The terror of toddler night terrors

As it’s a week from Halloween, it seems appropriate that I take to the blog to discuss one of the scariest, most challenging things we’ve been dealing with since becoming parents. Are you ready?

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D has recently been experiencing night terrors. And there is virtually nothing we can do except hope that he grows out of them- a phrase that brings dread to all parents of toddlers.

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They really are vile; D, halfway between sleep and wakefulness is clearly terrified. I can see him fighting something off and his body tenses. I can totally understand why people in the middle ages thought those experiencing night terrors were possessed. D arches his back and sort of lifts his legs too. He screams and shouts. He will try and fight us if we are in his way at all. It’s pretty scary.

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Websites are not much cop, either. “It’s really rare- only 1-6% of children get them!” they trill. Which is fine, unless you’ve got a kid in that 1-6% band, which we do. “Don’t try and wake them!” Which is sensible, but is totally alien; after all, as a parent, your first instinct is to comfort, right? But we learnt quickly that it makes it worse. D is clearly fighting something and if we try and intervene, it makes him more scared. So all we can do is sit with him and… wait.

This is hard, and Benn generally has to do it. I find it too distressing and I’ve cried more than once. Also, if D senses me in the room, it upsets him, sometimes to the point of trying to go for me. Benn seems to be the best, most calming presence and so we’re sticking with the plan that he will be the one to go in. I just lie there and will for it to be over (in about 25-30 minutes.) The other night, he had three bouts. I suspect it might have been because I’d been at work all day and he hadn’t seen me. Apparently night terrors can be linked to seperation anxiety (which he has a bit of, since starting nursery) and a break in routine (me not being home when he gets back.)

The worst thing is that there’s nothing we can do- there’s no point taking him to the doctor, as they can’t do anything. Thankfully, D doesn’t remember anything in the morning, except maybe a fleeting sense of a bad dream and a sore throat. I’d say that Benn and I are more exhausted the next day than he is.

So what are we doing? We’re making sure that bedtime is calm- we talk about all the people D likes and loves, we read stories, we keep the house quiet. I’ve been to explain to the next door neighbours that we’re not murdering him and we’re sorry if they can hear it (they’ve been wonderfully British about it and claimed not to hear a thing, which I know is a complete lie, but sweet of them all the same. I’ll definitely drop a Christmas card round this year.)

And now, we just wait for him to grow out of it. There’s nothing else we can do.

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2 thoughts on “The terror of toddler night terrors

  1. kenanddot says:

    My older son had something like this a couple of times. His eyes were open but he was staring and not seeing us, apparently gazing at some frightening vision that he was trying to push away with his hands. It was horrible. I hope D gets over them soon for everybody’s sake.

  2. nanacathy2 says:

    He will grow on of it. My eldest son sleep walked too, just stay calm. I found wiping his forehead with a damp face cloth calmed him whilst singing his go to sleep baby lullaby. He remembers nothing of those occasions.

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