Helping Kids

Do you know the difference between a night terror and a nighmare? How do you stop your child from having night terrors? Usually affecting small children, experts and parents share the cause of night terrors and tips to ease you and your child's mind during these often scary nocturnal events.

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13 Tips for handling night terrors

Dr. Markham offers these tips for parents:

1. Do try to keep calm yourself. It is likely that your child is not remembering these incidents and is not being traumatized by them. That said, of course you want to offer her whatever comfort you can, and keep her safe. While she will probably seem inconsolable, adults who suffer from night terrors say that they have been comforted by the calm, reassuring voices of those they love. And of course, if she'll let you hug her, then do so.

2. Do try to minimize stress in his life for now. No toilet training or other big developmental challenges if you can help it until he gets out of this phase. Be sure he is not exposed to parental loud voices or other emotional stressors. Use "positive discipline" as opposed to spankings, yelling, timeouts or other stressful discipline. Minimize schedule changes and nights away from home. Get tips here on helping kids manage stress.

3. Eliminate TV.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids younger than 24 months should not watch TV because it negatively impacts brain development, and TV has also been shown to be stressful for little ones, who think the conflicts dramatized on the screen are real.

4. Don't allow your little one to get over-tired, which may make her more susceptible to night terrors. Be sure she has a regular bedtime routine and is getting sufficient sleep. One way to insure that is to move her bedtime a bit earlier each night. Often little ones need to be asleep by 7pm; when they stay up later they have to summon adrenaline and other arousal hormones to keep it together. Moving to an earlier bedtime not only helps them fall asleep more easily at night, but also lessens the possibility of over-arousal.

5. Do adopt a comforting bedtime ritual that includes bath, snuggling & reading, and follow it each night, making sure that your child has an hour of "wind-down" that is soothing. No music, TV, loudness, wildness, or anything particularly arousing, and no food, since digestion seems to be the source of night terrors for some people.  Get more tips here on developing a bedtime ritual for kids.

6. Be aware that fevers can trigger night terrors in those who are prone.

7. Do make sure that your child is not being accidentally awakened. There is some evidence that night terrors result from being awakened during Stage 4 sleep (if there is already a predisposition). If traffic or TV or telephone noises intrude on his sleep, they could be awakening him. You might invest in a white noise machine as a precaution.

8. Don't try to force your child to wake up from a night terror. That leaves a person extremely disoriented, sometimes to the point of temporary amnesia.

9. Keep your little one sleeping in a crib until she outgrows her night terrors, if possible. If she has already graduated from a crib, be aware that she could easily leap out of bed during a night terror. Move anything she could trip on out of the way, be sure windows are closed and have a window guard, and use a baby gate to be sure she doesn't run out of her room and fall down the stairs.

10. Don't let your child get over-heated while he sleeps. Particularly, avoid footed pajamas. Many parents report that their child is more likely to have night terrors when overheated.

11. If your child has allergies or a cold and her tonsils are inflamed, it can make it harder to breathe, which may trigger night terrors. Ask your doctor about using Benadryl until she's back to normal. Some researchers report that removing the tonsils and adenoids can immediately cure night terrors in cases where they were regularly swollen and the child was having a hard time breathing at night.

12. Many parents have reported a complete cure with the radical approach of putting the child's feet into cool (not cold) water during an episode, although some parents report that the night terrors later returned.

13. I hate to wake kids for any reason, but there is evidence that you can help your child reset his arousal cycle by waking him gently fifteen minutes before the night terrors usually occur. If you can see a pattern, and the night terrors are frequent, it might be worth it. If you do this for 3 to 5 days, it will hopefully interrupt the arousal cycle and prevent the night terrors from recurring.

"My advice to other parents is to try to stay calm and to reassure your child through a soft voice that it's ok, mommy is here. Do not try to wake your child or to jar him in any way," says Ms. Nathan. "This will just exaggerate the episode. And, ride it out. Also, don't recount the happening the next day with your child; very often they will not even be aware of what has occurred. I have been told by my pediatrician that he will grow out of it. He's nine and I'm still waiting!"

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Comments on "13 Tips for handling night terrors in kids"

Catherine shephard April 06, 2014 | 6:08 AM

Hi there I'm having trouble with my 5 year old son he seems to be having night terrors which is frightening..seeing spiders everywhere..the problem I got now is he's to afraid at night to go to sleep..

Lucie March 07, 2014 | 5:38 AM

My 21 month old has just been diagnosed with night terrors. I was concerned there was something physical wrong with him as for the last 2 weeks he has woken around 1am screaming and we cannot resettle him for several hours. He gets very distressed if we try to put him back in his cot and last night managed to jump out of it. The exhaustion is really catching up with me and the whole family. He wakes our older daughter up and my husband is now struggling at work. If anyone has any tips please let me know.

D Wilson February 19, 2014 | 9:35 PM

My grandson has night terrors lasting up to 30 minutes sometimes. He is only 15 months old and when trying to wake him he simply screams until he looses his voice. He also pushes and stretches like his whole body is convulsing but not in any kind of pattern. He was a 26 week preemie and I wonder if this has anything to do with it. Are there any good methods of waking them? Any input would be helpful at this point.

Jessica February 18, 2014 | 4:31 PM

I have a 2 year old. He had night terrors almost every night. They would last around 30 min, some times even an hour. He would scream and cry and wouldn't let us pick him up. We pretty much just had to lay him on the floor and make sure he didn't hurt himself. We absolutely could not wake him up. He acted like he didn't know who me or my husband was. My friends suggested diffusing essential oils in his room. We have been doing that for about a month and so far so good. He has only had a couple in the past 30 days compared to nightly. I know it probably wont work everyone but it's worth a shot. If anyone wants info on the essential oils we used my email is jessycalynn81 at gmail dot com.

Robert February 07, 2014 | 12:21 PM

Great read even if old! Our son is going through this and we have no clude what to do. This helps!

Kelly August 29, 2013 | 10:19 AM

I have a 5year old that has nightterrors he's been having them sence he's been born I'm worried about this what should I do I'm scared about it to

Naomi January 28, 2013 | 1:55 PM

I sleep with my 5 yr old child. He had never had a night terror when I'm there. If I am not with him ( those times when I can't/ don't want to go to bed early), he has terrors. Only a few a year but a clear correlation between my presence or my absence.

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