Mommy SOS | How to Help a Child with Night Terrors


how to help a child with night terrorsI am calling out to all Scottsdale Moms Blog readers for your take on how to handle a child with night terrors.

I have a loving, vibrant, outgoing soon-to-be three-year-old daughter who has alwasy been an excellent sleeper.

About two weeks ago my husband and I found ourselves woken up by a blood curdling scream coming from my daughter’s bedroom. We walked in her room, and she was sitting up in her bed, eyes open, blood dripping from her lip (must have bit her lip?) screaming like mad. And when I say screaming, I mean a scream I have never heard before; nails on a chalkboard, ears ringing, blood-curdling scream.

When I went to pick her up, she started tossing her arms in the air, scratching her own legs, just a complete wreck. She wanted nothing to do with me and was screaming words we couldn’t understand. We were horrified. After about 10 minutes of the torture, she “woke up”, and was suddenly calm, submissive, and seemed very drained.

Her only request then was to sleep with us which we never usually allow, but the experience left us with no other choice but to take her under our wings and give her much love. We swooped her up and tucked her in our bed. In our bed, she snuggled so close, like a little girl scared of life. The experience was just aweful, and I don’t wish it on anyone, nor did I EVER want to experience that again.

Fast forward two weeks, and we have had about five more night terrors since the first one and they are just as awful as the first one.

Someone once told me the difference between nightmares and night terrors was: nightmares scare the child, night terrors scare the parents. This couldn’t be any closer than the truth.

I need advice from those of who have delt with this difficult this situation, and specifically how you managed your child during a night terror and what preventative measures did you do that helped with this craziness in the dark.

I have tried banning all potential “scary” television from her viewing, letting her get lots of sleep, and doing bedtime rituals…but what else can I try?

This SMB mom needs a full night sleep, please HELP!

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons user Tempophage


  1. My 4 1/2 year old has had these since she was about 2. I started noticing a pattern with them after a few months. It seemed she only had them when she was overly tired. Now I try and watch for signs that she needs a nap. Thankfully I think we are at the end of them!

  2. I personally think they are a spiritual problem so that is how I deal with my sons night terrors. After my son goes to sleep my husband and I go in his room and pray in a very specific way. It seems to be helping. This may sound wierd to most people but I had tried everything else as well. Besides prayer the only other thing I would consider is if they are having sugar near bedtime.

    • Lindsay!!! Thank you for this post. My baby girl (she’ll be 5 in a few days) has had night terrors since the DAY (seriously, she turned 2 and that night she had her first night terror) she turned 2 and has had them off and on ever since. She started telling me things about ‘heaven’ and how she picked us as parents and so on. She told us things there was no way she could’ve known at the age of 2 — I’m pretty sure she’s an indigo child or at least a tad bit on the ‘special’ side. Anyway, we have used sage oil and a protection stone for a few months now and notice a huge difference in the length of them when we apply the oil to her forehead (third eye) and spray the oil in her room and do a small blessing while she is having one. We have taken her off dyes and high fructose corn syrup and notice that when she does get these in to her system accidentally the night terrors will start again. I would love to know what you pray for during your prayers while he is sleeping. I know that might be a little personal and I totally understand if you don’t want to share. (I just know people think we’re crazy for understanding the spiritual side of our children and it’s nice to find someone else that is on the same page)

  3. I have had a few with my daughter (3 1/2) and what I’ve found is that you have to make sure she’s not overtired when going to bed (so maybe move bedtime up a half hour or so) and make sure she’s staying cool. Maybe add a fan to her room or dress her in lighter clothes or use only a sheet. Those two have helped my daughter immensely – since we started with these methods, she hasn’t had one.

    Hang in there – it is terrifying. I remember my daughter was screaming “I want my Mommy!” at the top of her lungs, looking right into my eyes like she was wide awake, and she was pushing me away like she didn’t know who I was. Awful experience.

    • Thank you Rachel – it is awful. thank you for the advice. My husband and I were just discussing cooling her room down and putting her bed earlier tonight. We will see if that helps. thank you. -jenn

  4. Diet is a HUGE factor in night terrors…eliminate all artificial food dyes sweeteners high fructose corn syrup and sugars from her diet..try this for two weeks and I guarantee you will notice a difference..good luck those are awful!!

  5. Oh Jenn! This is so scary! The sleep expert I always turn to is Kim West/The Sleep Lady (many good ones out there – she’s just one I’ve used). I looked it up in my book this morning and then found this link, which has some of the same info as the chapter in my book. (note: the first half of this link is about nightmares, which are totally different – what you are describing is 100% Night Terrors).

    The most interesting thing I saw in this was not to intervene when they are actually having the terror (except to make sure they are safe and not going to injure themselves), and also not to bring it up in the morning (since they won’t remember it like they would a bad dream, bringing it up isn’t necessary and could add anxiety).

    Also the overwhelming consensus seems to be that (a) they are hereditary and normal and (b) being overtired is the most common trigger. Hopefully that brings at least some reassurance?


    • Thank you for this piece of information Sarah.Very interesting. Yes, I think it is very much hereditary. I don’t think I had night terrors, but I sure do have sleep issues. My husband has witnessed me sitting up in the bed having full converstations with him in my sleep. I am also embarressed to say I have triggered the house alarm with the police showing up as I am in pjs and me not feeling “awake” or remembering anything till the police show up. So yes I have my issues which I’m sure my daughter has been so lucky to receive. Thank you Sarah. -jenn

  6. Hey Jen-
    Sarah is right. They are linked to being hereditary in some regard. My niece has had them for a long while and she will be five in February. My sister never had night terrors per say, but she did have horrible sleep walking and sleep talking episodes, which are manifesting themselves out now as sleep terrors for her own daughter (my niece). They can happen any time of the day too, as she has them even at nap times occasionally.
    From what my sister has been told (same as Sarah recommended) is to not really interfere too much when she is going through one unless she is endangering herself. There are times that my sister goes in and just holds her tight, but that’s usually only when she is tossing and turning all over the bed. I don’t remember what her doctor said regarding if there was anything special she should be doing or cutting out of her diet, etc, so not sure what would work, but sounds like some folks above may have some items regarding diet, etc . Some may be just coincidences with items cut out of their diet and seeing improvement, but for others it may work and even researching night terrors suggests that diet or making sure child is not overly tired have some effects in improving. I know my sister has taken my niece to a pediatric therapy session or two and to be honest, I’m not sure what she said. I’ll ask and if different than what others have said to try, I’ll post an update, but otherwise, hopefully the diet or waking them just before they usually have a terror will help reduce the number of them she has…because you are right…they are FREAKY and very real!

    • Thank you Kelly – it is so hard not to interfere too much. I know we are supposed to just sit there till she is done, but it’s so so hard. I will try playing around with her diet, great advice. Thank you. -jenn

  7. (Putting on my therapist hat now…) These are so so scary. I concur that during the actual terror you want to make sure she is safe but don’t try and wake her up. Let her come out of it on her own. When she does, she may be confused that you are in her room because she won’t remember the event so just reassure her that you came in to check on her and give her a kiss and a hug and leave. Unless she specifically asks to be with you, then that is totally your call. (I would have done the same exact thing you did in bringing her into the big bed!)

    I also strongly encourage you not to ask her about it but if she brings it up make sure you don’t say things like, “You scared Mommy so much last night!” even if it is sing-songy in nature or totally innocent. You don’t want to give her the impression that she did anything wrong. If she starts to reflect on what happened try to ask her questions about her “dream.” Make sure to use that word as you don’t want to introduce any further fear inducing terminology such as nightmare, terror, etc. You can ask, “What were you thinking about in your sleep?” Then just let her talk it out with her words. I would encourage you to end the conversation with comforting thoughts and reminders. Even though she won’t remember it in the next terror, it will set her up for success as the day goes on.

    Finally, prior to bedtime, and sometime in your routine, you might want to introduce a few questions of reflection such as her happiest moment of the day, reasons why you love your family, characteristics that you enjoy the most about each other, and how your family is safe and comforting. Don’t connect it to the potential to experience a terror just let it be its on thing but there is some evidence in dream studies that the last things we think about prior to falling asleep influence our dream state. It certainly can’t hurt.

    You are doing a great job, Mommy! Hang in there!

    • Ohhh Tracy, I love that idea. I will try to talk about her favorite things or happiest things of the day before bed. I love that! Thank you- jenn

      • Tracy – I have to tell you – we started doing the postive thoughts before she falls asleep and they have been a huge help! And you know how I know they are helping? The other night I asked her what her favorite part of the day was, and she said “gymnastics class”. About one hour after she fell asleep I heard her talk outload in her sleep “gymnastics!!!!” So funny, she was thinking about what we were talking about before she slept! Thank you tracy!

        Also as an UPDATE: I was very desperate when I wrote this SOS, and made some changes to her diet. After this post I stopped giving her the sugar substitute Truvia, which is in the Crystal Light flavoring packets. We would “flavor” her water ever once in a while because I wasnt a fan of giving too much juice and I thought Truvia was safe like Stevia. That same day, I started giving her chamomilla homeopathic tabs and a herbal syrup I found at Whole Foods as a kids sleep supplement. Well, I don’t know if it was the Truvia or the chamomilla but her night terrors stopped COMPLETLY! It is actually pretty shocking for us. I haven’t gone through a night without the chamomilla tabs to see if that was it or not, but whatever it is, I’m so blessed it stopped. 🙂
        Thank you for the advice…we are making the positive thoughts a night time ritual from now on.

  8. Reading scripture and praying over them and with them before bed as well as soft music or a noise maker in their room with calming sounds (rain, heartbeat, ocean, etc) We have them occassionally but not a ton anymore after doing these things. Hope they stop-it’s absolutely heart breaking.

  9. I’m so sad to hear this is happening! I have no experience or answers, just a virtual hug. You are such a great mom, and I know it is so hard watching our kids go through crap. Especially when it interferes with our own sleep too. Praying this ends soon!

  10. I am so sorry to hear that. My daughter had similar issues – I’m not sure what faith you are, but we are Jesus loving people! We taught her to just repeat the name of Jesus to soothe herself back to sleep. It really did work for us. I’ll be praying for your family and your little one.

  11. All three of my kids have had sleep issues. My son and daughter sometimes sleepwalk. My daughters both have night terrors. Our doctor told us not to try to wake them up and just let it pass. We found that night terrors happened when our children were overtired like when they missed a nap. We also found that when they have to go to the bathroom really bad they will have night terrors. For my middle daughter we would immediately pick her up out of bed (holding her out from us so she wouldn’t kick us) and take her to the bathroom and then her terror would stop. All of my children have had these episodes less and less as they get older. I hope for you that you can find the trigger soon.

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