Dealing with a child's night terrors | Focus on the Family Australia
Dealing with a child's night terrors
By Focus On The Family
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Question:
Do you have any advice for handling toddler who wanders into our room in the middle of the night screaming, moaning, thrashing wildly, and jabbering incoherently? He doesn't seem to know us when these Night Terrors get a grip of him. When we try to comfort him, he just pushes us away. Is there anything we can do to help him?

Answer:
Night terrors are extremely unpleasant events which affect two to four percent of children during the toddler to preschool years. They are more commonly seen in boys and tend to run in families, with the first episode generally occurring sometime between the ages of two and four years. What is especially unsettling about a night terror is that your child typically won’t respond to you when you try to speak to him. As you’ve discovered, he may not even seem to know you, and there is a chance that he will begin to thrash even more violently and try to push you away when you attempt to calm him. It’s no wonder many parents and siblings find these incidents extremely disturbing.

Your job during a night terror is to sit tight through the seemingly endless 10 to 30 minute ordeal. Hold your child if he’ll let you. Provide soothing reassurances that you’re there and that he’s okay. Most importantly, do everything you can to prevent him from hurting himself. You may also need to calm any other children in the household who have been awakened by the commotion and are witnessing this wild event. Don’t leave your child alone, because there is a very real risk of injury, and don’t try to wake him. A child in the midst of a night terror is experiencing a disordered arousal from deep (non-REM) sleep. He is actually in a state of sleep that does not readily progress to wakefulness, and shaking or speaking forcefully to him (“Wake up! Wake up!”) will only increase his (and your) agitation. What’s more, if you succeed in bringing him to full consciousness, he will be unhappy and irritable and may have difficulty going back to sleep.

If, on the other hand, you remain calm and wait it out, you’ll be surprised how quickly the night terror ends once it has run its course. In most cases, the child will suddenly relapse into sleep, and in the morning he will have no memory of the previous night’s uproar. You, on the other hand, may go back to bed and find yourself staring at the ceiling for a while until your adrenaline surge subsides.

For more advice, we recommend you discuss your concerns with your maternal and child health nurse or family GP.

© 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Adapted from The Complete Guide to Baby and Child Care, an official book of the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family, published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 1997, 2007, Focus on the Family.

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