Have you ever heard your child uncontrollably screaming in the middle of the night? You rush to them in a panic to find they look like something similar to a horror movie. They are bolt upright, eyes open, crying, talking and seemingly in a very bizarre trance. You can't console them at all. You try to talk to them but they thrash around and don't even recognise who you are.
I'll fully admit when this first happened with our eldest, we honestly thought she was possessed. We can laugh about it now but I can assure you it was very frightening to witness the first time. These occurred quite a few times between the ages of 2-3.5 but luckily we haven't experienced any recently. We had never heard of night terrors before but we were about to learn a lot about them.
Night terrors are different to nightmares. They usually occur in the first few hours of sleep and your child won't remember anything about them the next day. They can last for quite a few minutes. As mentioned above they may be shouting, thrashing out, sweating or even sleep walking. They may be talking total gibberish.
We researched why they occur and found that they can be triggered by anything that make your child wake from a deep sleep such as over excitement, lots of daytime activity, anxiety, stress, loud noises and needing to go to the toilet. They can also occur from having a fever, tiredness and certain types of medication.
We couldn't really understand why she was having them but on closer inspection of our lives we could pinpoint a couple of things that may have set them off. Both hubby and I were working and no day was ever the same for Eva. She never had a proper routine as either I was not there or I was late home from work and vice versa. She was either at nursery or with grandparents. Her routine was basically all over the place.
We also realised this lack of routine may be making her a bit anxious. She would scream every time I went to work and I wondered whether it was because due to the type of work I did, more often than not I was never home before she went to sleep. I think she was worried that I would never return.
We had no idea how to deal with them. At first we were trying to wake her up as we were panicking as much as she was. It was quite upsetting to witness. We later found out that this is one of the worst things you can do. It's advised to leave them alone and just make sure they are safe in their environment. This was such a difficult thing to do as it's quite distressing to witness as a parent. If they are seeking a cuddle then it's ok to give them one but if not it's best to stay clear.
To deal with them we addressed her bedtime routine. She now has dinner and then we have a short time of reading or quiet craft activities such as colouring or sticking She then has her bath, followed by night time stories in bed. We make sure she has no tv at all after dinner or is involved in any activity that will get her over excited. Timings aren't always perfect but we aim to do everything each day around the same time.
This change in activity has definitely helped. Don't get me wrong there are days when she is still wild and won't follow her routine but in general the quiet time after dinner is helping her wind down.
Another thing we now do a lot of is talk to her more about anything that may be bothering her and actually taking it seriously. Whenever she used to talk to us about monsters or not liking the dark etc, i'll be honest and say quite often we would just brush it off. If she ever said I don't want you to go to work or don't leave me we used to find it annoying, rather than taking her anxiety seriously. Having conversations with her every day about her day and anything that is bothering her has also helped to put her mind at ease. Reassuring her has really helped.
You can also try to wake them up about 15 minutes before the night terrors occur. We have never tried this but apparently the terrors normally occur around the same time of night and that if you wake them up over a course of a few days, you may be able to break the cycle.
It's been a long time since we last had a night terror. I'm pretty sure the last one was whilst we were in Australia at the start of the year. I'm so happy with the progress we've made as they were so disturbing to witness.
Have you ever experienced night terrors? Have you got any tips on how to deal with them?