbors would wake up, the anger. We also mainly used distraction – pointing out the sounds she was used to, the comfy things in her room. We also had to try very hard to take her seriously (it was always a tantrum trigger for Mouse if she thought we were laughing at her) – it sounds mean, but it’s kind of hard not to giggle when your shrieking child is afraid of the big bad tiger that’s coming down the hall and is about to eat her…her…her…SOCKS, WAAAAAAH. There’s something so sweet about that.I’m not sure that strategy did anything beyond get us through – it was only a couple months in our case, I think? I may have it blending into the later (3-3 1/2) bad nights when she would wake up wet. Anyway, it will pass. If something works in the daytime a variation might well work at night. Good luck!

  13. Like Rudyinparis, this happens when awakened too early from a (rare and nearly extinct) daytime nap.This is going to win me a “worst mother” award, but my son has had spurts of these for a year, and I distract him with TV. Not kid shows – something boring. News. Late night TV. It takes him 2 minutes to be distracted and then a few more to realize he’s bored and go to sleep or back to his bed.
    I know it doesn’t resolve his problem, but it does let us all get more sleep. In my experience, these tantrums can go on for 30-45 minutes in the middle of the night, so we distract with TV. We don’t watch a lot of TV, so maybe that’s why it works.

  14. We had a similar thing for a little while and I agree with the suggestion that it was about processing something that was still upsetting him from the day. A friend advised me to change my bed-time routine so that there is a “talking” component where we go through his whole day and talk about everything that happened, good and bad. The night time tantrums did stop shortly after that (within a couple of weeks?) but I don’t know if that was because of our ‘talk therapy’ or just normal developmental growth.

  15. Ugh, we had this last summer w/ my 3.5 yo. It is torture! We found it annoyingly ironic since we also had a newborn in the house but it was the preschooler who was keeping us up.I don’t know if she just grew out of it or if it was a coincidence but there were a couple of things we tried that appeared to help. Basically, we did everything we could to get her as comfortable as possible. The two main things were to get her room cooled down (it was the middle of the summer) and get her in very light pjs (she had previously insisted on sleeping in fleece in 90 degree weather). The second was to move her from her toddler bed to a full size mattress. I don’t know if you’re ready to move your son out of the crib but take a good look at how much space he is taking up in there and whether he might need some more room to stretch out, especially if he has pillows or blankets which might be taking up space in there with him.
    After making those changes she miraculously began sleeping through the night again and has been doing so ever since. A few weeks ago on a particularly warm night she did have a repeat episode so I am hoping it doesn’t start happening now that summer is here.
    Good luck and I hope you all get back to sleep soon!

  16. In our case, they really were night terrors, or they would begin as night terrors and our going in would wake him fully, which would turn them into night tantrums. They were AWFUL. Nothing worked very well. Sometimes we would try distraction (as in leaving the room completely and going downstairs), but I agree with PPs that that often prolonged the waking up.What I finally settled on was going into his room after a few minutes (in case he would fall back asleep on his own), letting him know I was there, and sitting in the armchair in his room quietly until he worked it out. This was a good compromise I felt between leaving him to deal with it on his own (which I wasn’t willing to do…he’s very sensitive) and possibly contributing to the drama.
    Sometimes a quiet, passive presence is all that’s needed.
    Also, I found that night terrors, etc., tended to increase if he had a lot to drink before bed–the act of urinating seemed to wake him up enough out of a deep sleep to set these behaviors off (he was still in diapers at the time).

  17. You have my sympathy. That’s all I can offer. Yesterday my husband asked me if I thought we were “doing it wrong,” since my 12-month-old has been having frequent tantrums. I had to remind myself of some Moxie-isms, because I actually stopped to consider if I was “doing it wrong.” My conclusion, was no. He’s just a baby; that’s all. One day he’ll stop, when he’s done teething, learning boundaries, learning to walk, etc. And, so that’s why all I can offer is sympathy.

  18. Both my kids did this & agree with so many things people have already said! 1) Often seemed correlated with developmental milestones/growth spurts. 2) Very stressful on everyone. 3) Kids would sometimes have little/no memory of these events in the morning, making hard to determine if they were some variation of night terrors or something else. 4) A change of scenery, especially going to look out the living room window & talking quietly about how it was dark and everyone was sleeping, was about the only thing to break the “spell.” We started a ritual of naming all our family members, pets, friends, etc. and saying, “Grammy is sleeping. Papa is sleeping. Max is sleeping.” etc. Sometimes one parent ended up sitting in a chair in the living room for 20-30 mins until the child calmed down & was willing to go back to bed. I usually would gently question them if they were ready for bed – if they said “no” and I tried to put them back in their room, the tantrum/crying would often escalate again. By waiting just a few minutes more until they were relaxed and said “yes,” we were almost always successful in having them sleep through the rest of the night. Best of luck & much sympathy!

  19. @meggiemooI was returning to say the same thing and saw that you had beat me too it.
    DD has a history of night terrors. Recently they have lasted up to 30-40 minutes and she was doing exactly what A described: flailing around, inconsolable crying. By the time she came out of it she was able to answer questions and I was able to convince her to come to the toilet with me. Of course the next day she can’t remember a thing about what happened, which is probably for the better as it was very disturbing particularly on one ocassion. Interestingly they happen at the same time of the night every time.
    The ‘tantrums’ are almsot always very short. DD speaks coherently, unlike when she is having a night terror. She will tell me the next morning that she was playing up becasue she ‘missed mummy’ or ‘wanted to talk to mummy’, so she clearly remembers the event. But still it is not always easy to work out if she is having a ‘tantrum’ or a night terror.
    Oh and I was reading recently that night terrors are associated with learning to stay dry at night. In fact, when my kid comes out of a night terror, she often requests to go do a wee. I have tried waking her just before I go to bed so she can go do a wee in the hope that an empty bladder will help with the terrors, but sometimes the reaction is worse than the actual terror.

  20. I actually think that these may be night terrors. It is not necessarily the case that if kids can answer questions minimally (as opposed to just screaming) then they are not terrors. We dealt with this issue w/our 2 1/2 year old a few months ago and they lasted every night for about a month. She’d wake up at 2:00, scream bloody-murder, flail her arms/legs, and answer “No” to anything we asked her. But, it was clear that she was not really processing in an “awake” state. One of us would just go in an sit at the other end of her bed, not saying a word, until she stopped. Talking with her would make things worse. Basically, we’d just say that we were there and then go silent. The screaming could last up to 30 minutes. Very difficult times! But, she seems to have stopped for now. I have heard that if you wake kids up w/in a half an hour of their going to sleep this will prevent the night terror.

  21. Haven’t read all the comments, but we’ve had this for a year with our 4.25 yo daughter. We have just been learning collaborative problem solving, and it is not quite as time consuming as the tantrum, and diffuses it quite readily. Start with a question to get-at how they are feeling (angry you took off my superman cape, scared of the monster, hungry, thirsty, sad about moving, lonely) then repeat back to them their concern, then voice your concern (i know you want the microscopic astronaut toy, but mommy can’t find it and mommy is so tired) then (what do YOU THINK will help?…Is there another toy that I can get you? Can we bring all your toys to wherever we are moving?, cCan I get you some water we are all out of milk, ) No? “rinse, repeat,” as some genius wrote on here. As long as they have some receptive, and some expressive language, you have a shot. Hard to stay clear in a sleepy, addled state, but it beats what would eventually become an angry demand match in our house. The rule is to remain as FLEXIBLE as possible, if only to demonstrate flexibility. I hope I have not in any way misrepresented CPS; for an indepth training see Ross Greene’s web site on Collaborative Problem Solving. It may save our daughter’s childhood. She is at this moment screaming, YOU ARE UPSTAIRS ND YOU”RE NOT LISTENING TO ME!!!!!

  22. Our son did something similar to this. When it happened, we would go in and offer to hold him. If he didn’t want to be held, whichever parent was in there would lay down on the floor with a pillow and blanket and say, “I’m here if you need me. Let me know what I can do for you.” Then, we would just wait until he worked through it. Cuddle him a little, and then put him back to bed.

  23. Oh, yeah. BTDT. Again and again. So you are not alone. In fact, I think some of us recently talked about this on another blog (maybe mine? I don’t think so but I can’t remember).As others have said, it seems to be correlated with developmental/growth spurts. It was especially bad right around 2.5 for my girl. At that point, she was waking up, getting out of her bed, coming into our room and our bed, and then FREAKING OUT! Sometimes the freak outs would start sooner, like in her room or the hall, and we’d be all worried that she’d wake the baby. Grrr. Previously, and after that time period, she was either sleeping through the night or waking up and coming into bed with us calmly and sweetly snuggling one of us as she fell back asleep, hardly waking anyone. But suddenly, the middle-of-the-night tantrums started. It sucked.
    There was no soothing her the “right” way. She couldn’t seem to get comfortable. She would argue and whine about things that didn’t make sense (we figured probably from dreams, especially when she’d say things like “Shark don’t live in our house!”). Just nothing was right. As @MamaBirdNYC said, we basically treated them like daytime tantrums, for which we stay with her/around her but ignore the tantrum or use distraction. Usually, we just had to let her have her meltdown while we tried to go back to sleep ourselves. Sometimes, we would snap at her that we at least were trying to sleep, but I don’t think that helped much. Very very ocassionally, we put on a TV show for her to calm her down.
    Good luck to all going through it! We haven’t had one in a while (knock on wood), so I’m hoping she’s outgrown that now that she is able to understand a little more logic. They lasted a couple of months, I think. But we got through it, and I know you all will as well!
    @sueinithaca – That having to go back and repeat it exactly drove/drives me crazy! One time, my daughter wanted to put the toothpaste on the toothbrush herself. Well, I told her, “Honey, sometimes you just can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.” My hubby and I at least got a kick out of that one.

  24. For us it was beets and heartburn. Stood in the middle of the room screaming and untouchable … until he saw the maloxx bottle and dove headfirst into it.He is younger though, so mit might not be the same trigger.

  25. Yes, me too! I understand completely because we experienced the same thing for about a month right after DS turned 2. They went away on their own. One thing that was not helpful was getting into an argument with my husband about who DS wanted or didn’t want during his night tantrum.Sometimes what helped was for my husband to hold him and pat his back and carry him into the living room and sit on the sofa together for awhile, and to let DS drink from his bottle and hold a soft blankie. That little routine usually would put DS back to sleep after about 15 minutes. But anytime we got mad, or talked, or sang, or made a peep it just seemed to make the night tantrums last longer.
    I think this is one of those surprisingly common things that maybe we never really knew was so common!

  26. Our boy is 2 1/2 and is doing the same kind of thing. No advice (but glad to see some things to try from others here, thanks!). Just glad to see we are not the only ones. And that it might even be a normal stage to go through.With sleep, food and speech issues I have been feeling quite the failure of a mum, and these 2am freakouts were really breaking my heart and doing my head in. Hearing that it could be normal and eventually goes away on it’s own, not something I either caused or have to fix, is SUCH a relief!! Thankyou ladies!

  27. Wow, you mean that there is a sleep-related issue that my oldest daughter doesn’t have????(I have now just ensured that she will wake up screaming tonight…..)
    @Tor- it is my humble opinion that most of the things that make us feel like bad mothers are actually out of our control. You can’t make a kid sleep or eat. (Or talk, but I don’t have much personal experience with that one- our problem is more how to make her stop talking.) Anyway, my guess is that none of the issues you’re dealing with are anything you caused.
    Or, as I say about my daughter’s picky eating- it is only my fault in as much as it is my genes that made her that way.

  28. It may not be relevant, but one of my twins (nearly 3) sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night, crying without tears, lots of yelling, kicking and body-straightening — most often it’s gas. (and the times when it doesn’t become immediately obvious that it’s gas, we chalk it up to that anyway) We do a little tummy massage, a little back patting, sometimes a little bouncing on my knee, and usually a little toot comes out.

  29. We went through this. It took us a while to realize that our son was taking his potty training job very seriously. Despite the fact that he seemed asleep and in full tantrum, if we pulled down his pants and put him on the potty, he went and immediately calmed himself. Worth a try!! It solved our nighttime issues (at least for now!!).

  30. This happened to us too! DS was about 2 1/2 to 3. We would check on him and tell him that it was the middle of the night and unless he could tell us what he needed we were getting back in bed. After 10-15 minutes of screaming he would calm down and ask to go to the potty. Having a full bladder makes him really mad because he feels it’s an inconvience to go potty.

  31. I’m not having night tantrums related to potty training, but super early wake-ups instead. Like since my son potty trained a few months ago, he went immediately to holding his pee during naps and overnights too. Great, right? Except all it means is that now he wakes up between 5 and 5:30am because he has to pee and will NOT fall back asleep. We even got blackout curtain liners, to no avail. We also still put him in a diaper for naps and overnights and tell him to pee there, but he refuses. It’s killing me and DH. We haven’t been this tired since he was a baby. Any ideas out there?

  32. @Susan, this exact same thing has been happening to us. We’ve recently “solved” it in a way that works for us. We put his bedroom lamp on a timer set to turn on at 6:30 a.m. and told him that until his lamp turned on he had to stay quietly in his bedroom because it is still night-time. It took a few days of returning him to his bedroom after the 5 a.m. pee and reminding him he had to stay until his light came on but now I rarely hear him before 6:30. I know he is waking up because 6:30 on the dot he comes tearing into our room, but sometimes he is falling back to sleep after the 5 a.m. pee.Also, we pick him up and put him on the potty at about 10 p.m. to pee. He rarely wakes up, and we’ve had a few occasions of him making it all the way unti 6:30 before he has to pee. I hear your frustration though – I had a “stab myself in the eye with a fork” comment on facebook about this exact same situation a few weeks ago.

  33. @MamaBirdNYC: I totally agree.Depending on what kind of kid you have, it may just be that your presence makes it worse, not better. I’ve found with my kid, getting too sucked in to nighttime drama winds him up even more. He’s been that way since he was a baby– sometimes he just needs to release some tension with crying and then calm himself down. In my experience, crying has always been much, much shorter if I leave him to his own devices, provided he’s not sick, in pain or truly freaked out (but that’s a totally different type of crying).
    We’ve recently been going through a bout of “I can’t sleep/my stomach hurts/I’m thirsty/I have to pee/I’m hungry” and getting out of bed 4 or 5 times before he finally goes to sleep (he just turned 3). The more I comfort, cajole and give in to his requests, the more emotionally intense and demanding he gets. It’s as though he’s testing me out, trying to figure out what lengths I’ll go to. Oddly enough, if I just tell him to get back in bad, tell him he can’t come out of his room again and stand outside the door to make sure he doesn’t, he’ll cry for maybe, 90 seconds, and then go to sleep. I don’t mean to sound like a hard as– you know your kids best and every kid is different; in my case, I have a kid that seems to respond better to a firmer boundary.

  34. I don’t know if any of this is of any value at all as my DD, now 2 1/4 has never slept well. She’s spirited and fights sleep and then there are all the nightly acrobatics, and it’s an ongoing thing.We share a bedroom.
    Naps went forever at 18 months.
    Developmental spurts, particularly of the central nervous system/brain kind bring on night terrors and tantrums in addition to the three times a night standard waking. Those spurts go away and she has new skills.
    Like the bad colic she had I honestly think that you can do anything, including dancing round the Maypole, and it will end and the last thing you tried will seem curative. Like the lost thing being in the last place that you look.
    Teething makes for big scenes any time of the day or night but ibuprofen ( Motrin) works there.
    Her sleeping improved somewhat after abandoning the cot( crib) for a single ( twin) bed. The cot was 110cm long ( 43 inches) and she was 94 cm or 37 inches at two.
    It was claustrophobic. She does get out of bed obviously when rebelling during the night.
    She’s had night-time tantrum/colic like screaming like a foghorn events since she was eight months old. My DH travelled all the time then, as work was in flux, and I honestly felt I was losing my mind at 3 AM. No support system too.
    They do have a cause, and it’s called separation from daddy, her favourite person. She’s a late talker, and stress always hits her sleep. Travel and she doesn’t at all.
    But these middle of the night scenes, and they’re violent, are caused by wanting daddy and him not being there. During the day now she’s older she has horrendous tantrums but she doesn’t talk about or want to talk about daddy. She keeps it in and explodes.
    In the middle of the night her sub-conscious is looking for daddy, as she’s still so little and she wants him rather than misses him. Then she becomes aware it’s only me and a massive kicking and punching tantrum ensues.
    I keep on trying to talk about daddy, and just prepare for the tantrum around the clock thing when he’s away. Less often now usually, but February was bad.
    I now just talk to her and don’t turn on the light, and I don’t approach her closely while it rages out.
    Bizarre though it sounds I have actually gone to sleep in the middle of several of them. I’m so exhausted a military marching band could appear and not really wake me up.I spend long enough of course to make sure she’s not in pain or cold etc. but I have conked out once or twice.
    It did not I think shorten the duration. We’re in an apartment and when we met our neighbour downstairs at the post boxes he said, tiredly ” your husband is away again, isn’t he? “. He’d seen him leave with the suitcase and spotted the link.
    As I said it is not of great value any of this, but those tantrums have a clear cause that I can’t help. There must surely be other causes of strings of tantrums that perhaps can be helped. In which case I offer this.
    Sorry about moaning again, I’m picking up every bug everywhere as my immune system is shot, so I’ve got spring ‘flu and it feels bad.
    And at 23.20 here I’ve a crying child who can’t sleep so I’ll sign off.

  35. No advice but just glad to hear that this is normal. My daugther (turned 3 in March) seems to experience both the night tantrums and night terrors). Both are disturbingly intense and have freaked me out. Such a relief to hear your stories and thanks for all the well thought out advice!

  36. Our daughter has had these horrible episodes- especially when we travel and she is in a different time zone & strange bed. Our pediatrician has called them “Partial wakings” where the child appears to be awake but is still sleeping…the inconsolable crying & thrashing about while muttering coherent words or demands is very confusing & scary but apparetnly common. You can read about these sleep disturbances in Dr. Ferbers’ book How to Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems for more in depth information. Best wishes! (Our daughter’s episodes stopped after age 3).

  37. Flashback! I remember having these, and being really pissed off at someone because of whatever dream it was. I think I had to have been nearly 3 before my sister managed to convince me that what I’d dreamed was a dream and not reality. I had absolutely no idea that the dreams weren’t actually happening.That said, we also had the same routine with at least two of the kids, but we were generally cosleeping at the time (or at least room sharing). On really bad ones, a change of room might work, looking out the window might work, or just using the same techniques as for a night terror (calmly/warmly repeating I love you type statements but not getting too involved). Also, I found that the best thing to do (for speed) was be present but not try to make anything better, just like for daytime tantrums. My kids were looking for a witness, not a solution, when they were upset.
    I also don’t think anything we did made it better, it just was getting through to the next stage.

  38. My daughter (now 3 yrs old) has had similar episodes in the past few months. Sometimes it is because she has to go pee — she is a BEAR when she has to pee (at night or during the day). Sometimes a gentle “Do you want help going pee?” will calm her down and remind her to use the potty/toilet. (Demanding that she use the toilet usually causes even more & louder screaming.)Other times the cause is less obvious. We try making many suggestions and sometimes we’ll hit the nail on the head: do you want a hug, do you want some water, do you want to read a book, etc. When these “night terrors” happen, often she isn’t fully awake so asking her yes/no questions works usually.

  39. OP here – thanks everyone! I’m glad to know that others have gone through it, too – misery loves company and all. We do take him out into the other room and talk about how the cars and trains and people are sleeping, but that’s only after he finally lets us pick him up.I wouldn’t be surprised if these are partially because he has to pee, but he’s still in the early stages of potty training so I don’t entirely know what to do about that.
    I think I’m glad to hear that it’s something he’ll likely grow out of – but we’ll keep trying things.
    Thank you all!

  40. My daughter would do this if she was overtired at night. If she was, it made it too hard to have a restful nights sleep. You might want to try moving up her bedtime closer to 8-ish. If she doesn’t go right down, then move her nap around to accomodate an earlier bedtime.

  41. DS is just turning 27 months, and has only occasionally slept through the night. Some of his wake ups now look like this. My interpretation is that he just doesn’t need us as much as he used to. DS sleeps in a bed, and sometimes wants me to hold him or his daddy to lie down with him, but sometimes just wants us to sit down next to him while he works it out for himself. I try to follow his lead. Sometimes it seems like nothing is the right thing, and then I try to remember when it feels like that for me, and to just be patient while he grumps.I’m glad to hear it passes.
    @ sueinithaca, my son in his sleep the other night vehemently told us, “no, the BLUE bowl!!!” He’s not usually quite so clear about the fight he’s replaying, but he does often seem to be replaying something. Letting him “win” as much as possible in these midnight wakings helps.

  42. I haven’t had this specific problem with either my 2yo or 3.9yo….but they do periodically have trouble sleeping and wake up. Each of them has a night time light — twilight turtle for the older and we just swapped my daughter’s crib aquarium out for the Mobi Tyke Lite (and she calls it her “light buddy”). If they wake up, it offers them some control over their environment — it may or may not be effective in your situation, but it might be something to try (the tyke light is only $8, so it’s not a huge investment if it turns out to “just” be a toy).

  43. It’s three days later, and I am laughing at what I wrote two comments up. HA! HA, HA, HA! Up from 3:15 to 5:00am for WAY more drama than you can get on TV at that hour.Right now, this is looking like a developmental leap, coupled with croup. Is there a developmental leap at 28 months on the nose? (Yes, I did the math wrong last time.)

  44. maybe this is life.sometimes we have no chioce but to bear,but my dear friend,relax plese,there is ending for everything,but it belongs to your thinking.

  45. @Wilhelmina,Holy cats, I am so sorry for how rough it is for you. Sleep (for me) is my number one issue since Boo boo arrived and made me understand what they mean by sleep deprivation being a method of torture.
    You’re always welcome to pop over to western Denmark for a little R&R when your husband is back home and taking care of your daughter. We live in the country (really quiet) and have room. I promise to keep my daughter away!
    Seriously.

  46. @Wilhelmina,Duh, you can email me at czilla007 at hotmail dot com.
    Since we’re only an hour apart time zone wise, I’d be happy to chat. Or help you plan your vacation 🙂

  47. I could have sworn my guy was awake during his 10pm rages, but finally realized they *were* night terrors and he had no memory in the morning. They tended to go 20 minutes and he talked about a lot and raged like he does when awake. I did figure out that they were night terrors though b/c he would say “I want mommy” even when I was holding him and I’d say “look at me. Who is holding you?”. He’d say “I want you”. I kept saying “who is holding you?” and he couldn’t seem to answer. It was like he didn’t really get that I was there holding him. They passed easier when I said nothing at all. Just held him and said “mommy is here”…even if he was blathering about something entirely different. Just rock and hold and it passed better than if I got in long discussions with a (sleeping?) toddler 😉

  48. Schwa de Vivre,According to the teachers at my daughter’s toddler music class there is definitely a big developmental leap between 26 and 30 months, as in at any point in between.
    After the leap the tots can follow much more complex verbal instructions so can move up to the next level of class.
    My daughter is bored in the present class but skis very much off-piste. It’s not that she doesn’t understand methinks, it’s that she won’t comply. She’s 28 months tomorrow but won’t be moving up.
    She is however wide awake between 3 and 5 AM too, so maybe this be it……….hope the Wide Awake Club experience passes quickly for you.

  49. Claudia,My ‘flu is a lot better and I am a lot less self-pitying now, but I just wanted to say how terribly touched I was by your post and your offer. It really is so very kind of you.
    I’ll not be packing my suitcase, but I will email you. I’d love to chat too. Moxites are the best the world over methinks. Thanks!

  50. @ Wilhelmina: Thanks! Hopefully this means “Where did X go?” won’t last much longer, too. I don’t know if your DD has hit this stage yet, but DS definitely went through a stage recently around processing the idea of things being “elsewhere.” There was a lot of “maybe in another room” talk. I wonder if this developmental stage hits a similar nerve, with all the “Where did X go?” talk.FWIW, my immune system is shot, too. I haven’t worked on “work” work in two weeks (I’m a grad student working on my dissertation, so I have the option, though it isn’t a good one.) A friend recently told me that every mom she knows went through a low-immune period, sometime during the preschool years, often linked to the first year of the child’s school.

  51. My son went through a phase in which he did this. There was no reasoning with him during these nighttime tantrums. (I tried that at first.) All I could do was try not to get upset myself and just hold him as much as he wanted to be held, and agree with everything he said, pretty much. It was as though he was in someo sort of in-between state of sleep/wakefulness. Eventually he’d get worn out and fall asleep again, usually after 20-30 minutes. I think this phase lasted a few months or more, although my son didn’t have episodes frequently. Still, it was an exhausting time for me, and for him, I’m sure. FWIW, he did grow out of it and now is a delightful nine-year-old who still likes to snuggle with me. Hang in there. This too shall pass. 🙂

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