Of all the issues I’ve spoken to parents about, night terrors in children comes pretty close to being one of the most terrifying things a parents has to deal with, of course, excluding serious physical illness.When a child has night terrors, the parent will describe how the child bolts upright with wide open eyes full of panic and uncertainty. The child will often scream, an ear piercing scream and your first reaction is to panic and think something has happened or they have been hurt in some way. Parents often say that the child looks possessed and just doesn’t respond to anything they say or do, often lashing out and being inconsolable. Parents feel helpless, all they want to do is to wrap their arms around their child and make them better but they can’t even get close enough to do this. They just have to sit with them until it passes. I’m lucky enough to have never experienced this and hope I or you never do, but even as I’m writing this I have goose bumps and a tear in my eye. I look over to my two boys and pray they never have to go through that. What an awful thing to deal with.
It’s important to recognise that night terrors are completely different to usual nightmares; they are a lot more serious and need to be dealt with properly if you are going to overcome them. Here are some
suggestions that might help.
- Go and see your GP and get a formal diagnosis. This will help to put your mind at rest and ensure you don’t think you are going mad or imagining things. It’s very strange to be woken up and deal with something so terrifying when you have been fast asleep and when morning comes we’re often left confused by what’s happened in the darkness of night! The doctor will help you to keep a log of what has been going on and will be able to give you suggestions for coping with the night terrors. They will also be able to refer you onto someone who can advice on diet and exercise as maintaining good health can help the night terrors to stop. The actual episode usually lasts around 10-30 minutes and the child may talk really fast too, have an increased heart rate and seem sweaty. They usually happen within the first 2 hours of going to sleep.
- Make sure your child eats a well balances diet consisting of fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Stay away from fizzy drinks, all added sugars included in sweets, pastries etc. as these often contain processed sugar and ‘E’ numbers all of which over stimulate a child. Being over stimulated is known to contribute to night terrors so by cutting these extra stimulants out you are reducing the likelihood that a night terror will happen.
- Make sure your child has day time nap if needed. A known way to overcome night terrors is to make sure your child gets adequate rest as exhaustion can actual cause them to happen. It’s a bit of a catch 22 situation as night terrors in turn can cause exhaustion! When they experience a night terror their heart rate increases and their muscles contract more than usual. This is normal to happen during a night terror but it can really take it out of them and leave them exhausted during the day, a short nap can relieve this.
- Keep stimulating activities to a minimal, especially before bed time. You may even want to bath your child during the day as bath time can often be stimulating rather than relaxing! Stay away from TV and in the hour before bed read nice comforting stories, nothing scary or with ‘baddies’ in them.
- Keep a log of when the terrors actually happen. Research has shown that if you can predict when a terror is going to happen, you can break the cycle. So if your child has one exactly 2 hours after falling asleep then what you do is to wake them up 10 minutes before the terror would happen. Keep them awake until they terror would have passed and then let them go back to sleep. If you do this regularly you will find that they may well just stop happening altogether.
- Create a very safe environment. The good thing is that children often don’t remember having a night terror at all; it is the parents who have to deal with that side of things! If your child lashes out or runs around make sure there is nothing they can hurt themselves on and remove anything they could trip over, reducing the likelihood of them harming themselves. Make sure that there is nothing scary in the room, such as posters of Super Heroes which have ‘baddies’ on them as even if your child isn’t afraid of them during the day this doesn’t mean to say they won’t have an influence on their sleep.
- Get support for yourself. When a night terror happens for the first time, it’s not unusual for a parent to call an ambulance. Seeing your child so distressed and not being unable to do anything about it a parent’s worst nightmare. The likelihood is that it will have freaked you out big style and you will be wondering how you are going to cope with it all. Please do talk to someone, ask your GP for a referral to a counsellor or arrange to have a cuppa with your best friends and have a good cry and along chat. Talking about it really does help.
Remember that your child WILL grow out of these and that they won’t come to any harm. It is often worse for parents witnessing it; children really can’t often remember what has even happened.
Make sure you look after yourself and you also get plenty of rest too, as you will be missing out during the night also.
A good place to go for further reading, advice and support is to visit Netmums who have a whole group of parents talking about how they deal with night terrors.
This is another guest post from Maria Albertsen as part of our series of Thursday Thoughts for Parenting Behavioural Challenges. We hope it gives you some guidance.
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