Dear Dr. Hackney,
I have 26-month-old twin girls. They share a bedroom. One of my twins wakes up crying in the middle of the night a few times a week. In an effort to prevent the twin who wakes up from waking the other, my husband and I usually wait a few minutes to see if the if the crying will stop and then go in to remove the crying twin from the room. It has become increasingly difficult to get her back to sleep. Once she is out of the room, she asks to watch tv or go downstairs and play. She will sometimes stay awake for up to two hours before going back to sleep. She often asks for juice which we give her. How do we get her to stay asleep or help her go back to sleep more quickly when she wakes?
Grace, Mother of Two
The first thing to check if children are waking at night and calling out is how they are falling asleep at bedtime. Unless they are co-sleeping, the goal is for children to fall asleep in the same place and by themselves each night. The more able they are to nod off independently, the more likely they are to be able to self soothe if they wake later.
The idea when children wake at night is to do as little as possible. Avoid taking her out of the room. Better yet, avoid taking her out of her bed. Best if you can sit beside her quietly. Being able to get up and play or watch tv is very reinforcing to calling out the next time. I think I might even get up in the night if I knew there was juice and someone to play with. While she may wake the first night or two, hopefully she will learn to sleep through.