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Why Your 2-Year-Old Wakes up Screaming Inconsolable? Explained

Rachel Adams
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Does your infant or 2-year-old wake up screaming inconsolable?

It is a concerning event that needs your special attention. Seeing your child in such a stressful situation can cause worry. The best thing to do at that moment is to make them feel comfortable and safe. There are many reasons why your little one woke up with so much distress. Identifying the reason and finding a solution will help you solve the problem.

Deep and peaceful sleep is crucial for a child’s health. Regular disturbance in sleep will directly impact the health of your toddler or infant. It also creates a stressful home environment for family members when they see them crying.

This article lists all the possible reasons why your 2-year-old wakes up screaming inconsolably amidst sleeping time.

Read ahead to know why your child is waking up disturbed and how you can put an end to this problem.

Reasons Why Your Infant of 2-Year-Old Wakes up Screaming Inconsolable

1. Tiredness

Tiredness

If your infant or 2-year-old wakes up screaming inconsolably, they might be tired. Sleep is the best way for your infants and toddlers to relax and recharge themselves. A tired day after lots of activity needs an equal amount of sleep. When they are deprived of this sleep due to any reason, it results in screaming and crying. Being tired is one of the main and most common reasons for cranky behavior post-sleep.

If you are still confused about how much sleep is enough for them, then the answer is here. For infants between 4-12 months, 12 to 16 hours of sleep is needed at night. For toddlers between 1-2 years, 11 to 14 hours of sleep is sufficient for good health.

When they are deprived of sound sleep for less than expected hours, irritation is bound to convert into screams and tears. In this case, calm down and put them back to sleep so that they can get some more rest.

2. Hunger

Hunger.png

Infants have a small stomach which needs food every 2 hours in the initial months. Your little one might wake up screaming and crying when they feel hungry. The newborn babies sometimes need 10-12 nursing or feeding sessions during the day. If this is their pattern, you will have to be on your toes during the night as well. You can also pump the milk and keep it ready if you are not physically present.

If the baby is beyond 6 months, do not develop a feeding ritual at midnight. This creates a learned habit of eating during the night, leading them to wake up every day.

Once they begin having solid foods and are healthy with the milk intake during the day, stop feeding at night. Receiving proper nutrition during the day is enough to help the child grow.

3. Gas

Gas

When the infant of 2 your old wakes up screaming inconsolable, try soothing, calming, and feeding. If neither of them works, the reason might be a gassy tummy. It has the potential to cause huge discomfort and irritation to your child. For them, it is a very confusing situation as they do not know what is happening, and they don’t know how to get rid of it. So, the pain and confusion result in screaming and crying.

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Clenched fists and squirming are some signs that indicate the reaction is due to gas. Try moving their legs and raising their heads to help release the gas and calm them down. If this happens regularly, visit a doctor.

Gas is normal for babies and normally goes away on its own. Use gas relief syrup and heated tummy wraps to give them a comfortable sleeping experience.

4. Teething

Teething

Teething is a long-term process that lasts for a few years. During this process, as the teeth emerge, they bring along pain, itching, and inflammation. If your little one or 2 year old wakes up screaming inconsolable with hands near their mouth or searching for objects to chew, it’s due to teething. The signs to look out for in their mouth are red swollen gums through which the new teeth will erupt.

To help them soothe this discomfort, you can use frozen fruit teethers or a gum massager. If neither of this works, it’s time to consult a doctor and take some medications to relieve the pain. Teething is a common process that every child goes through. Do not worry when you see your little one screaming and shouting due to the irritation caused by teething. They will soon learn to deal with it through teether and massagers.

5. Illness

Illness

Babies cannot communicate through words about how they feel. This makes it difficult for them to communicate any discomfort they have in their bodies. Screams, tears, and shouting are some of how they express their irritation to us. Such awkward behavior can be a sign of illness if there is a change in appetite, mood, and body temperature.

It can often be a mild fever, cough, ear pain, lethargy, vomiting, and persistent pain in any part of the body. Basic cough and cold are treatable at home with medications and syrup. However, if your 2-year-old wakes up screaming inconsolable every night, and there is no change in their health, it’s time to visit a doctor. It might be a severe illness that needs expert advice.

6. Sleep Regression

Sleep Regression

Sleep regression is the phenomenon where your little one, who is a good sleeper, all of a sudden starts screaming and crying at night. This unusual appearance in their sleeping pattern is caused in the initial months due to changes in awareness. A newborn baby is adjusting to the surroundings, and depending upon the stimuli in the surroundings, its sleep is affected. Instead of being irritated and frustrated with this change, try to understand their new pattern.

They might be adjusting according to their new awareness and creating a different pattern. Keep a calming and soothing surrounding to help them create a routine. Any external trips or vacations can also be one of the biggest factors in causing sleep regression. Having a portable bedside crib can help a lot during travels. It will help the kids in creating comfort.

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7. Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety might be the reason why your 2 year old wakes up screaming inconsolable at night. Babies have a special connection with their caretakers, and they feel comfortable in their presence. Separation from the basic caretaker can sometimes lead to extreme anxiety during the night. They get scared and start shouting in need of comfort.

The best thing you can do is to start practicing short separations from the beginning. This will slowly help them deal with the anxiety that comes from distancing. Another method is to introduce something that results in comfort for them. It can be a soft toy, blanket or any other object that brings comfort to your little one. Whenever you have to leave them, hug them and make your goodbye as sweet and loving as possible. As they grow up, create a routine where they daily have some time alone with themselves without your involvement.

8. Nightmares

Nightmares

Nightmares and night terrors are something that we all experience as adults too. It can be horrifying that even adults gasp for air after waking up. Imagine this happening with your little ones. The reason why your infant or 2 year old wakes up screaming inconsolable can be due to a scary nightmare. Some of the signs can be heavy breathing, sweating, screaming, and thrashing around.

The best thing to do when they experience nightmares is to give them the safe space they want. When and how does your child feel the most safe? Is it in a specific room or with a specific toy, or at a specific angle? Your presence will be the first and foremost choice for their comfort. However, what else can you add to enhance their feeling of safety? This will help in reducing the fear caused due to the nightmare.

You can also use certain soothing lights to create a soothing environment for your infant. It will help them in going back to sleep without stress.

9. Big Changes at Home

Big Changes at Home

Did you recently change your home or make a drastic improvement in the interior? Have you moved in with somebody, or has somebody else moved in with you? These are some major changes that can impact your little one’s sleeping schedule. As an adult, such changes are easier to adapt and live a normal life. However, your infant and toddler might need some time to adjust to these changes.

If you have made any of the above shifts, it is normal to have a disturbed sleep cycle in the initial days. Your child needs some days to adjust to the new way of living. The best way to do this is by offering them comfort in times of distress. They express their discomfort through crying and screaming. Cuddling and spending time with them will help them feel loved, heard, and validated.

10. Any External Disturbance

Any External Disturbance

If any of the above reasons do not fit your situation, then check this factor. When your child wakes up screaming at night, is there any external disturbance? It can be any noise that comes from your neighborhood or the lights coming through the window. Maybe the barking dogs in your nearby area are causing disturbance to your little one.

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Observe the surroundings at the exact time when he wakes up screaming. You never know which small factor might be affecting his comfort and peace during the night. Awareness is the key to finding the solution to this problem. Keep them close to you to understand where the reaction is coming from. Once you find the external responsible factor, you can make necessary changes to give them a sound sleeping routine.

What Should I Do When My 2 Year Old Wakes Up Screaming Inconsolable?

No matter what the reason, when your little one wakes up crying, the first thing to do is soothe and cuddle. Let them know you are there to help and for safety. It will begin the process of calming them down. Try putting them back to sleep and see if it was a one-time situation or happens every night. Depending upon the frequency, identify the main reason and work on it.

Seeing your innocent one crying helplessly can be hard on the heart. However, be calm and affirming. Don’t let them see your stress or fear in this situation. All these things are bound to happen in the initial years of development. It is part and parcel of growing up. So, instead of taking it too seriously, see how to mold it into a memorable experience or memory. Journal your journey with them and collect photos and memories to gift them in the future.

Keep Calm and Do What is Needed!

Next time when your 2 year old wakes up screaming inconsolable, instead of panicking, try these methods of calming down. It is common for babies to wake up crying or screaming. If you cannot put them back to sleep, talk them in your hand and walk around the home or sing a comforting lullaby to help them go back to sleep. If it’s a health problem, find a remedy that brings comfort.

Identifying the root cause will help you in solving the problem. Create a sleeping routine that helps them zone into a sleeping mood and atmosphere to avoid screaming and crying. Also, be careful that they do not use this pattern to gain too much attention and assurance at night time. Comfort them and leave the space as soon as they sleep.

Your presence should be reassuring but not too much, that the child gets used to having you around every night doing the same thing. Remember? They all learn too quickly and form a pattern!

We don’t want them to form the pattern of crying and screaming every night to call you back!

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Rachel Adams
Rachel Adams

Rachel Adams has a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and has been a part of our team since 2021. She brings over 16 years of experience as a child psychologist, focusing on children's emotional and behavioral development. Her experience includes working in both educational and clinical settings. Rachel is also an ad-hoc professor, teaching future psychologists the practical knowledge to excel. Her hobbies include painting and meditation, which she incorporates into her therapeutic techniques.

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