How to Comfort Your Child During Night Terrors
Our daughter was never a good sleeper.
She would wake up 7-8 times a night, every night, for the first 22 months of her life. And most times, when she woke up, she would stay up crying for a very long and tiresome amount of time – exhausting for her, and for me, her momma.
As she got older, though her sleeping patterns got better and longer, she still struggled with nights where she would wake up terrified – crying, screaming, even uncontrollable at times. The more this happened, the more we started realizing that she was usually not aware that it was even going on, and that she was still in a state of sleep while she was upset. Once we understood that these episodes were night terrors, we started to approach them differently than we did before.
You, too, might have a child who struggles with night terrors. And if you do, here are some tips we have found helpful in learning how to handle these situations with our own daughter:
1. Keep the Environment Consistent
For us, we’ve found that if we tried to change anything about the environment of her bedroom during the night terror, it would only make it worse. Instead, we made sure that she stayed in her bed, the lights remained off, the fan remained on, the diffuser was still running, and she was still holding the same stuffed animal. The more consistent we kept her sleep environment, even during something as stressful as a night terror, the quicker the episode would end.
2. Stay Calm, Even if They Aren’t
Emotions run high when your child is uncontrollably crying from a bad dream, or screaming out of fear, or frustrated as they are in a state of sleepy confusion. It is easy for a parent to get emotional themselves – scared, angry, confused, tired, helpless. There were many times during our daughter’s night terrors that my husband and I would find ourselves fighting about what to do during these situations as they were happening. However, the calmer we remained – the gentler we approached her – the more loving we spoke to her or held her – the faster she would snap out of it, and fall back asleep.
3. Be Present
Being present for your child during night terrors is crucial, at least in our experience. There is nothing more comforting than the voice and touch of mommy and daddy for a child, especially during scary moments. Some parents find that it helps to simply talk to their child via the baby monitor, and their voice alone would calm them down enough for the child to fall back asleep. For others, entering the bedroom and being in the room with the child works best, because a physical presence can bring more comfort than being alone. For us, we start by talking to our daughter through the monitor. If she is still crying, we will go into her room and love on her until she calms down. We found that ignoring her during night terrors only scared her more, and caused her to cry longer, harder, and she remembered it as a negative experience next morning.
4. Refrain from Taking Action During the Episode
Kind of like we mentioned before how it’s important to keep their sleeping environment consistent, it’s very important to refrain from taking any sort of action during a night terror. We try not to do things like turn on the lights, pick her up, move her to another room, talk to her loudly, or try to get her to do anything out of the ordinary. Because most times, when kids have night terrors, they are completely unaware they are having them in the first place, so changing their environment into something different will only confuse them more. Instead, we have learned to simply sit beside her, on the bed, just so she knows we are there, and that she is safe to go back to sleep.
5. Natural Calming Remedies
We have incorporated essential oils into our nightly routine with our kids, and we have learned to incorporate them during moments like these, too. When she is having a night terror, we like to apply calming oils like Lavender, Stress Away, Frankincense, or Tranquil on her – feet, spine, neck, chest, wherever she will allow us to apply them. The chemical constituents within essential oils like these are proven to trigger nerves within the brain that stimulate a sense of peace, calm, and rest. Since these are also familiar and pleasant smells to our daughter, she recognizes them as positive aromas, and it lulls her into a deep sleep faster than if we weren’t to use them on her at all. While we apply these, we also say a prayer of peace over her little heart and mind, too.
Most times, night terrors are simply a stage of life that they will grow out of. Our daughter is now 3 and a half, and the night terrors have significantly decreased over the years. However, it’s always great to know how to handle yourself, and your child, during situations like these.