Picture this scene: You’ve just finished spending 45 minutes of gentle rocking and singing to put your baby to sleep. But the effort is well worth it. Finally, you can get some well-deserved rest. You may even be able to catch up on your reading. Except… your thoughts are suddenly interrupted by a loud and demanding cry on the baby monitor. Your older child has just woken the baby up! Beyond frustrated, you get up, drag your feet to the nursery, and start the bedtime ritual all over again.
Why does this keep happening? Why can’t your older child just let the baby sleep? Consider the following:
Your Child is Bored
Sometimes, your child disturbs your sleeping baby out of simple boredom. With nothing interesting to do, kids look for diversions (the baby is an excellent distraction!) and even company. They may even want to play with their sibling, but don’t have the patience to wait until their brother or sister is awake. If this is the case, the best thing for a parent to do is find ways to engage their child while the baby is sleeping.
There are many individual games – available in toy stores and online – designed to challenge a child’s intellectual and motor development. Have these games or activities handy; they can be used to entertain bored children so that they don’t become disruptive while you are busy trying to settle the baby. Sometimes, you may be able to arrange play dates to time with your infant’s regular sleeping schedule. If you’re fortunate, there may be another adult around who can spend time with your child while you are occupied.
Your Child Doesn’t Understand Why the Baby Must Sleep
It’s tempting to reprimand or punish a child for waking up the baby, especially when he or she ends up creating so more work for the parent. But it’s important for parents to remember that the younger a child is, the less likely he or she understands why the baby’s sleep is so important. Try to explain to your child what sleep does, in a manner appropriate to his or her age. For example, parents can share with a toddler how babies become healthier when they sleep because their tiny cells grow and become stronger. If you can inject your explanation with a lot of visual imagery (you can even draw a cell growing bigger and bigger), your child will likely develop a healthy respect for sleep. Who knows, your little talk might make it easier for you to put them to bed as well!
Your Child is Acting Out
A new baby can be threatening; your child may be feeling jealousy and resentment against the infant and, out of that anger, WANTS to disturb the baby’s peace. Perhaps you’ve been accidentally giving the youngster too much negative attention which can lead to more misbehavior. In this case, carefully reduce the amount of negative feedback you are giving him (like telling him “no” or “don’t do that” or “you’ll be punished if you continue to do that,” etc.). Instead, use the CLeaR Method of positive guidance, filling your conversation with positive comments, positive labels and even positive rewards (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for more information about the Clear Method). Use the CLeaR Method to specifically reinforce your child’s patience at letting the baby sleep – give PLENTY of positive attention whenever your child manages to walk by the sleeping infant without waking him.
Keep in mind, too, that your child may be seeking your attention simply because he feels a little lost in all the fuss over the new family member. Indeed, you may be too tired to give him as much time and attention as you did before the baby was born and the mischievous child is just trying to reclaim his place in your heart (albeit the wrong way). He or she may feel that the only time you pay attention is when the baby is awake, which is why the baby must be awake all the time. If you think that this could be the problem, redouble your efforts to talk to this youngster during the day (just give him a little more eye contact and a little more verbal contact) and try to do something to make him feel special at least once a day (i.e. make chocolate milk “just for him” or play a short game with him or draw a funny picture for him or sit down and read him a story in the middle of the day, etc.) Keep in mind that if your new baby has made you feel more stressed than usual, your child may be reacting to your increased stress level with his own brand of misbehavior. Perhaps you need more household help,more time out of the house or something else in order to put YOU in a better mood. This might indirectly help your child stop seeking negative attention in the form of waking the baby.
You Have Not Yet Established Your Parental Authority
It is possible that the one who wakes up the baby is really old enough to know better. No matter how many times you tell him to let the baby sleep, he ignores you. He may even think it’s funny to defy his parents and get a reaction from the baby. In this case, it is possible that you have not yet established your authority. Review the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice) – a quiet, respectful, firm method of discipline that helps reduce misbehavior. When the child wakes the baby, he receives an appropriate negative consequence. You have to be consistent with this, making sure that the child receives the consequence over and over again. However, if after 3 or 4 consequences he is not improving, then continue with the general structure of discipline, replacing your ineffective punishment with a different one that might be more effective. Use each consequence 3 or 4 times and monitor your results. You will eventually find the punishment that motivates this youngster to let his new sibling sleep! When using the 2X-Rule, make sure that you are careful to maintain a high ratio of positive attention at the same time (use the 80-20 Rule in order to ensure the effectiveness of discipline).
Your Child May Have A Defiant Nature
It could be that there’s nothing more that you can do behaviorally – your child is simply unresponsive to normal interventions. If this is the case, consider Bach Flower Therapy. The Bach remedy Holly for jealousy can be helpful along with Vine (for being strong-willed and doing what he wants to do no matter what), Chestnut Bud (for being unresponsive to discipline and guidance and Walnut (for adjusting to changes in the home). Using the remedies for a few weeks or a few months can help ease the child out of his stuck and unhappy place to a more cooperative, happier one! Put all the remedies in one mixing bottle filled with water – 2 drops of each. Add a bit of brandy (1/2 a teaspoon to prevent the growth of bacteria) and give your child 4 drops in a bit of liquid (milk, chocolate milk, juice, soup, water, soda etc.) 4 times a day with or without food. You can find more information about the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.
Seek Professional Guidance
If nothing seems to work and the child is still waking a sibling, consider consulting a mental health professional who can take a closer look at what is going on and help design a uniquely tailored intervention.