Why Is My Toddler Suddenly Screaming During the Night?


Our 20-month-old shares a room with his 3-year-old brother. The past few nights he has woken up screaming at the top of his lungs for us. He stays in bed but screams and screams. We will go in after 10 minutes to tell him it’s bedtime and go to sleep and leave the room. Eventually he stops but will wake again 30 minutes to an hour later. He sometimes does this all night long.

My question is do we let him cry going in occasionally to tell him it’s time for sleep? We have also tried to put him in the room with the empty crib to prove “no screaming” and also to stop him from disturbing his brother. He will scream for hours if we do this. Not sure which is correct. We just want to find the right course of action and stick to it.

Side note, if he screams in the early morning hours he will come in when the sun is up acting like nothing is wrong. So I know it isn’t nightmares.


Thank you for your question. You state that your 20-month-old has awakened screaming for “the past few nights” indicating that this is a new occurrence. First, I recommend checking with your pediatrician to rule out any underlying physical cause. Some problems such as ear problems in children (fluid, early stages of infection) can cause sleep disturbances even when the child appears fine during the day.

Another possibility is that your son is having night terrors - an issue we faced with our second child. During the night, he would scream out in terror leading me to jump out of bed and run to him. It seemed like he was awake, but he wouldn’t stop screaming. Attempts to soothe him only made matters worse. Our physician explained that our son was having night terrors and that attempts to comfort him were unsuccessful because even though his eyes were open, he was still asleep. Unlike nightmares, children do not recall episodes of sleep terrors the following morning.

The daily life of a baby is full of stimulation. Since normal things in your day are still new and exciting for your little one, making sure that nighttime routines are conducive to helping him “wind down” from the day’s events can be extremely beneficial in promoting a good night’s sleep (warm bath, story time, soft light, soothing sounds, quiet atmosphere...). Consistency is key.

Your son is still in the first 24 months of life, a critical time in his development. If you have not already done so, inform your pediatrician of your observations not only for medical advice and support but also so that your observations can be documented for future reference.

Sharon Lamberth
Certified Leadership Parent Coach

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