Toddlers and Night Terrors

Imagine This: You wake up to your toddler screaming. You go to her room to find her sitting straight up in bed with her eyes wide open. She’s crying and has a startled look on her face. There’s nothing in the room that should have caused such a reaction, so you assume that she has had a nightmare. But that might not be the case.

It’s possible that your toddler may have had a night terror. These typically occur in children from 2 to 6 years old, and differ somewhat from nightmares. When having a night terror, the toddler is never fully awake and probably doesn’t even know you’re there. She becomes confused and inconsolable, and after you see such a scene you may feel similarly.

The good news is that night terrors can often be treated without medication. Treatment usually consists of simple changes in routine or interruption of sleep patterns. Even if your child does not completely stop having night terrors with treatment, she will most likely outgrow them.

How Should I Handle a Night Terror?

When they discover their child having a night terror, the first instinct of many parents is to wake her up. But that will probably make the child even more upset and confused. That’s the last thing you want.

Some experts advise parents to gently console their child, but others say it is futile due to the fact that she doesn’t know you’re there. The most important thing you can do is make sure that the child is safe and doesn’t get hurt. Many children flail their arms and legs about when having a night terror, and some even bolt out of bed. So safety is a big concern for them.

Prevention of Night Terrors

One of the primary causes of night terrors is going to bed too tired. Making sure that your toddler is getting enough sleep may reduce or eliminate the occurrence of night terrors. You could put her to bed earlier, wake her up later, extend her nap or put her down for an additional one during the day.

If the additional sleep doesn’t get rid of the night terrors, you may need to try interrupting your child’s sleep cycle. This is accomplished by waking her up after about 1 to 2 hours of sleep, or about 15 minutes before the time the night terrors usually occur. This change in her sleep pattern could ward of the night terrors.

If these methods do not work, talk to your child’s doctor. He may determine that she needs medication to get rid of her night terrors.

Night terrors are scarier for parents than they are for children. The child does not know what is going on when she has one, and will not remember it the next morning. But effectively treating them will result in a better night’s sleep for both you and your child.

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