So You’re Dealing With Toddler Tantrums in the Middle of the Night? You’re Not Alone.

Middle of the Night

Things are going along nicely – you have an awesome nighttime routine and are finally getting 6 to 7 hours of sleep a night and BAM! it’s 2 AM and your toddler is screaming so loudly you don’t need the monitor to hear it.

Middle of the night toddler tantrums are the real deal – I know because in addition to being a professional nanny of 20 years, I am also a mother of two. Middle of the night struggles are a problem and my number one rule is don’t mess with my sleep!

Starting around the ages of 1.5 to 2 years your happily sleeping toddler may suddenly start waking — but not all toddlers will go straight to tantrum, thankfully.

Around this age range you will begin to notice enormous developmental leaps occurring during the day. They are becoming aware of how to communicate their needs, and they are running and climbing everywhere (!!). And just like teenagers who are ruled by their bodily changes, your toddlers brain is being overrun by their own body’s needs to move and wiggle and yell “MINE!”.

They are on total overload, and while this is an amazing and necessary stage in our human development, there is a critical skill we can teach to help them to regulate that energy and intensity which will help to lay the foundation for future social emotional regulation: we can teach them body awareness.

Body awareness not only helps your toddler to climb down stairs without falling, but it also plays a critical role in self-regulation or the ability to calm down in the midst of intense emotions, i.e. tantrums.

And so when your toddler wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes they FREAK out and sometimes they won’t leave your side. Either way, they go from sleeping to totally awake in the matter of seconds and they need your help to notice their sleepiness again.

Joanna Clark, certified Gentle Sleep Coach, describes the three stages of falling asleep as “self-regulation, self-settling, and self-soothing” and if they can’t get to the second stage — self-settling — then they won’t go back to sleep easily.

Studies have shown time and again how valuable meditation is for adults to self regulate, and how body scans in particular can lower stress hormones like cortisol. These methods help you to notice your emotions and also calm the nervous system as a whole.

A body scan meditation can provide an anchor point for your child as well, so that they can learn body awareness. It can help them to notice their body’s sleepiness and to down-regulate from wiggles or tantrums.

Just like bedtime books are a critical tool for your child’s bedtime routine, now you can rely on a book for the middle of the night as well! Launched this month, The Middle of the Night Book is the first bedtime board book to use a body scan meditation to help your child notice their sleepiness.

Based on their age every child needs something different:

  • Babies need a strong bedtime routine to cue to them that it’s time to sleep.
  • Toddlers need to learn to regulate and calm their bodies so they can access their own self-settling and soothing skills learned as babies.

So be prepared to help your toddler with their 3 AM “back to sleep” routine before you’re too tired to think and pre-order your copy of The Middle of the Night Book today.

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Stef Tousignant
Stef Tousignant is a professional nanny with over two decades of experience caring for babies and toddlers. She is the author of The Middle of the Night Book  and lives in the Bay Area of California, you can preorder on her book here.