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Toddler Night Terrors

February 17, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Over the past year or so, there have been a handful of nights where D1 woke up screaming – this is different from when she screams just before having to go to bed, which happens quite frequently. When I got to her, she was sweaty and her heart rate was insanely high. I tried to talk to her to ask her what was wrong, but she was completely unresponsive. Our pediatrician later diagnosed these episodes as night terrors. If you need more info on night terrors/sleep terrors, including possible causes and treatment, please consult your pediatrician or Dr. Google. If you’d like to read about my experience or need some support, read on.

Though they’ve been infrequent, they certainly aren’t a welcome development. Particularly now that D1 and D2 share a bed, D1’s night terrors will wake D2 up. As any parent can attest, getting kids to sleep is difficult; getting them to fall back asleep in the middle of the night is down right frustrating, if not infuriating.

I’d like to say I’ve responded well to the night terrors, but I haven’t. Generally speaking, I don’t respond well when I’m woken up in the middle of the night. And if you remember my guest post over at Natalie’s, Monster Mommy Moment – Pop Style, how I’ve responded late at night has been a significant source of parenting guilt for me.

The first episode of night terrors D1 ever had, I woke up really frustrated. Last spring, we moved out of our old home and moved in with my parents. D1 was a very good sleeper and loved having her own room at our old place. We’d also spent the night at my parents from time to time and D1 also slept in her own bed, so we had no reason to believe she wouldn’t sleep well in a room by herself. But she had a tough time sleeping by herself. A really tough time. So we’d been working hard for a month or so to comfort her as she went to bed and we finally made some progress. Around the same time, D2 began sleeping through the night, so all was well in Pop’s family.

Then one night, D1 woke up screaming. My first reaction was that this looked like something from a horror movie – she was tossing about and screaming like she was possessed or something. Not a fun visual by any means. So with all frustration built up over the past month or so, I did what anyloving father would do: I yelled.


The fact that she wasn’t responding and just crying made me even more frustrated. I kept trying to force her to lie down and she’d sit back up. I’d lie her down, she’d sit back up. This went on for about 10 minutes or so and then she finally fell back asleep.

It didn’t happen again for a few months, so we kind of forgot about it. When it happened again, my wife and I decided we needed to talk to our pediatrician about it. When I found out that it was an actual disorder and not something that D1 was willfully doing to wear me out, I felt horrible and repented.

A few months later, another episode. Now that I know what night terrors are, I responded well, right? Wrong. My fuse was about thisshort and I was probably worse than I was the first few times. SIGH

When I came back to bed, my wife thanked me for trying, and she acknowledged and appreciated that I was doing it so that she and her 6-month pregnant self didn’t have to get up, but by me yelling, she ends up waking up anyway.

Cue Man in the Mirror. (Am I the only one that thinks of that song & performance when I know I need to make a change)

The next time D1 had a night terror episode, I decided I’d handle it differently. I went in and just held her until she calmed down. Imagine that – being calm, calmed her down and yelling didn’t? We’ve also tried to make sure she’s not overtired by getting her to bed at a regular time. My pediatrician also says that 1-8% of children experience night terrors. Sweet! D1’s in the 90th percentile!

But the real ace up my sleeve?

When D1 wakes up with night terrors, I imagine Darkwing Duck going, “I am the terror, that wakes your kids up at night.” And it’s scientifically proven that you can’t be mad when you think of the Disney Afternoon.

What about you? Did your kids suffer from night terrors? What helped you get through it? Did you run home after school every day to watch the Disney Afternoon?


  1. February 17, 2012 at 10:17 am

    It is so strange, after two children, no problems, our third had night terrors.

    They were just as the name implies.

    I was so scared I thought someone had broken his legs during the night or something.

    The screaming and you couldn’t wake him.

    We began sleeping with him, and I’d hold him all night..and the terrors went away.

    It was the only thing I could think to do.

    But they just went away….

    I feel for you..it’s a scary time.

    • Pop
      February 17, 2012 at 10:18 am

      The first time was horribly frightening (it still is). Strange how fear makes me such a coward and all I could do was yell at my baby. SIGH

      But thankfully, it’s getting better.

  2. February 17, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Oh man, I can’t even imagine. I worked in a pediatric hospital and we would have maybe a handful of patients that I’ve witness go through this. It’s really crazy how they scream bloody murder. As a nurse you think that they’re in sever pain but really they were sleeping. So weird.
    Is there anything that they can do?

    • Pop
      February 21, 2012 at 11:46 am

      Apparently, there’s medication (what don’t we have meds for these days?), but we’re going the route of being understanding and trying to get her to sleep regularly. So far, it’s been working pretty well.

  3. February 18, 2012 at 1:39 am

    I think I need to add Darkwing Duck DVDs to my Christmas list. Nega Duck ruled.
    In a fit of exhaustion yesterday when I wanted a nap and my children didn’t, I told them I hate you guys right now. So yeah, tired parenting is bad parenting.
    If my kids get night terrors, I may end up committing seppuku.

    • Pop
      February 21, 2012 at 11:47 am

      Nega Duck was indeed awesome. I hated Dr. Bushroot.

      Tired parenting is no good, but the only remedy is sleep, which isn’t easy for parents to get. 😛

  4. February 18, 2012 at 9:47 am

    I’d read about night terrors when our kids were little and for some reason I thought that every kid got them. I even reconfigured our apartment so that our children’s bedrooms could be closer to ours so I could hear their night terrors. But fortunately they never got them.

    Sounds very scary and frustrating. No one is at their best when woken up in the middle of the night.

    • Pop
      February 21, 2012 at 11:48 am

      Oddly enough, I never read about them – maybe I stopped reading at the SIDS chapter. Strange thing is, she doesn’t remember them at all, so like most parenting guilt, it seems it has more to do with me forgiving myself and moving on, than anything else.

  5. February 18, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    So sorry you (and she) are going through this.
    My son struggled with night terrors and other sleep issues for years.

    It never got easier; we just got better at coping, I suppose.

    He is fourteen now and finally over everything (for a few years now).

    But oh the patience. It’s hard when you’re exhausted in the middle of the night.
    Be gentle with yourself.

    There’s only so much you can expect from an adult (you) who is tired and scared and hurting for his daughter.

    Keep in mind, she doesn’t remember it.
    You’re the one who feels it in the morning…

    You’ll get through it. (And by you I mean your whole family.)
    You will.

    • Pop
      February 21, 2012 at 11:51 am

      Thanks Julie! You rock! Key word for me seems to be: gentle. With her. And with myself.

  6. February 22, 2012 at 6:39 am

    My son, who is 12, had a random sleep walking episode a few months back (at least we hope it was random!). Totally unexpected and bizarre (we were in a hotel and he tried to climb the nightstand between the beds and STEPPED ON MY LAPTOP!). My husband works in a pediatric department in a medical school so he asked one of his colleagues about it who said that the sleep walking is actually a form of night terrors, and that your other commentors have it right that these are uncontrollable episodes that your daughter can’t be cajoled out of and won’t remember. The key is, I think you’re right, to be gentle with yourself as much as your babe.

    Thank you for your kind comment on my blog.

    • Pop
      February 22, 2012 at 8:48 am

      These comments have been very reassuring and helpful. So thanks for your input Lauren. 🙂

  7. February 22, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Night terrors are SCARY!! Ethan’s had only a couple, and thankfully doesn’t remember them the next morning. But me? I can’t go back to sleep!

    Thanks for the link back to you Daddy Moment my friend 😉

    • Pop
      February 22, 2012 at 11:00 am

      Thankfully, I have no problem falling back asleep. But that can be a problem too if I get woken up again.

      No problem! I had so much fun with that post. Not to mention The Business puts the fear of God in me.

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