How To Cope With Toddler Night Terrors

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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How To Explain Childbirth To Young Children

‘How will the baby come out?’ As your child is excitedly awaiting the arrival of a new sibling, this question will likely come up sooner or later. When it happened to me, I asked a few other mums for suggestions. Some had chosen to answer that they’d go to the hospital where the doctor would take the baby out. This answer didn’t sit well with me. It wasn’t true (there’d be no doctor at the birth provided that everything went well) plus I wanted to promote birth as a natural process. Granted, none of my kids would be having babies any time soon, but you’d never know what would stay in their little minds.  So I volunteered a minimalistic, but honest answer.

“Through the birth canal, which is here.” My son looked at me sizing up my belly, then the space between my hips. “No way. It’s not big enough.” Tell me about it. Labour is not called ‘labour’ for nothing. As it turned out, a minimalistic answer wasn’t going to cut it. My kids simply didn’t believe me. In search of better explanation, here are some points that I found helpful and maybe, you will, too.

It’s ok to be honest about anatomy

The discomfort you and I may be feeling about discussing our bodies, especially genitals, comes from our upbringing. As far as kids are concerned, the genitals are just body parts, same as their knees or bellies. A matter-of-fact attitude makes the birth conversation a lot easier. It also helps when kids know the correct anatomical terms; then you won’t struggle to find the right words.

Pictures can be easier to understand than words

There are wonderful books with stories and illustrations to help young children understand birth and how to welcome their new sibling. Some books I recommend are ‘My new baby’ by Rachel Fuller and ‘Welcome with Love’ by Jenni Overend. I also found it helpful show my kids some educational videos with illustrated images. They couldn’t understand the explanations, but the pictures made it very clear what was happening during the birth process. It’s good to have a look at the books and the videos before you show them to your kids, both to determine if they are appropriate and to prepare your commentary when your kids start asking questions.

Others have done it before you

Children a curious and ‘How will the baby come out?’ is a common question. Ask other parents for suggestions and you’re bound to find something that will work for you, too.

While birth is an interesting topic in itself, this conversation presents the perfect opportunity to prepare your child for life with the new baby. The birth will come and go, and it’s just the beginning of a beautiful sibling relationship.

Image by Nina Matthews via Flickr.

By Tatiana Apostolova

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