Current Parenting Challange: Nightmares and Night Terrors

July 22, 2015

Erin's a pretty sensitive little lady. I have to watch what I say and how I say it, because sometimes she takes it the wrong way and she gets upset or sad. She gets startled easily and she's pretty fearful. She's a jumpy gal. We started noticing the nightmares at a pretty young age. I'd say the nightmares started at around 9 months. Erin would wake up very upset unable to go back to sleep. Sometimes it would take hours for us to finally get her to go back to sleep. We didn't think much of the nightmares because it's pretty normal for kids to get them. But, at around 16 months, Erin started experiencing something much worse than nightmares. She would wake up crying endlessly, kicking and screaming, thrashing around in our arms. We just thought she had had a terrible nightmare and was just having a really hard time getting over it. At times it would get frustrating because we couldn't understand why she was so upset. But when it happened again, we knew it wasn't just a nightmare. A night terror is a "sleep disruption that seems similar to a nightmare, but with a far more dramatic presentation." "During a night terror, a child might suddenly sit upright in bed and shout out or scream in distress. The child's breathing and heartbeat might be faster, he or she might sweat, thrash around, and act upset and scared." A big difference between a nightmare and a night terror is that a child will remember their nightmare, but will not remember a night terror (which is a relief). As I was researching more about night terrors, I found out that it was pretty uncommon in kids under the age of 2. Of course that concerned me. So I started asking family and friends if their kids had experienced them and some said they did. I'm wondering if night terrors are more common than people think.

Erin doesn't experience these night terrors every night (thank goodness). But they do happen from time to time (a handful of times so far) and it's been a real challenge/struggle trying to help/comfort Erin the "right" way. The best thing to do is to continue letting the child experience the night terror without waking them up or disturbing them. Even if these night terrors last up to 30 minutes (which they do for Erin), the best thing to do is just sit with them and let it run its course. It's parental instinct to want to comfort and hold your child if you see them in distress. But, we noticed that Erin would cry or scream even louder when we'd say her name or try to comfort her. What happened every time Erin had a night terror thus far was... we'd run over to her room, pick her up and try to console her, ask her if she's ok or if something hurts, tell her everything is ok, walk around with her, show her her favorite toy, offer her a snack or some milk. All of these things were a fail. NOTHING helped the situation or made it pass any faster. In our attempt to "help" Erin, we ended up making the situation worse. It's so heartbreaking seeing your kid scream and cry and not be able to do anything about it.

Some thoughts:
  • There's no way I can keep Erin from ever doing or seeing something scary. Hopefully as her as she gets older and her brain matures, she'll have less nightmares. But for now, right before bed, I won't let her watch anything that's too stimulating for her.  Sometimes Ken and I get a little nervous when we take Erin to Disneyland. We aren't sure how she'll respond to some of the things she sees. She's still scared of a lot of the things there. We always hope for a nightmare free night the days we do go.
  • Be Patient. The last night terror Erin had was over a month ago. I'll have to keep reminding myself that there isn't anything I can do to help with night terrors. I must remain patient and strong. 
  • Getting plenty of sleep usually helps prevent nightmares/night terrors. Early bedtimes are something we try our very best to be consistent about. 
On a more positive note...can't believe we'll be celebrating Erin's 2nd birthday next month!


  1. sethie is starting to have them now... he had an episode last night lasted about an hour or so. he hasn't been getting enough sleep and was over tired last night before bed. i'm still not used to them. i don't remember toby and isaac having them. sadie for sure had them bad..and now seth. they freak me out still!



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