Little Momma was 4 years old, she was comfortable and fast asleep in her bed. I tucked her in and went to hang out on the couch where I fell asleep. I had a feeling someone was watching me so I opened my eyes and there she was about 1 foot away, standing there and staring at me. Blank face no expression. I said, “Little Momma are you ok”. No answer. “Little Momma do you need something”. I reach out to touch her, she startles and starts crying hysterically. I try to reassure her I am here and she is ok. She mumbles and cries out “no stop” “mommy… I want mommy” I say “I am here this is mommy” and she is looking at me but she doesn’t respond. It is as if she is looking right through me. Next, something changes and she appears aware, calms down and she reaches out for a hug and I carry her upstairs. She snuggles into her bed and she is immediately back to asleep.
There is nothing scarier than being fast asleep and getting that feeling like someone is watching you. You open your eyes to a kid you can barely see in the dark standing there staring right at you. With her long wavy hair and nightgown, she reminds me of the girl from the horror movie The Ring. Night terrors are petrifying for any child but dealing with them is both sad and terrifying for the parents. I don’t know who is more freaked out her or me?
A night terror without sleepwalking is a bit different. We hear a loud scream or grunts or Little Momma yelling from her bed. When we rush in she is tossing around in her bed or sitting up. She looks scared. She doesn’t respond positively right away to us being there. She may even scream “get out”, “go away” or “I want mommy.” It can take up to 10 to 15 minutes to comfort her and have her settled down and feeling secure then she goes back to sleep.
The difference in a night terror vs a nightmare is a nightmare the child will wake up screaming and scared but you can comfort them immediately. With a night terror the child will be screaming and may appear awake but they are still deep in their dream and can’t get out right away.
My daughter used to sleepwalk and have night terrors regularly since she was about 2. Sometimes she wouldn’t sleepwalk but the terrors would still haunt her at night. She still has night terrors but we have learned how to be proactive and how to best de-escalate them before she is totally inconsolable.
At one point she was experiencing them nightly I then started looking for answers. I have done a lot of research and have tried many things to help her get through it. Here are some tips that really helped us to get the terrors less frequent and under control.
- Make sure the temperature in the child’s room is comfortable not to hot or too cold, just right.
- Make sure they have dressed appropriately for their body comfort and that their blanket isn’t too hot or not warm enough. My daughter was sweating every night. I was dressing her in seasonal pajamas because I thought that was the right thing. However, we figured out they were to hot for her. Now even in winter, she sleeps in a short sleeve nightgown and light fleece blanket so she doesn’t overheat.
- Have a consistent bedtime routine. When a child is overtired they are more likely to have a night terror. If my daughter is overtired it’s almost guaranteed. Even when we are out driving if she is overtired and falls asleep in the car she will wake in a terror in the car.
- No stimulation before bed. No television, no tablets, no computer, only a book or quiet toys for at least a half hour before bedtime.
- Talk to your child about their day. Ease any anxiety they may have before they got to bed. Make sure their mind is clear. Children have so many fears and anxiety as they start to understand and realize who they are in the world. Just like adults at bedtime, they tend to overthink.
- Tell or read a happy story so they go to sleep thinking peaceful thoughts and relax.
- Although not proven they say night terrors happen approx. 1 to 2 hours after the child falls to sleep. This isn’t an exact science but you may notice your kid wakes at approximately the same time after they fall asleep. They say terrors occur during the change in sleep cycles. We watched her and found this to be quite accurate. So we would disrupt her sleep cycle. We would go in tuck her in offer her some water or anything to semi wake her but not have her alert so she would go back to sleep. This technique did help most nights. Other nights the terrors would come as soon as we would wake her but not to the same degree of fear.
If your child does wake up having a night terror go to them and keep as calm as possible. Talk softly but firm. It may take a few minutes for them to start to calm down and realize they are safe. Some days Little Momma doesn’t mind being touched others she backs away in fear if we reach for her. (It is pretty creepy) Follow your child’s lead. Just keep repeating that you are there and it is just a bad dream or something along those lines. Sometimes I ask Little Momma if she wants to talk about her dream. She mumbles something but most times and she goes right to sleep. In the am, she has no recollection of any of it.
Thankfully at 5, she doesn’t experience night terrors often anymore but as parents dealing with terrors, it is heartbreaking. It is so hard to watch your child in a state of fear and not be able to help or comfort them. I feel for you. Unfortunately, for some kids night terrors is just a growing pain. Experts say that kids with terrors are very smart, creative and have overactive minds and vivid imaginations.
I hope my experience helps you out. I would love for you to comment and share how you handle night terrors if differently then I have suggested. You can also comment on whether you too get freaked out when you hear your child scream in terror.
Here a piece of a video where daddy is trying to comfort Little Momma through a Night terror. This terror was recent and thankfully not as bad as they used to be. However, still very scary for her.