Night Terrors

Bismillahi ir-rahman ir-rahim – In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful

She sleeps like an angel.  Her blond hair covering her face, her big blue eyes peacefully closed.  She is so peaceful and so very beautiful.  A far cry from the bundle of energy she is during the day.   Her never ending talking and questions, and her stubborn tantrums.  Seeing her asleep like this is relaxing, there’s something about seeing your child sleeping, it is a beautiful site.

The peace is short lived.  It begins as a whimper. I hear it and a feeling of dread creeps into my heart.  Should I go comfort her?  Will she fall back asleep if I do?  Or will I just wake her more?  I hesitate for a moment, unsure what to do.  Then I realise that she is at the point of no return, she will not fall asleep on her own.  At this point I’m still unsure, deep down I know it is likely, but I pray it isn’t the case.  I go to her bed and she comes to me, but as soon as I wrap my arms around her I realise.  She is not soothed by my presence as she should be, instead it seems to inflame her more.  She pushes me away, at first yelling, but slowly her voice rises to a scream…a piercing scream.  Her eyes are wide open, a look of horror on her face.  She looks startled – confused.  I don’t know what to do. The more I try to hold her the more afraid she becomes.  The more I try to understand her the more she pushes me away.  She stiffens her body, every muscle tensing up.  I can’t hold her, I cant comfort her – I am helpless.  I sit there stroking her beautiful blond hair as she screams out “MUMMMYYYYY”, “NOOOOOOO”.  I want nothing more than to comfort her.  What is she so afraid of?  What is she saying “NOO” about?  What does she dream that is frightening her so?  She pushes me away again, I don’t know what to do.  Maybe I’m scaring her?  Maybe she’ll sleep better without me?  I get up….”NOOOOOOOOOOO” she pulls me in near to her again and tightly wraps her arms around my neck, only to push me away again.  I’m desperate to know what she wants, to know how I can help her but I know deep down that even she doesn’t know what she wants.  All I can do is to comfort her the best way I know how.  I know its not good enough, but that’s all I can do.  Eventually she wears herself out.  Her screams slowly quieten down till they are nothing more than a quiet sigh, and eventually nothing.  Every now and then she still lets out a sigh till she is fast asleep.  I lay there for a while, exhausted from the ordeal, squashed in the toddler bed that is barely big enough for her, let alone the two of us.  I’m relieved that its all over, but afraid to get up prematurely.  I try to patiently wait some more till I think its safe to get up.  I slowly remove her hands from me, and when she does not move I know it is safe.  I quietly raise myself up and walk away, alhumdulilah she is still asleep.  I look back, she is my beautiful angel again.

My daughter is one of the 10-15% of children who suffer from night terrors.  This episode is played out in our home on a semi-regular basis.  It began when she was around two years of age.  To be honest at the time I didn’t think all that much of it, the behaviour wasnt that unlike her day time behaviour so I just thought it was normal for her.  But after she turned three earlier this year her behaviour has calmed down a lot.  And suddenly the night terrors really stood out.  It didn’t seem normal.  Its funny as I’ve read a bit about night terrors and have been aware of the condition for quite some time.  I even studied it at uni, but I always thought of it as something that happened to other people, or other peoples children – not my baby.  It wasn’t till I mentioned it to my maternal child health nurse that she casually said “that would be a night terror”.  Theres nothing casual about it!  Its so horrible to see your child so scared and confused like that.  I know they’re meant to be asleep, but their wide eyes make it difficult to comprehend this.  The whole episode is also scarey and confusing to myself.  I can’t help but ask myself have I done something to make her react this way?  Lately I have noticed a link, she often suffers from them straight after an illness, particularly when feverish.

I think the most difficult part is knowing how to handle them.  One time when I was too exhausted to stay squashed in her bedIi carried her out to the couch.  After about 5 mins of laying on my chest she fell asleep.  As this seemed to work (and in a more comfortable manner) I naturally attempted the same thing the next time.  Now I should probably mention here that my daughter is a bit too smart for her own good (and my sanity).  She’s the type that when you give her an inch, not only will she take a mile, but she will demand it, and force it out of you by making your life unbearable until you succumb to her wishes.  This case was no exception.  After falling asleep with me on the couch I slowly put her back into her bed.  This time she woke up.  She clinged to me, screamed for me.  I thought she was still having her night terror, but this was different.  Yes she was screaming and carrying on, but this was much more calculated.  She wasn’t confused, she knew exactly what she wanted…she kept pointing to the couch, and when I asked what she wanted she said “lounge room”.  I refused, I told her I’d sit with her a little in bed till she fell asleep, but she continued to scream.  So I left, I had to.  I know that if I let her think a middle of the night screaming episode will result in having cuddles with mummy on the couch they’ll be occuring much more regularly.  So I walked away and left her screaming, getting herself into a state of hysteria.  I lay in bed the entire time questioning myself…am I doing the right thing?  I left her for a while.  Of course by this point she woke up her baby sister, so I fed her until she fell asleep again and eventually went back to my older daughter who by this point was laying on the floor just outside our bedroom.  I got down on my knees and asked her to look me in the eyes. I told her that she had two choices, she could either lay down there screaming by herself, or she could come with me to her bedroom where I would sit beside her for a few minutes until she fell asleep.  She knew I meant business and let me carry her to her bed.  I sat beside her while she turned her face the other way indicating she was going to sleep.  Alhumdulilah it worked…this time.

But its always a hard one….how do you know what to do?  How do you find the perfect balance between comforting them in a way that is good for them and not spoiling them in a way that they will constantly expect?  I feel like I’m blindfolded, slowly feeling out the path infront of me, afraid to move quickly incase I make the wrong move and everything falls down infront of me in a heap.  I have made mistakes in the past, and its so hard to pick up the pieces.  It takes a lot of hard work, and it takes A LOT of patience.  I guess its all part of being a parent.  Then just when you think you have it all worked out you have another baby, and realise that you may as well throw that rule book out and start on a journey of learning all over again.

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5 responses to “Night Terrors

  1. badmommymoments

    I’m so sorry to read that you’re experiencing this. I did a lot of research, as you did, and found that things really changed when I cut Disney and Dora out of her diet. It was, of course, my own fault for letting her watching those movies at three. It just didn’t occur to me that they were scaring her since she never appeared scared when she watched them. But happily she’s only had one or two terrors in the last few months. I hope your daughter grows out of this soon! (And that you’re able to get some sleep. It’s especially hard when there’s more than one kid, so I feel your pain on that note.)

  2. Wow interesting. My daughter has been watching Dora a fair bit lately, thinking about it it coincides with a recent increase. Then again she’s also been unwell on and off for that time as well. I wonder if its related, definately something to keep an eye on. Thanks for that.

  3. Assalaamu alaikum,

    Alhamdu Lillah my daughter only ever had one night terror and that was the evening after she had been to watch a kids’ pantomime with school – she was almost 5 at the time. The panto was Hansel and Gretel and it obviously disturbed her and she wouldn’t talk about the panto until the next day.

    Anyway, I think you are doing really well sis ~ no need to question yourself. Have you seen a doctor about it to see what they suggest?

  4. Wa alaikum assalam,

    No I havent been to see a dr. I only just worked out about 2 months ago they were night terrors. They do not always occur, but i have notived they are usually related to illnesses, and it has been the season for it here. She hasnt had one for a week or 2 now so insha’allah they start to calm down.

  5. I found this blog while searching information on my son and his recent episodes of Night Terrors. My son is 7 and does not watch Dora. In fact we have been in a cabin without T.V. for the past week and he has had them every night. (He did start them at home right before we left though). I am a teacher and don’t think highly of many t.v. episodes and the amount of t.v. children are exposed to, but I would have to say I think that Dora link my be off. I am searching to see if there is a connection between gifted children and Night Terrors. My son is gifted and has an incredible imagination. The little girl described in the the original blog sounds very gifted to me (lots of characteristics). You may want to have her tested. Anyway, just a thought? Good Luck!

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