Mommy, Mommy! screams my four year old, again, for the sixth time in the same 90 minute period.
Nighttime is not as quiet as I would like it to be around my house. I have two children who suffer from night terrors, and one child who has incredibly vivid dreams. All of my children struggle with the night time. I get a lot of experience slaying the night monsters.
Fear of the Dark
Since my oldest daughter was three, we’ve dealt with this monster in some form or another. Each child has their own special snuggly to cuddle with at night, and we leave the hallway light on all night long. These two changes seem to keep the monster at bay. We also try to make sure bed time is a calm time in our home. We limit media consumption after dinner — usually to no screens at all, but occasionally we’ll have a movie night.
If, however, these steps are broken — our routine is rushed or stressful, we watch too much TV, the snugglies are missing, or I turn off the light without thinking, then the fear of the dark returns in the form of nightmares. If this happens, then I still have a few more techniques I use to calm everyone down.
Sometimes, I’ll just go for a total reset. I’ll take the child out to the living area and hold him for a while. I’ll rub his back gently and speak softly. And I’ll listen as he tells me what it was that scared him. After about 15 minutes, the child is usually ready to go back to bed — at which point I make sure the nightlights are on and the snuggly is found.
Other times, when the fear is less severe, I’ll go into the child’s room and hold the child on their bed. Sometimes all it takes is knowing Mommy and Daddy are near. Again, after a while the child says she’s ready to go back to bed.
The key to both of these scenarios is that I let the child tell me when they are comforted enough to go back to bed. They are experiencing a real fear. It is hard to just turn those feeling off — even for adults. So, when my children are frightened by the dark or a bad dream, I let them tell me when they are ready for me to go — not the other way around. This takes a lot of time, and sometimes both my husband and I have to work at comforting the children because they are all needing this attention.
One other important thing, I have never told my children that the boogie man is going to get them if they are naughty. They’re imaginative enough on their own and can create monsters enough without my help. Instilling fear in a child is not a productive parenting strategy, can lead to larger fears in the child, and usually makes the parent/child relationship worse.
I have two sisters who had night terrors while they were young children and teenagers. I have very vivid dreams, and will sometimes sleep walk. Recently, I dreamt I smelled smoke and my husband had to stop me from evacuating the children. Even after I was fully awake, I still thought I smelled the smoke and had to check out the entire house before I could go back to sleep.
Sleepwalking and Night terrors are relatively rare sleep issues, and seem to run in families. I have two children who suffer from night terrors. These are vivid dreams that do not stop once the child is awake. The child can turn into a screaming, violent, out of control little thing capable of looking Mom in the face and thinking she is a terrible monster about to eat the child. They are scary to watch and listen to, and they can make a parent feel quite helpless.
When my second grader was five, he started having night terrors. My husband was working swing shifts at the time, so I often had to deal with these frightening moments without him. I learned, by trial and error, what worked the best for my son.
Night terrors can be triggered by emotional stress, sleep deprivation, growing pains, a full bladder, or something else. I tried having him take an extra nap during the day to help. I also tried taking him to the bathroom when I went up to bed. I made sure the family environment was warm and loving. But those weren’t his trigger. It seemed his night terrors were triggered by muscle fatigue and growing pains.
To help deal with the underlying issue, I would spend about 10 minutes a night rubbing his feet and calves. This reduced the occurrence of his night terrors from every night down to about once a week.
He also seems to benefit from a calm and set bedtime routine, and minimal screen time after dinner.
My preschooler has just started having night terrors. Like I said, it seems to run in the family. We’re still working on what her triggers are. Because we don’t know what’s causing them, it’s hard to preemptively treat them.
However, there are a few things my husband and I do to help her once a night terror has started. I talk to her soothingly, and gently stroke her face and hands, until she wakes herself up. If she wakes up easily, I’ll take her to the restroom — just to see if a trip to the potty helps. My husband usually lets her hold on to his hand (she will use it as a snuggly during these episodes) until she lets go.
My job of slaying the night monsters will continue for a while. I have learned, though, that as my children grow, their fears of the dark diminish. For more information about these topics check out this link for fear of the dark from WebMd and this link for night terrors from the Mayo Clinic.