Nightmares, Night Terrors / Other Concerns
Nightmares are normal in the growing child. Any time your child awakens in the middle of the night complaining that she had a nightmare should be consoled. When your child awakens from a nightmare she is aware of you and can remember what frightened her. Giving her love and attention comforts her.
The difference between these three sleep disturbances and nightmares is that these occur when your child is asleep. You child is not aware that she does these things in the middle of the night.
Night terrors occur between the ages of 4 and 12 years of age, but I have seen it occur earlier than this. A night terror usually happens within the first 3 hours of asleep. Some characteristics of a night terror are: screaming, flailing the arms, seems to look through you, your presence doesn't calm her and/or she isn't aware that you are with her, your child seems to be in a hallucinogenic state. Bottom line, when a night terror happens it is quite disturbing and frightens all parents.
The thing to remember is that your child is asleep when this occurs. The best way to handle a night terror is to let your child get through her terror. Stay with her to make sure there is nothing in her way that can hurt her as she acts the terror out. If you let the terror work it's way out it will go away after a few minutes. Trying to wake your child could prolong the terror.
The direct cause of night terrors are hard to determine but there are a few situations which have been associated with them. Some families have noticed that their child's terrors occur during a stressful time in the family or on the other hand a time of increased activity and anticipation in the family i.e. holidays.
I have experienced this situation with my son, Soren. For years, the time in between Thanksgiving (his birthday) and Christmas his terrors would occur. It was like clock-work, every year around this time I could expect them. I think the excitement of having his birthday and Christmas not far behind was just too overwhelming for him. The anticipation disrupted his sleep. I found putting him to bed much earlier, probably 1/2 hour to an hour earlier stopped the terrors almost immediately.
So, if you think your child is experiencing night terrors I recommend you make her bedtime earlier until the terror goes away. It does work :)