Managing Night Your Child’s Terrors
Imagine lying peacefully in bed after a long day, ready to fall asleep, when suddenly you hear a blood curdling scream coming from your child’s bedroom. You fly from your bed to your child’s room, to find your child screaming, crying, and completely inconsolable. The more you try to comfort them, the more upset your child becomes. What do you do?
Such was my reality for over a year. Our five year old son, who I’ll call Batman, suffered from horrible night terrors, and each time we heard him scream, it broke our hearts seeing him in such distress. We did lots of research and found some techniques that helped reduce Batman’s night terrors until they were completely gone.
So what’s the difference between nightmares and night terrors? Nightmares can happen any time during the night, but night terrors usually occur within the first 2 hours of sleep. When a child has a nightmare, they are fully awake, and able to talk about the nightmare, usually remembering it the next morning. However, in nightterrors, your child is not fully awake, unresponsive, and will not remember it the next morning. Basically, a nightterror is like a living nightmare. They’re not fully asleep, but not awake either, so everything in the room becomes part of the nightmare.
Usually, when Batman would experience a night terror, it would begin with intense screaming and crying. When we would try to hold him or comfort him, it would only get worse. He was completely unresponsive – not responding to his name, any directions, or any comforting. Sometimes he’d stand up in his bed, do what looked like a potty dance, and then pee his pants. Then, suddenly, he would relax and fall back to sleep, completely unaware that the whole thing had happened.
After months of research, we learned several things that helped manage Batman’s Night Terrors:
1. Don’t touch your child.
During the night terror, your child is in the middle of a terrifying living nightmare. By touching your child, you become part of the nightmare. Instead of seeing you as the comforting parent that is trying to help, you could become an evil ogre with razor-sharp teeth and claws. Instead of trying to hold your child, sit near your child and talk soothingly to them, saying things like, “It’s OK, Batman, it’s just a dream” or “Mama’s here, you are safe in your own bed”. The only exception to this rule is if your child is about to hurt themselves or someone else – such as when they run away or fall off the bed. Then, once the terror is over, hold and comfort your child as they fall back to sleep
2. Dress appropriately.
I read somewhere online that nightterrors can be triggered by being too hot. Batman gets hot easily and sweats like a pig, so we tried cooling him off. We no longer allow him to wear pajamas with feet (actually, he never wears any winter pajamas, including flannel and fleece), and in the summer he’s either wearing shorts or even just underpants on particularly hot days. His night terrorsdramatically reduced when we did this.
3. Keep an empty bladder.
The last thing we noticed was when Batman did his potty dance duringnightterrors, the terror would end as soon as he wet his pants. So, on future nights, we would make sure that he didn’t drink anything 30 minutes before bed, and we would always insist that he go potty right before climbing into bed, even if he said he didn’t have to go.
Night terrors can be scary for a parent, but they can be managed. The good news is that your child never remembers them and will usually grow out of them. With a little vigilance and innovation, you and your child will make it through! Hang in there and be strong!
Lila works as a part-time Occupational Therapy Assistant and a full-time Mama to Batman. She loves to watch movies, take pictures, and hang out with her family. She lives with her husband and son in Florida.