How To Cope With Toddler Night Terrors

September 10, 2014
toddler night terrors, sleep problems, baby, sleep deprivation

Toddler night terrors are perplexing, upsetting and just plain frustrating. And while it’s highly unlikely that your little one will remember them the next day, you sure as hell will, in your traumatised, sleep-deprived state.

Our toddler started crying, whimpering and screaming out in her sleep with gusto shortly after her sister was born. And while my husband and I did everything we could to prepare our beloved, then 18-month-old firstborn daughter for her sister’s arrival, her look of utter shock and dismay upon first laying eyes on her sibling spoke volumes.

She had a face like a dropped pie and no amount of comforting or attention helped our green-eyed little monster for about the first month of her sister’s life. And so not only did we have a squawking, squirmy newborn to contend with (albeit an adorable one), but we also had one hell of an upset and cranky toddler during the day/night.

Child health experts say this is not uncommon – night terrors, sometimes referred to as confusional arousal –  most commonly occur due to an erratic sleep schedule, change of routine (a new sibling, or starting school), stress, or anxiety about something in a child’s waking life.

So, what can you do with a night terror occurs? Not a hell of a lot, which is the really frustrating part. Our toddler’s night terrors seemed endless, but she did eventually calm down and grow out of them in time. Our GP advised us to comfort our child, where possible, but one of the really perplexing things about the weird and wonderful world of night terrors is that your child isn’t actually awake. Ours didn’t even know I was there, most times I rushed into her room, upon impulse, after hearing her distressed cries in her sleep of: “Mummy, mummy, mummy!”

Thankfully, her night terrors were brief – some children’s can last up to 20 minutes – but the emotional and physical toll on a parent can be very taxing. Nothing like a horrendous night terror-induced bout of sleep deprivation to make you wish you were that Tom Hanks character stranded on a deserted island in Cast Away (oh the quiet and the serenity).

If you’re not battling night terrors due to your poor first-born freaking out over a sibling, child health experts say to combat poor sleeping routines by ensuring your child gets enough sleep. It’s one of life’s cruellest ironies that the more overtired the child, the less likelihood he/she will sleep soundly.

Another thing to try, via our GP, which we had some success with, was ensuring our toddler’s calming bedtime ritual – bathtime, songs, stories, and lots of cuddles – was top priority in order to ground her.

It might also pay to keep a diary of when the night terrors occur – if you can stay awake long enough, that is.

toddler night terrors, sleep problems, baby, sleep deprivation

Are you a toddler night terror survivor?

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