This is a mini blog to respond to a message sent by Claire Day, after she read my original piece on bedtime routines. Claire has a 21 month old son who sleeps in a normal bed and wakes every night screaming and nothing will settle him until he’s ready, then he just rolls over and goes back to sleep. This can be 10 minutes or two hours later.
Thank you for your question, Claire and for giving me so much information into your son’s sleeping pattern.
I’m presuming that my suggestions, given so far, have been of little help. I suggest, now, that maybe you should look into your son’s diet. I say this because when my eldest was of a similar age to yours, he started having nightmares, he would wake up, suddenly, screaming that there were bees flying around his room ( there were none) the only way I could console him was to open his window and shoo the bees away, telling him that they were all gone now. I then stopped giving him orange squash to drink, replacing it with diluted orange juice (which has less additives) this seemed to do the trick, as the night terrors stopped. Try settling your son to bed with a warm drink of milk, followed by a calming bedtime story. Shirley Hughes is an author I would recommend to you, as her books are about calm family life, with fantastic illustrations for you to talk about together.
Another idea, for you, is to buy him a new cuddly toy and explain to him, that it is a sleep bear or bunny and that if he cuddles it, it’s magic powers will help him sleep. At 21 months he should be old enough to grasp this idea! You could also reward him for sleeping well by introducing a simple star chart, instead of using stars, give him Thomas the tank engine or Bob the builder stickers (I bet he loves both of them) then if he manages to earn 3 in a row, treat him to an outing to the park or take him swimming, something he really enjoys. When you put him into his bed, try leaving his door open and the landing light left on, so he doesn’t feel so cut off from you. If you think he might escape through the open door, use a stair gate across the door way, or give him a night light in his room.
Hopefully, this has given you some more ideas to work with. Good luck, try to stay calm, as he will pick up on your anxiety. Let me know how you get on and if you need any help on other issues, just let me know.