Last updated on Feb 1st, 2021 at 12:27 pm

Babies and toddlers may not understand what’s going on with COVID-19, but they can pick up on your stress signals when their ‘sixth sense’ tells them something is wrong. This often leads to behavioural and sleeping problems which is tough on parents when you have a stressful day after yet another night of broken sleep.

Little people’s ‘sixth sense’ is called perception. They may be able to perceive your insecurity, but they’re unable to express, process or resolve these. Tell-tale signs are typical body-language messages like crying and clinginess, fretfulness and waking up during the night.

Here are some tips to settle your restless baby and toddler:

Babies (birth to one year)

We all wish our babies would sleep through from day one, but babies are born with tiny tummies that fill-up and empty quickly, meaning they need small, frequent feeds all the time. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be awake the whole time for baby’s first year.

There are things you can do during feeds to make sure your little one doesn’t get too restless and settles back to sleep quickly after a feed:

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  • Use a dim light during feeds or nappy changes so your baby doesn’t wake fully.
  • Unfortunately, thickening feeds or introducing solids early in an attempt to get your little one to sleep for longer periods won’t help. Your baby needs time to adjust to this new world outside your belly.
  • Teach your baby to self-soothe. Your baby may not be hungry, but they learn to self-soothe with non-nutritive suckling – a pacifier that won’t interfere with teething will be helpful for this.
  • Don’t leave your baby to cry. Your baby is still learning to trust you – this will be difficult to do if you leave him to cry. You don’t have to pick him up when he cries, but go to him and place your hand on his chest to reassure him that you are there and he is not alone. Do this until he falls back asleep.

ALSO SEE: 4 effective soothing techniques for your baby

My baby slept through the night, but is now waking up again. What is going on?

A baby who wakes up during the night after he has been sleeping through is not hungry – something else might be wrong. This checklist can help you identify the problem:

Your baby is uncomfortable:

  • Check your baby’s body temperature. Babies wake up if they’re too hot, or too cold… If your baby feels warm, take his temperature before giving him paracetamol and dress him in lighter clothing. If your little one is cold, warm him up with some cuddles, extra blankets and make sure his crib is not pushed up against a wall that can absorb his body heat. Older babies tend to kick their blankets off -a baby sleeping bag can help prevent this.
  • Check your baby’s nappy. Super-absorbent disposable nappies draw wetness away from baby’s skin, but a poo nappy can burn and cause a painful nappy rash. Teething often causes softer and more frequent stools. You can treat your baby’s nappy rash with a zinc and castor-oil based barrier cream.

ALSO SEE: How to manage nappy rash at home

Reflux:

Babies who bring up their milk a lot after feeds can get heartburn that’s more uncomfortable when they’re lying down. Small and frequent feeds can help during the day as well as sitting baby upright after feeds and putting a pillow underneath the head of the mattress at night.

Pain:

Babies can’t tell you when they’re in pain – you’ll learn this with time as you get to know your baby’s body language and his cries. Did your little one have his shots recently? This could be one reason why he is in pain. Earache or teething could also be reasons for your little one’s pain. It’s a good idea to always have teething gel and a paediatric pain-killer in your medicine cabinet for these occasions. If your baby has a fever, please take him to the doctor in the morning.

Toddlers (one to three years)

Toddlers are curious, self-centred little people who are also very impatient. The stress of COVID-19 is as disruptive in your toddler’s life as divorce or a death in the family. So, when your toddler’s tantrums are combined with your lockdown frustrations, the situation can be all the more difficult to deal with – which is why it’s important that you talk to your little one about the coronavirus and the lockdown and ask them what they think about the situation. If your toddler is not sleeping well at night, it could be that he is sensing your fears or anxieties.

ALSO SEE: How to talk to your kids about the coronavirus and the lockdown 

Try these tips to help calm and reassure your toddler:

Story-telling

Quite surprisingly, little children enjoy monster stories where the hero kills the villain. These stories help them to resolve life’s little problems and help them feel in control – but make sure there’s always a happy ending.

Family activities

Lockdown has undoubtably given families the chance to spend quality time together. Help your toddler build blocks and puzzles, draw or play with play-dough to give him a chance to express how he’s feeling.

Routine is important

A bedtime routine is just as important during lockdown as it was when your toddler had to get up early to go to day care. Not only does a routine help your toddler get enough sleep, it also makes him feel safe because he knows what to expect – there are no surprises.

ALSO SEE: 8 tips for a calmer bedtime routine

The family bed

I’m not a great promoter of babies and children sharing the bed with their parents, but when there’s a crisis, it’s a great comforter – as long as they understand this is temporary. This means that once they’re settled down and are sleepy again, you need to put them back into their own bed.

Laugh

It’s quite easy to distract a toddler and turn their tears into laughter. The belly-laugh of a toddler can crack a smile on the face of the most stoic of adults! The silliest little thing can make a toddler laugh again, and again and again. Before you know it, the whole family will join in with the joke, and your toddler will feel like the king-pin. It’s the magic that children reward their parents with – time and again. Nurture it. Don’t let COVID-19 rob you of this magic.

Happy sleeping!