How to Deal With Your Child's Night Terrors

scared little girl in bed hiding face behind comforter

Children’s night terrors can be extremely emotional to deal with as a parent as much as it is for a child. It’s nothing to shrug off as much as we might want to. I hate to break the news to you, it can last years. But to give you hope it can also be a quick phase. If you’re the latter, lucky you!

Our night terror experience started when my daughter was two years old. At first, it was just a scream out for Mommy in the night. Nothing out of normal there for a child but then it got really distressing. By three years old, she was having night terrors a few times a week. Sometimes back to back for days, it was exhausting.

At four years old, it was constant in our lives. I would rush to her aid, she would be thrashing in her bed, sometimes stood up, hitting her head on things or throwing it back and forth in the air. It was straight out of a scaring movie. If I touched her, she got worse and would shout things like, “I want my mommy, get away from me” and push me away.

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I was heartbroken to not be able to comfort her and watch her act like this. Some nights she would just sob out loud while walking around and other nights she was raging with her eyes closed.

By five years old, they weren’t getting any better. We had a checklist of things we tried to see what would stop them or make them brief.


(*Please note, I am no professional doctor, this is just what worked for us.)

  • Turning on the lights: this sometimes shocks them to the present moment.
  • Start singing out loud but softly: your voice can bring them around.
  • Put pillows around them so they can’t hurt themselves.
  • Open a window for cool air to hit their face. I noticed it was worse on hot nights.
  • Get to them as soon as you hear the first shout or noise. I noticed the faster I got to her the faster I could bring her out of it.
  • If not too distressed, just guide them gently back to laying in their bed and stroke their hair and shhhh them.

These seem to be the less traumatising ways to wake her or get her back to sleep without too much efforts. Sometimes an episode would last 5 minutes other times 35 minutes. We were lucky she never had more than two episodes in the night but I have heard of children getting them numerous times a night. Co-sleep seemed to help this for those parents that have shared their stories with me.

They say not to try to wake them as it can make it more traumatic and even worsen their state but in my experience when my daughter was thrashing around, hitting her head on things and I needed to protect her from herself, I splashed water in her face and she would instantly wake up. This rarely happened but I did find it the quickest way to stop it.

She never recalled her night terrors in the morning or remembered that I might have splashed water in her face. We were told if she didn’t bring it up, not to dwell on it the next day.

Slowly by age six, she did stop having the really bad episodes. She still has normal nightmares at seven years old and gets scared of the dark. I don’t blame her, I am still scared of the dark at 36 years old! But the scary episodes are gone now.

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As a parent, there is nothing worse than seeing your child screaming and shouting for you when you are right there to help but can’t. I really had to tell myself it will pass, she will be ok, and be able to put it at the back of my mind afterwards like she did.

Kids are resilient and are stronger than we think. Night terrors are terrifying for everyone. It’s more common than you think. The more I share our experience with friends the more of them admit they had a child or even two that did the same but didn’t realise what it was.

Now, with Baby O just turning two years old, he is showing the same signs his older sister did of night terrors. But this time we are experienced and prepared. I am like a ninja on the staircase when I hear one of the kids stir in their rooms. Remember reaching them as fast as possible seemed to be the key in how long the episode would last for and how intense they become if left to shout longer.

On a serious note, if you do think your child has night terrors, it’s always good to notify your health visitor and GP just for safety.

On a less serious note, have plenty of wine in for those really bad episode nights. You will need it!

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