Night Terrors: My Child Woke Up Screaming


Night terrors. Screaming. Flailing. Stiff body.

I remember my son’s first episode of night terrors as clear as my children’s births. My husband and I were relaxing after the kids had gone to bed and were getting ready to watch a movie. Then it happened.

That scream that comes from a child who is scared is so unforgettable. I remember hearing the sound and having no idea what to expect when I opened the bedroom door. I thought maybe he caught his leg or arm in the crib, or maybe he hit his head.

Instead what I walked into was a kid screaming with his eyes open, but he was looking straight through me. His body was stretched out and as stiff as a board. I held him and with the screaming and blank stare, I fell apart. I was terrified. I began crying hysterically to the point that my husband had to take our son out of my arms while I went and crumbled into a ball in the corner. I was scared. I was confused. I had no idea what was happening to my baby.

And as quickly as it started, it stopped. His body softened and he curled back up as he usually slept as if nothing had even happened.

Our son experienced his night terrors two more times. With the second and third episodes, I was far more calm and aware of what was going on. I let the situation play its course, cuddled him the best I could and laid him back down to sleep as it was over. I won’t say it was any easier to watch him, but it was easier to understand and easier to keep myself in check. The entire course of his night terrors was only a few weeks, though it felt like an eternity those nights worrying if it would happen again.

night terrors, bedtime, reading

They say there is no treatment for night terrors, but there are ways to prevent them. My understanding is that reducing a child’s stress will help prevent any future terrors. I’m still not clear what could have made my 18-month-old child stressed? So stressed that the night terrors would occur for two more episodes…

Hate me if you want, but my children have always been incredible sleepers. They both began sleeping fully through the night around 3-4 months old and to this day sleep soundly. They are early risers, but it’s a rare occasion that they come to me in the middle of the night, and only my son does that.

With that said, this experience came as quite a shock to us as their routines for going to bed were always calm, consistent, and we never let them get to the point of being overtired.

night terrors, bedtime

With our daughter being older, and a very sound sleeper, she never witnessed her brother’s night terrors. She has the biggest heart and it would have made her distraught to see him suffer. She would have never understood that what he was experiencing was not hurting him or upsetting him. For this, we are incredibly thankful.

From my experience with night terrors, I have these few tips for you:

*Stay away from Google. But if you can’t, know that what you’ll find on night terrors isn’t all that bad. I Googled and I was able to figure out right away what was happening.

*The night terrors will typically occur in the first few hours of the child falling asleep when their sleep stage is transitioning.

*Keep as calm as you can. All you can do is hold your child. They aren’t aware of what is happening and likely won’t remember it. You don’t have to wake your child, and it’s said that you shouldn’t- because the child has no idea what’s going on anyhow.

*Know that night terrors are most likely only temporary.

*And of course, I would still suggest you mention this experience to your doctor. This is one of those things that I think is important to document in some way, especially if it becomes a more regular occurrence.

It feels as if your world stops moving. You have no idea what is happening to your child and you have no idea how to help them at the moment.

I’m incredibly thankful that night terrors were a temporary experience for us. There are children who experience these for longer periods and children who have them come back as they get older. I do wish I could prevent the fear that most parents experience during the first night terror.

Has your child ever suffered from night terrors? How did you handle it the first time, and do you have any tips you want to share?



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