Let me set the scene:
You are laying in your bed. Snuggled up next to your significant other. You are zoned out watching Shameless and feeling like a pretty good parent. And your spouse hits pause on the remote.
You think, “Ohhh… he wants to do the hanky panky.”
But he just lays silent and then, “You or me?”
And he gets out of bed, opens the door, and you realize… one of the children is screaming bloody murder. You listen to a couple bars of the screams and you know. NIGHT TERROR.
If you’ve never experienced your child (or spouse) having a night terror, consider yourself lucky. While they are not damaging to your child, they make you feel like perhaps you are living an episode of Stranger Things.
But how can I be sure that the screaming was a night terror? Well. We’ve been down this road. In fact, I have video of the Oldest in the midst of one several years ago. His were the most serious and longest in duration. Then the Middlest went through his phase. And now, well, we can officially say it’s official that all three of our boys have had at least one.
So. Back to the Littlest. As soon as I realized it sounded suspect, I popped out of bed and headed down the hall. I walked into the room and the nightlight shed a glow on the situation. The hubs sat on the bed, snuggling the Littlest. The Littlest was angered, shaking his fists, screeching. But here’s the biggie, I could tell that his eyes were pretty glazed over. It’s like looking at a mother who hasn’t slept for 4 months. You can look at the eyes, but there does not seem to be any recognition from the person having the terror that you are even in the room.
Five recurring themes we’ve experienced with night terrors:
- Child seems angry. And scared.
- Child does not seem to hear your voice.
- Child’s eyes do not seem to blink or move.
- Sometimes child’s eyes are open. Sometimes closed. It is truly as if they are still sleeping and having a fit.
- They are always, for us, within the first few hours following bedtime.
So why do night terrors occur? Honestly, there is a lot of speculation. Some articles say it’s a child’s nervous system being overwired, some say it’s due to a high level of exhaustion, some say it’s because of a transition in life, some say it’s when your child is growing and is actually due to growing pains, and some say, “Heck if I know. It’s just a weird thing kids do.” I generally agree with the transition, exhaustion, or “Heck if I know” reasoning.
If you are experiencing night terrors, one suggestion is that you can try waking the child before the night terrors seem to be setting in. This can be helpful if you are experiencing them night after night. But truly, for us, they seemed to kind of come and stay for a bit and then, all of a sudden, gone.
So. What do you do in the meantime to feel like you’re not a horrible parent?
Five tips that seem to get us through a terror:
- Before you enter the room, take a shot of tequila (just kidding. Don’t do this.)
- Talk softly to the child.
- Turn on the light in the bedroom.
- If the child is being violent, don’t attempt to restrain them. It seems to further agitate them.
- Do not get angry with the child. It does not seem to help (per the uzh).
- Offer a sip of water. If they take the sip, for us, it seems to mark the end.
Honestly, I am not sure if those things help or just pass the time but they sure do seem to make us feel like we were doing something, so there’s that. The reality is, I think I could get a foam machine, turn on some house music, and host a rave in the same space as the night terror and it would be just as effective. Just don’t let the beats get too heavy. That might aggrevate the situation further.
At the end of the terror, our kids are like me after I get up for my mid-night tinkle. They lay back down and go to sleep. It’s bizarro. Our boys have never had more than one in a night. And they have no recognition of the incident in the morning.
With our Oldest, I reached out to several pediatrician friends who assured us it was semi-normal, we tried all of the suggestions per the brilliant world of self-proclaimed child whisperers on the internet to get through the phase, but really, looking back, that all sort of ended up being busywork. In our experience, we just kind of had to get through it and give it, what my dad and Dr Shriner used to call “a tincture of time.”
I file night terrors under “Shit no one even thinks to mention about raising a human” and know that it’s bananas when you’re dealing with it but afterwards, you laugh and make fun of your kid for that time they looked like an extra in the Shining.
Parenthood is a trip, my friends. And night terrors are just a stop on the route.