Night Terrors in children explained

Night terrors in children explained

If your child wakes up screaming at night but is unresponsive, they may be suffering from night terrors.  There is nothing worse for a parent than seeing their child go through something and being unable to help. Mom Natalie says, “My two year old wakes up every few nights screaming and there is nothing I can do to help. When I try and console or wake her up, she gets even worse. She usually has them about two hours after she has fallen asleep”.

This is a typical night terror sleeping disorder, identified by the fact that her daughter wakes up screaming but does not seem fully awake. They normally occur from one and a half hours to two after your child has fallen asleep. Night terrors are mostly hereditary, and unfortunately there is no sure way of getting rid of them completely. They mostly stop happening at age 12 (sometimes earlier), but can be daunting for any parent to handle. There are some definite do’s and don’ts when it comes to night terrors.


  • Do make sure that your child is not over tired before going to sleep. This is the biggest cause of night terrors.
  • If your toddler has stopped having day naps, either try re-introduce them or give them an hour of calm time during the day.
  • Do make sure your child is safe when they occur. Some children lash out, or walk around during a night terror.
  • Turn the light on and try to hold their hand.
  • Speak them through it with reassuring words in a gentle voice.
  • Do make sure that the night terror is not actually a medical condition. If you child is showing signs of drooling, stiff posture or rhythmic jerking, see a doctor to make sure.


  • Don’t try and shake them awake or speak loudly to wake them up.
  • If they push you away, let them, unless they are in danger of hurting themselves.
  • Don’t forcefully hold them to calm them.
  • Don’t put them to sleep late, as this can trigger the terrors.

In a slightly older child, where the night terrors are occurring every night, try the following technique. Take note of the time that each night terror occurs. Once you have identified this, start waking your child up 15 minutes before each episode would happen. Get them to wake up quickly and have them be out of bed for 5 minutes before going back to sleep. Do this every night for 7 days, and this may get the night terrors to be less prevalent.

If you suspect that your child’s night terrors have been brought on by a traumatic life event, having them see a play therapist may assist them in overcoming the terrors. If your child’s night terrors become a risk to their safety, or are occurring more than once a night, it is a good idea to visit your doctor.

Toptots Early Learning SA

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