By Mami Raquel
Has your child ever woken up in the middle of the night, screaming frantically without any consolation? If so, then your child may have had a night terror.
My oldest, Dayana, co-sleeps with us and has suffered from night terrors since she was about a year old. I vividly remember the night of Dayana’s 1st night terror. It was around 2am when she sat up in bed, opened her eyes as wide as she could and started screaming hysterically. My husband and I held her as she pushed us away, kicking and swinging her arms in the air, screaming even louder. We tried to reassure her that it was all a dream and that Mami and Papi were there with her. She did not respond and looked at us in a confused daze. My husband and I felt so incompetent at that point but also very concerned with the behaviors our daughter was exhibiting. It took Dayana a good 10 minutes to catch her breath and “wake up” from this night terror. After all was said and done, if I had to describe what Dayana was like during this episode it would be “possessed.” That was single handedly one of the scariest moments I have lived as a parent.
My husband and I stayed extremely concerned about what happened to Dayana and decided to take her to the doctor. Before we were even done explaining it all to the doctor, he confirmed my suspicion, Dayana suffered a night terror. I remember feeling scared and confused wondering if it was my fault that she would struggle with these night terrors, however, the doctor put me at ease when he shared information with us.
Being that I know what it’s like to experience these terrors with my daughter, here are my Top 5 things you need to know about Night Terrors:
1. NIGHTMARE vs. NIGHT TERROR
The most common question regarding night terrors is “how are night terrors different from nightmares?” When your child has a nightmare they wake up crying, realize it was all a dream and goes back to bed. They can even remember what they dreamt about the next morning. On the contrary, when a child has a night terror, they appear to be awake, but in reality they are still asleep. They tend to take on average 5-10 minutes to wake up from the episode and they typically do not remember what they dreamt about the next morning, which brings some solace to the parents.
2. NIGHT TERRORS ARE NOT YOUR FAULT
As concerned parents, there are ways you can help your child. Becoming aware of the symptoms and trying to “catch” it at its earliest stage is your best bet. In our case, Dayana typically starts moaning and moving from side to side in her sleep, as soon as we hear that we get ready for the screaming and crying to start. We usually just try to hold her if she is kicking and swinging her arms, but have noticed that if we talk to her the night terror will be prolonged. However, some children react favorably to verbal comforting from their parents. Find out what works for your child and stick to it.
3. PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
Night Terrors usually occur in the middle of the night which means parents may be well into their much needed rest when a episode arises. If there is one piece of advice I would share with you all it would be to take several deep breaths before helping your child. It’s never pleasant to be awoken from our sleep and even less when our child is going through a crisis in which we are not able to “control” and immediately soothe them. It’s frustrating to be telling your child “it’s going to be okay, Mami is here” and their screams get louder. It’s the opposite reaction we expect to get from them. When we just had Dayana we didn’t mind her screaming her way through a night terror because we were all awake. However, now that we have Gabriella, our frustration rises just thinking that she will wake the baby. It takes a lot of patience to soothe a child experiencing an episode, but I know you are all skilled to handle that and much more.
4. SOLIDIFY A BEDTIME ROUTINE & STICK TO IT
Most children respond well to routines and a child that goes through night terrors should have a very strict bedtime routine. I have a confession to make; making and keeping routines with my children is not my forte. This was definitely an area in which I needed some tips. Our doctor suggested that we not allow Dayana to watch TV an hour before bedtime and also minimize any “commotion” before bedtime. In our case that meant that we would have to try very hard to always be home by bedtime. When I saw how well Dayana adapted to a routine, I stuck to it and her night terrors have minimized significantly. Yay!
5. DON’T OVERTIRE YOUR CHILD
If I had a penny for every time I heard a Mami or a Papi say they overtire their children during the day so they can sleep better at night, I would be loaded. Overtiring “A” child may benefit a lot of parents, however, overtiring a child with night terror is not recommended. If your child suffers from night terrors, it is best if they nap at least an hour during the day, if not, then they should be in bed early. On a personal note, Dayana has NEVER been the type of kid to nap, not even 20 minutes during the day. I had to make it a point to make sure she was in bed early, which was a mission in itself. No matter if your child naps or not, it is very important to ensure they get as much rest as possible.
After learning about night terrors and realizing how common they truly were I was reassured that I was not the only one going through this with my child. I only hope that the information I have provided will empower parents with awareness on the subject. It wasn’t until Dayana had her first episode that I was empowered with the knowledge I share with you today and when I say knowledge I am referring to me being a simple Mami like you all, learning along the way. This is yet another tool we can add to our “parenting toolbox”.
I am so content to be part of the Mami 2 Mommy familia and in sharing with you all on a weekly basis. So, I leave you with some questions to carry on our conversation and continue learning from one another. I am interested in knowing if any of you have a child that deals with night terrors. If so, can you share some tips in handling your child’s crisis?
I look forward to hearing from you all!