How to Deal with Night Terrors in Toddlers

A night terror is scary.  When your child sits up in their bed in the middle of the night and lets out a blood curdling scream your first instinct is to run to them and pick them up and try to hold them tight.  When your toddler is experiencing a night terror this is the absolute wrong thing to do.  Parents that deal with night terrors have to reprogram their minds during the night because all of their normal responses have to change. 

Helping Your Child Through the Terror 

Most parents’ first instinct when they lay eyes on their child is to make them “wake all the way up.”  This does seem like what you should do, but it can actually make the situation worse. You’ll spend a lot of time trying to wake up your son or daughter, the whole time fighting them to let them know you are not going to hurt them.  In the time that you would spend working them up more, they may have simply calmed down and fallen into a more restful sleep.  Don’t waste your time trying to wake your child, as allowing for the night terror to run its course is usually more effective. 

Try to talk to your child in a calming voice when you do talk, but don’t expect for your presence or your words to calm your child.  Most parents want to pick their child up and soothe them, but this is next to impossible.  Your child will appear frantic and may even run from you or run from the room you are in.  If you try to pick up your child they may feel like they are being held down and it may just make the situation worse.

Unless your child is in physical danger you should attempt not to touch them when they are experiencing a night terror.  Instead, just speak calmly and try to stand in front of stairs or windows that he or she may try to walk down or into during their fright.  Many times it is just a matter of running interference until the storm passes. 

There is no known way to keep night terrors from happening, but ensuring that your child is not overly stress, that they are getting enough sleep, and that they are following a regular routine will help to eliminate the night terrors.  It is also a good idea to make sure that your child’s room is clean before bed so that they don’t hurt themselves if they get out of bed during the night terror.  Night terrors are hard on the parents because they remember them, but when you learn how to simply stand by and wait for it to be over, you’ll find that it doesn’t have to overly impact anyone in the family.