girls going for bike ride with dad

It was a big day bike riding (and sugary treats) that led to Princess Ella's night terror that night.

SHE screamed out “Mum, where are you?’’ with such terror in her voice I could only but run to her, hoping she was OK. It had been a long time since this nightly stalker had visited; since he’d totally taken over her little body.

When I arrived, she was sitting up straight, rocking back and forth and whimpering. That image breaks my heart every time. “It’s OK. Mummy’s here,’’ I say, instantly going into auto pilot. I know the drill. I know what’s to come, how to manage it and when it will end.

She twirls around in her bed, like a dog chasing its tail. I quietly ask her to lie down with me. “I don’t want to,’’ she says through tears. I ask her if she’d like a cuddle. She looks straight through me, shakes her head and even more tears fall. “What would you like?’’ I ask. She shakes her head again and then begins rocking back and forth. I put my hand on her back to pat her, but it only prompts her to do another circle. By now, I should know better than to try and touch her.

“Let’s lie down,’’ I insist again and so she does. I run my fingers through her hair, hoping it will calm her. The whimpering stops. Then, as quickly as it stopped, it starts again. This time the wails are loud and long. It prompts her dad to come in.

We know the drill. This is where it ends. The sound of both our voices telling her it’s OK instantly calms her and the beast that has taken over her body disappears. She lies down and within a matter of seconds is as peaceful as… umm, oh dear, I can’t think of anything. Gee, a girl knows how to ruin the moment, doesn’t she?

Anyway… Night terrors, unlike nightmares, happen earlier in the night. From experience, they tend to happen for Ella when she’s overtired or consumed too much sugar in one day. Thankfully, she has no recollection of these episodes the next morning. For that, we’re grateful. We also have no reasoning why it takes both our voices to calm her so instantly. But it does. Every time.

Do your children experience night terrors? What works to calm your child?

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44 Responses to The terror that stalks the night

  1. Maxabella says:

    Cross my fingers, this is probably the only night issue we haven’t had regularly… I’m so glad she doesn’t remember it. I did read somewhere that night terrors help build resilience – perhaps the brain learns that all will be well after a scare? x

    • Kel says:

      Oh, you are so fortunate, Maxabella. It’s such an awful thing to have to watch them go through. But yes, grateful she doesn’t remember any of it.
      Your last comment’s really interesting. That’s actually quite heartening to hear! Thanks. x

  2. Oh the poor little miss. I have no advice I’ve never experienced anything like it with my kids. Hopefully it will be something she grows out of xx
    Kate @ Puddles and Gumboots recently posted..Recipe – Sang Choy BowMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      I think they I read they stop by the age of 12. Although, I’m hoping they end before then! She used to have them quite regularly, but it’s been a while now since her last one. x

  3. My 4 year old has night terrors occasionally, but I have never thought to link it to what has happened during the day! It has certainly given me some ideas to think about.
    Jo@countrylifeexperiment recently posted..A weekend in picturesMy Profile

  4. nellbe says:

    my boys have never experienced it but it sounds terrible, you poor things. I don’t know what to suggest, sorry 🙁
    nellbe recently posted..Things I KnowMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      You’re so fortunate, Nellbe. They’re not a nice experience. Mind you, in a way, I’d prefer night terrors to nightmares! At least she doesn’t remember them! x

  5. Marita says:

    Heidi used to get terrible night terrors, up until about 4yo. We just had to leave her alone and wait it out or they would get so much worse. 🙁

    Thank goodness she has grown out of them. I hope Princess Ella does too.
    Marita recently posted..Do you have Australia’s healthiest school lunch?My Profile

    • Kel says:

      Same here, Marita. I’m praying Ella’s stop at age four too – which is only a month away! She does have them far less now than ever before. And thankfully, they’ve always been pretty manageable. x

  6. oh I am planning on writing a post about night terrors, awful arent they~ all my kiddos have had them 🙁 Miss M seems to have outgrown them now thankfully
    mums the word recently posted..Sweet Treat RecipesMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      Oh, I hope Baby Holly doesn’t end up having them too. It hasn’t been the most pleasant experience. They’re pretty rare these days though, at least.
      Would be interested to read your post once you’ve got it up. Feel free to link it here if you like. x

  7. ohh the poor little thing…. I am sure scary for everyone. Having not been there yet I can’t really comment but just by saying the reassurance and knowledge that she knows you are there and will always be there is what would make the difference.
    tahlia – the parenting files recently posted..writing acts of kindnessMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      Most definitely, Tahlia. It’s incredible how much our voices affect her. Generally, they only last a few minutes. I wonder if that’s always been due to the fact we’re both in the bedroom quickly after they start.

  8. Mrstully says:

    My Miss 9 had scarlet fever at 4 and the night terrors afterwards were really hard to deal with until I put in a nightlight and a seahorse that played lullabies, when she woke she squeezed the seahorse and it soothed her back to sleep.

    • Kel says:

      Oh, we have one of those seahorses. We got it for when she woke in the night and needed some light. They’re fabulous. Although, she doesn’t seem to use it these days. Obviously, that sound was a trigger for your little one to feel safe and secure.

  9. Nee says:

    I know what a horrible helpless feeling this is Kel. Will used to get them but grew out of them quickly. BamBam’s are much worse & can last up to half an hour. He really fights & thrashes around. Nothing helps we just have to wait it out & make sure he doesn’t hurt himself. Being overtired is def a trigger. Hope Princess Ella grows out of it soon xx

    • Kel says:

      Oh my goodness, Nee. I’m not sure how I would have coped it they lasted for half an hour. Ella’s are usually 2-3 minutes. Five minutes is as long as they’ve ever gone. We’ve had her run back and forth to the bedroom door, not really knowing where she wants to be.
      Interesting to hear your thoughts on the tiredness too, Nee. I really do think that plays a big part in it. x

  10. A Keeper says:

    How frightening for all of you. I hope it’s something she will grow out of (???) soon.
    A Keeper recently posted..Happy School Holidays QLD!My Profile

  11. Cheryle says:

    we have regular night terrors as shared care home , most nights she never really sure where she’s waking . children have such vivid imaginations she often doesnt stop to think its not real . i Hope Ellas sleeping soundly .

    • Kel says:

      Oh, that’s no good Cheryle. Thankfully, Ella hasn’t had one since. Fingers crossed we don’t have one again for a while now!
      Hoping yours settle down too soon. x

  12. My 4yo has had night terrors on and off for ages. He went through a really bad spell a little while back and I linked it to his watching of Masterchef. Go figure.

    • Kel says:

      Really? Wow, Krys! That’s quite interesting. Do you think it was the show itself or TV in general? Or just something very random?

      • I think it’s TV in general. I can’t imagine that he suddenly started screaming because he dreamed he burnt a pancake.
        So I imposed a blanket ban on TV after 6pm and that seems to have helped. Except tonight because we came home late after a long day and I was tired. Let’s hope I don’t regret that decision…

        • Kel says:

          Hehe!! I might stress about burnt pancakes but, yes, not sure our kids would!!!! 😉
          I wonder if I need to turn the TV off a bit earlier too, Krys. Will try if the night terrors start up again! x

  13. Alison says:

    My Miss 5 has had regular night terrors since she was 2 years old. They are truly despicable, frightening and gut-wrenching experiences. When they happen she is so wretchedly distraught. It breaks my heart that she continually calls out for me, pleading ” I want my mummy” when I am right there with here. The only thing that soothes her is me singing “our” song over and over and over to her. Eventually she allows me to hold her and rock her on my lap. It usually takes over an hour to settle her but she still whimpers for a while in her sleep. I cannot imagine the anguish and terror she feels during her night terrors. Thank heavens she can’t remember them.

    • Kel says:

      I think Ella was about two when her night terrors started too, Alison. However, ours have never gone more than five minutes – something I’m very grateful for. An hour is such a long time. Poor little thing – and poor mum!
      And I agree, thank goodness they don’t remember! x

  14. Tat says:

    Poor thing, nightmares are awful! My kids have them very occasionally but nowhere near as bad as you describe. They end up sleeping in our bed for the rest of the night.
    Tat recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: Jumping castleMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      Aww, that’s lovely they get to snuggle with you afterwards, Tat. With the night terrors, she’s never actually awake, which is the good part about them. Although, it’s quite bizarre to have her look straight through you.

  15. Di says:

    Olive has had a couple over the last two years. The first time we were completely bamboozled and almost rushed her to emergency. She kept arching her back and flailing wildly. The next time we were a little better equipped to handle it but you do feel utterly helpless.
    Di recently posted..Best friends, reunitedMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      Oh, for sure, Di. It’s the worst feeling as a parent. We had no idea the first time either. I think we woke her up, turned the lights on – it totally freaked her out. We knew better the next time. x

  16. Rebekah says:

    As sad as this is, Its also really really sweet that she is so comforted by the both of you.
    Rebekah recently posted..Happy, Happy, Happy!My Profile

  17. Veronica says:

    Night terrors were the bane of our life for almost 12 months with Amy. We used to use a wet face washer to snap her out of it sometimes, but usually, I would just sit next to her bed and talk, or sing to her.
    Veronica recently posted..Painkillers, headspace, broken joints and assorted other things that won’t make senseMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      Interesting to hear they only went for 12 months, Veronica. I hope Ella’s end soon. Although, they don’t happen near as often as they used to. I think our voices are pretty powerful when it comes to calming them.

  18. We’ve had some waking and crying but I always thought they were bad dreams and they usually settle very quickly. I hope they don’t get worse but at least I’ll have a name for them if they do. Here’s hoping she outgrows them real soon!
    Veronica @ Mixed Gems recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – WanderlustMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      There’s heaps of information on the net about them if you type in “night terrors”, Veronica. They always happen early in the night and the child is never awake during it. I think it’s so reassuring to know they have no memory of them. Unlike nightmares!!

  19. Lisa Wood says:

    Oh wow – we have never had to deal with Night Terrors. We have had sleep walkers..but thats another blog post in itself!!

    I am so glad that you have both worked out how to deal with the terror that stalks the night so that Ella is able to get back to sleep asap.
    Will she out grow them?

    Cheers
    Lisa
    Lisa Wood recently posted..Off To BrisbaneMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      Oh my goodness, I think sleep walker would frighten me more, Lisa!! Hehe!! 😉
      Apparently they get over them by age 12 at the latest. I hope we’re on the way out with them already, as they’re pretty rare these days.

  20. Kirsty says:

    Matilda gets them too – usually earlier in the night and she just cries and throws herself about in bed, yelling indefinable things (we can sometimes catch some phrases, but that’s it). I try to let her ride it out but it does disturb the other kids so sometimes I have to try and wake her, offer her a drink and tell her everything is okay – but often she doesn’t hear me or take it all in. I don’t think there are many other times when you feel quite so helpless seeing their distress yet they are not aware of it themselves… We have been night terror free for nearly a week now, hers seem to come in phases, hope they stay away for some time to come yet. Hoping Ella grows out of them soon, for all your sakes…
    Kirsty recently posted..Two Steps Forward, One Step BackMy Profile

    • Kel says:

      Oh, I hope yours stay well away now, Kirsty. We haven’t had one since the one I posted about, so I’m hoping it was a one-off. The last time she had one was months and months ago. It was a bit of a shock when it happened actually, because we thought they were all but gone!
      it is hard as a parent, most definitely.
      Do you think there are any triggers for Matilda’s? Or just something she’s going through?

      • Kirsty says:

        I wish I knew what the triggers were – they seem to come when she’s stressed and anxious but it’s not always easy to know what the root cause is. We’re currently taking her to see a psych (for a variety of reasons) so hoping that will help us find a way to deal with and hopefully prevent the night terrors. She has been free of them for a couple of weeks now which has coincided with an improvement in her separation anxiety at school so we think there is a link between them and her stress levels. I hope that makes sense?
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