Q: We've just had a new baby. She's sleeping through the night, but our 2-year-old daughter is waking up. What should we do?
A: A new baby is a big event in the life of your older child -- probably the biggest she has ever experienced. It's predictable that she will be upset, even if she doesn't express it directly, and her routines will be upset, too. Let's face it. The baby is competition for your time and affection. When your toddler wakes up in the night, she probably wonders if you are busy with the baby instead of with her.
Make certain that your 2-year-old gets some "special time" with each of you during the day. It doesn't have to be long -- 10 minutes will do -- but it must be her time totally, uninterrupted by the demands of the baby. You can choose when, but she should choose what the two of you do together. She may just want you to hold her. Special time will do just what it sounds like, assure her that she is special.
Special time may not keep your 2-year-old from demanding attention in the night, at least not right away. Young children often awaken during the night, but get themselves back to sleep. That is what you want your 2-year-old to feel secure enough to do. If she calls for you in the night, go to her bedside and say a few comforting words. Don't pick her up, feed her or play with her. Make your visit as brief and uninteresting as possible, just long enough to comfort her. Leave the room when she is settling back down, but not quite asleep. With special time during the day and a calm, detached approach at night, your nighttime duties should get briefer every night and end altogether in a few days or weeks.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.