Kids and midnight snacks

midnight snack mouseI get letters. No, seriously, by blogging about my own thoughts and experiences as an attachment parent for over a decade now, I get email from people seeking a sympathetic ear and some advice about a parenting dilemma they have. Sometimes I post these here on the blog asking for your input and other times I just jump in and answer them myself.

The wrinkle? I don’t have a degree in child development and the last few years of parenting have been dramatically different to all the previous as I’ve shifted into my role as half-time single dad.

Am I “doing it right?” Darned if I know. Sometimes I do something incredibly stupid and watch as the fireworks burst over my family, but the vast majority of the time I think I’m the stable, organized parent who enforces rules and gives the children the structure they need to thrive.

But sometimes it’s just hard to figure out the right solution. For as long as I can remember, we had issues where the kids would half-heartedly eat dinner, then when bedtime rolled around complain that they were starving and needed a snack before they could fall asleep.

We’ve gone around and around on that one. Sometimes we just supplied snacks, other times we insisted that after dinner there was no food available until breakfast, and one memorable evening my son and I stayed up for hours as I “broke him” of the need to have a snack before going to sleep. A month later he was having a few pretzels because I subsequently realized that it’s really not that big a deal.

And that’s one of the great challenges of parenting: differentiating between “fix it” problems that have to be addressed lest they get worse, and those that are just “roll with it” problems that will fix themselves as the child gets older, they get out of a growth spurt, whatever.

That’s why when I got the following email from a blog reader, I felt I had the expertise to actually give a shot at the answer:
“Hi, i am the very happy mommy to a 2 year old and 3 1/2 year old who share a room. i am not interested in CIO method of sleep. i am however, starting to wonder what to do about my 2 year old. My 3.5 yr old has slept through the night since she was 9months old. My 2 year old still religiously wakes up every nite at 1:30ish a.m. and now calls bottle out. he is hungry, a big kid, not that interested in dinner (although sometimes eats big dinner and no effect on waking at 1:30a.m) my question is, should i (which i am willing to do if there is light at the end of the tunnel, maybe at age 3ish?) continue to give him the nutrition he asks for in the night, he does not cry, merely calls out for me & milk, or should i try to “wean” him off this behavior? i am at a loss. i am willing to awake for him and meet his needs, no problem, but if it is better for him to be weaned off, the i’ll do that as well. my pedi is a ferber guy, so he is no help & i don’t really have AP friends with older kids to ask. Thank you in advance for any tips or support!”

One thing I’ve done as I answer more email is try to encourage people to find local resources to assist, local resources who can see the children and have a better sense of the interpersonal dynamic that defines the family too. And, of course, as an author, I’m an idealist too. Here’s my answer:

“Thanks for your note. Sorry your pediatrician is no help, but I understand. I would suggest that you try to wean him off of this nighttime behavior. Perhaps you can have a small bowl of pretzels or some other non-sugary food by his bed and tell him that’s all he gets if he wakes up. Over time, put less and less in the bowl and then hopefully he’ll learn to sleep through that late night hunger. Good luck, let me know how it goes!”

So how’d I do, dear reader?

(and yes, this evening when my children went to sleep later than normal after my daughter got home post-bedtime after winning (!!) a volleyball tournament, I supplied each of them with a very small bowl of pretzels rather than argue about their late night nibbles)

6 comments on “Kids and midnight snacks

  1. If the child is awakening in the middle of the night due to hunger, then the food eaten right before bed isn’t holding him through the night. Offer a protein-filled bedtime snack (yogurt, cheese, nuts, etc.) and see if that holds him longer. Carbs are metabolized faster than protein. Don’t assume the reason for the awakening is a psychological one — resolve the physical problem and see if the awakening disappears.

  2. That’s a very difficult situation especially if your kids has issues with eating their dinner. I like the idea of weening them off but can also see the value in sticking to your guns. If you offer your child snacks then whats the incentive to eat the food provided at dinner?

  3. My understanding is that kids don’t wake up because they are hungry. They may realize they are hungry after they wake up. I raise this because the sleep issue could be different than the eating issue, especially because the child sill wakes up even after a big dinner.
    I would lean more to the child wanting some kind of connection with the mother.
    Just my two cents.

  4. Oh, and a local chapter of La Leche League could be helpful for advice on this. Even if the mother doesn’t breastfeed. Our local chapters are really helpful in all things parenting; they are about supporting mothers, so they may have way better advice than an unhelpful, uneducated pediatrician (most aren’t educated in these things).
    I’m up to 4 cents now. I better quit.

  5. Like anything else, regardless of the type of food or the time of dinner or the attachment/detachment that your child has with you; now there is a habit created.
    When my daughter was little I wanted her to go to sleep by herself. I would sit on the floor next to her and sing to her till she’d fall asleep. As the years went by, and the beds changed, now she wants me to lay with her until she’s asleep. As a 10 yr old she is perfectly capable of doing it by herself (she’s proven it when I am not around), and I dream of the day that she is the one actually coming to say Good Nite to me!
    So, regardless of the technique, what needs breaking up is the “routine”. Since it involves food, I know it is touchy; so, unless your child is underweight, there is no harm on not providing food at night. But it will not stop the waking up until he knows that you are not coming…Tough to endure.

  6. Hi,
    I am an AP parent of a 10 month old baby… so really don’t have much personal experience. However, my mom raised me AP and I know she always says the 3am feed was the last one I gave up and that was when I was about 3. A local lactation consultant I know who is also a LLL group leader says that in her experience, if you are going to let a child wean themselves in their own time it most commonly happens when they are about 9 or 10 months old (and learning to pull up and have other things on their mind); when they are about 15 months or, if you miss those two windows, it probably won’t happen until they are about 3 years old.
    So, my point is that a 2 year old *may* just not have grown out of the need for night-support from her mom – which is considered normal in most parts of the world and throughout history. Given another year or so, this ‘habit’ may simply drop off.
    But… as I say… I have no personal experience of this, so I’ll let you know in a few years :p

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