You put your toddler to bed every night with the same routine, prepare milk, sing songs, read books, say prayers, family hug and tuck them in. Just hours later you are awoken by the screams erupting from their room and immediately you would think the worst is happening. Small, sooth-able screams are okay but last night we experienced two hours of uncontrollable, inconsolable night terrors.
Apparently toddler night terrors are a real thing and we are going through them right now. A few nights ago I think was when I realized that night terrors were what my son was experiencing. He talks in his sleep so usually we hear him stirring and just let him be but this is different. It comes at around midnight, he screams and calls for mommy and daddy. Well, being the sucker that I am for my screaming child calling for me, I quickly jump out of bed to see what was going on.
As I went into his room, still trying to figure out what exactly is going on because I myself am still slightly asleep and not knowing what is going on, I see him sitting up crying and screaming. I get to his bed and reach out for him. This contact frustrates him and triggers louder, more consistent screaming. He yells something about his feet and I check them to make sure they are okay. He has me kiss them better, but is still hysterically crying. He appears as if he is awake but eyes open, responding to my questions but is completely inconsolable. Hours pass and I do everything I can think of to calm him: warm up milk, cuddle him while rocking him and finally putting him in our bed to where he finally calms down and falls back asleep.
Exhausted from what had happened the night before, I go to the computer to search what this could be that he is experiencing and I find out that it is night terrors: feelings of great fear experienced on suddenly waking in the night.It’s crazy because a night terror looks and sounds a lot like a nightmare – the wide-eyed stare, the screams, the panting, the sweaty forehead – a night terror is a whole other ball game. I knew that he was having night terrors when I read that your child’s eyes may be wide open, but they are still sound asleep. He has had nightmares I am sure, but he is sleeping, eyes closed whimpering or talking a little. The worst part is, even though they are shouting for you, they can’t sense your presence – or worse – be comforted by you. It all makes sense because I had gone into his room to comfort him, but it wasn’t doing anything. Thankfully, he doesn’t remember his terrors the next day, but you as a parent will since you are exhausted from trying to figure it all out.
I had to know what caused these night terrors to be happening and how I could make it so that my son wouldn’t be experiencing them anymore. According to What To Expect, it says, “Like nightmares, night terrors are caused be erratic sleep schedule, change of routine (a new sibling, starting school), stress, or anxiety about something in your child’s waking life. Kids who don’t get adequate sleep are more prone to terrors than those who do.”
This all made sense since we were really good at getting our son to sleep at a certain time, making him go to be around 8:00 pm and had a very regular routine. The last couple of weeks we’ve had more evening events that have eaten away at his bedtime and then things come up and a nap sometimes gets missed. We weren’t sticking to it as much and hadn’t thought anything about it until these terrors started happening.I blame myself because working full time I don’t get all the time I would like to spend with my son; maybe an hour or two. So what’s a parent to do? Well, there isn’t a whole lot you can do, other than staying with your toddler to be sure they don’t hurt themselves. Children experiencing night terrors can thrash around. I learned that you don’t want to try to wake them up since that just makes them more agitated and disoriented – and definitely don’t try to hold them. The terror can last anywhere from one to 30 minutes, so just wait it out. I know it’s hard because they are screaming and calling for you, but seriously it’s 30 minutes (tops) or trying to calm them down for two hours. I feel like it’s pretty obvious what to do here.
Really what needs to happen though is that I need to get my toddler back on his schedule. It’s hard I know parents, but I would rather have to be stuck in a house with a calm sleeping toddler than up at 1:27 am trying to calm a screamer that you want to do everything in your power to try to comfort. I’ve said it before, parenting takes sacrifices and if I have to sacrifice a few things to make sure my toddler isn’t suffering night terrors then that’s okay with me.