Bedtime Growing Pains in Toddlers – How to Help
6 min read
Last Modified 31 March 2023 First Added 12 March 2019
Growing pains in toddlers can make bedtime difficult and ruin any good habits you’ve spent months putting in place. The key thing is that outside of affecting sleep, they’re not something you need to worry about. But even so, you’ll still want to alleviate any pains and aches your children feel. Read on for our guide on how to deal with growing pains in kids and ensure your child is getting the sleep they deserve.
Growing pains are cramp-like pains that occur at night in toddlers and pre-teens. They usually start around age 3 or 4 and can continue up to age 12. As a child grows up, their body undergoes many changes – bones harden, muscles develop. While growing pains in kids are most common in the legs, they can also be experienced in the arms and other areas of the body too.
The most important factor is that these pains only occur at night-time when the body is recovering from the day – so if your child is complaining of leg pain in the day, it’s recommended that you take them to a GP as soon as possible. Seeing a GP is also recommended by the NHS if growing pains are a recurring issue, even if they only present at night.
Surprisingly, there is no major evidence that growing pains are linked to growth. In fact, it’s still pretty much unknown what causes them exactly. Most science points towards the fact that they’re caused by intense muscle work throughout the day. For this reason, they’re more commonly experienced after your kids have had an active day. But even though the root cause is still unknown, there are ways to limit the pain, including massage, stretching, and fluid intake.
One of the most common ways to soothe growing pains in kids is to gently massage the area affected. This is equally about showing them attention and helping them relax back to a state of sleep as it is soothing their pain.
If your child has recurring growing pains, it’s worth considering getting them to stretch each night before bed. This doesn’t need to be extensive – some light stretches will have a great impact. By loosening the muscles, you can minimise any pain related to tension built up throughout the day.
As parents, we’re sure you’re aware a little bit of magic can go a long way when it comes to soothing frustrated toddlers. So, a good tip is to use child-friendly moisturiser and tell them its ‘magic cream’ that stops pain and helps them grow. You can also use a heat-pad to similar effect.
NHS guidelines state that you can give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen if pain persists. It’s recommended to use Calpol, as this contains a child’s dose of paracetamol. Netdoctor.co.uk states that you need to know the following before administering your child with Calpol.
Despite their cause being unknown, growing pains in toddlers and kids do not need to cause worry. They’re extremely common, with up to 20% of all children experiencing growing pains between the ages of 3 and 5, and 8 and 12 too. The most important thing to know about growing pains in kids is that they do not cause any long-term health effects. The only impact is the pain they feel at the time in question.
Despite growing pains in children not being a cause for worry, there are certain cases where toddler leg pain is not related to growth but something more serious. If you have any concerns, see your GP.
The following list is taken from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) and identifies symptoms unrelated to growing pains in toddlers and pre-teens. It is super important that you pay attention to these, as they could be signs of a more serious illness. The list is produced by Dr. Harris who specialises in sports medicine at PAMF and has expertise in the care of child and adolescent athletes.
If your child has any symptoms outside of this list, it’s still important to see a GP if you have cause for concern. Your doctor will diagnose whether leg pain in children is growth-related or a sign of something else.
Growing pains are a normal part of development for many children and adolescents. Most commonly affecting from 3-5 years of age, and 8-12 too. They occur at night and feel like cramp or muscular pain. A gentle massage should normally help alleviate the pain, but in more severe cases stretching before bed and child-friendly pain-killers can help. Be sure to check any medicine with your GP before use.
For more information on sleep and children related issues, visit the children and parents section of the Sleep Matters Club. And remember, if you have any cause for concern, even slight, book an appointment with a GP.