10 answers

18 Month Old with Nightmares

Hi everyone. I was wondering if anyone had any advice for me on helping my 18 month old daughter with her nightmares. She has been struggling with nightmares, almost on a daily basis for the last month. She was recently diagnosed with night terrors as well, but mostly, these are just nightmares. I had night terrors as a kid and have done clinical research on them--so, I definitely know the difference between the two. Mostly, she has nightmares, I think, because she is coherent and responsive to us. But they tend to occur around the same time every night--anywhere from midnight to 1:30 am. She wakes up screaming--immediately stands in her crib and gets as close to the door as possible, frantically screaming my name. If her dad goes to get her, she escalates until she sees me. Sometimes, I can get her to go back to sleep pretty easily--ironically, it's the times she has the night terrors that she quickly falls back to sleep. But 6 out of 7 nights a week, she has these terrible nightmares that end up with me holding her in her room, rocking her, until she falls back to sleep. The problem is that it takes FOREVER for her to fall back into a deep enough sleep. If I put her in the bed awake at this point, she immediately stands back up crying. She's even mastered a death grip around my neck. I am 34 weeks pregnant and working and this has really been tough on me. For the last week or so, I have taken her back to bed with me for 30 minutes until she falls asleep and then I can put her back in her bed. It's so much less stressful on me and my enormous stomach-- it's very hard to hold her with my big belly out in front, not to mention the pressure she puts leaning on my stomach--the baby (fetus) wakes up from her and starts kicking! I hate taking her back to bed with me: I don't sleep the entire time, and I don't like the idea that maybe I'm creating a habit for her. But I don't know what else to do....I've done the whole cry it out routine with her when she was a baby, but this feels different. She sounds extremely frightened when she wakes up and I don't have the heart to let her cry it out. I don't think that's the answer at this point. I know 18-month-olds struggle with separation anxiety as it is, so crying it out seems to be more detrimental. But I am so in need of advice. Has this happened to anyone else at this age? I would appreciate any suggestions at all. Thanks so much.

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I've made a "nightmare spray" for my son. I mixed up a few drops of lavendar essential oil in a spray bottle with water. The lavendar helps calm and relax him and he can smell it and feel it when I spray it on his skin (diluted lavendar oil is completely safe for children and babies). When I put him to bed we spray it around his room together and I talk to him about how this frightens the nightmares away. I put it close to his bed so that he can get it himself or my partner or I can get it if he wakes up and we spray it anytime he feels frightened or worried. It seems to help and Louis loves spraying it around.

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Hi D.,

I can TOTALLY relate. In fact my experience is almost identical to yours - so much that I could have written it. My now 22 month old daughter started waking up in the middle of the night screaming when she was 18 months old. I too was (and still am - due March 29th - and it's a girl too) pregnant with our 2nd. She was also diagnosed with night terrors but I was never convinced since she was also coherent and responsive. I got very similiar advice: smudge the room, think about things that might have changed, did anything happen, etc... She did the exact same thing with my husband too. We use to let her fall asleep in our bed and then take her back to her room later. The bottom line was - she missed me (she too is a momma's girl through and through). She'd wake up and I wouldn't be there and she got scared and started screaming - every night. Since we are expecting, we moved her to her new room and put her in a twin bed with bedrails half way down the side. There is a nightlight in her room, in the hallway and in our room. What a difference it has made! She hasn't screamed at night - not once. If she wakes up she can get out of bed, walk down to our room and see me anytime she wants. In the beginning she would wake up every night, come to our bedroom door and say "mom?". I would get out of bed, hug her and walk her back to her room. She'd fall asleep almost instantly. Once she learned that she could see me anytime in the middle of the night and that I was always there when she needed me - her visits to our room got less and less. It's only been four months and we couldn't be happier with the results. Sure, she might visit me once a week but she always goes back to her bed and falls asleep immediately. Giving her the freedom to visit me in the middle of the night has really made the difference. One other thing we did - we put a picture of her and I in a frame next to her bed on the nightstand. She falls asleep every night looking at it. Some nights when I check on her she had fallen asleep holding the frame in her hands. I think it comforts her. Good luck and don't worry about how she'll respond to her new sister... she'll love her just like you do.

I've made a "nightmare spray" for my son. I mixed up a few drops of lavendar essential oil in a spray bottle with water. The lavendar helps calm and relax him and he can smell it and feel it when I spray it on his skin (diluted lavendar oil is completely safe for children and babies). When I put him to bed we spray it around his room together and I talk to him about how this frightens the nightmares away. I put it close to his bed so that he can get it himself or my partner or I can get it if he wakes up and we spray it anytime he feels frightened or worried. It seems to help and Louis loves spraying it around.

Hi D.,

This may sound silly, but, try having your daughter fingerpaint during the day. (You can buy fingerpaint paints and paper at any art and craft store.) My friend's daughter went through the same thing and this was suggested to her by a therapist or doctor. Whenever she had her daughter engage in finger painting during the day, the night terrors stopped. It has something to do with how her mind and other senses are stimulated. Also, I hate to bring this up, but I would want to rule out any fowl play, too. Make sure that she wasn't touched inappropriately or had any bad experiences. Ask your doctor for advice. I know there are ways to find things out even for young ones. I'm sorry for bringing that up, it's not something any of us would like to even think about. I just know that I would want to cover that base. But on the lighter side, try the fingerpainting! It's fun and hopefully it will help.

We went through this with my daughter. I too had nightmares. Everything I've read and heard from my pediatrician is that they just have to grow out of it. My daughter is 5 and they have lessened a lot. When she was 3, we started working on changing the nightmares and her starting to try and control them. It doesn't always work, but it helps and gives her some feeling of control. Good luck.

I feel for you! I don't have any experience with night terrors or terrible nightmares like that with my child, but I still wanted to offer support. I agree that this is not a situation where "cry it out" is appropriate. I also agree with you on co-sleeping. We never did that at our house, although we'll lay with my daughter in HER bed if she's having a tough time. But D., I think in your situation with working and expecting...if it works to get everyone some sleep just take her to bed with you. You all are going to have a major change in the household anyway when the baby comes, so I would just deal with the problem at hand for now. And you're right about separation at that age...it's a tough time to be doing anything that pulls her away from security. After the baby comes and a your 19 mo. old. is a little older, you'll all be ready to tackle WHERE to sleep. For now, and when the new baby is home, just get any sleep you can...wherever it may be! And if you're going to be off work for awhile with the newborn, you can deal with night issues when they come up and still be able to get some sleep in those precious times when both kids are out...GOOD LUCK!

You know, I am an advocate of cry it out, but when they wake up scared, I comfort them. I believe they need that.

I feel for you, my boys are the same age apart, and yes, this is hard on you, being pregnant to boot. The good thing with kids, is that with time, all things pass. I wouldn't feel bad about taking the baby to bed with you and putting him back in his crib. My mom would always do that with us. They don't understand dreams. So, I think your solution is fine, just do your best to weather it out.

Wow - that's a tough one! With being pregnant and working, I can totally understand why you would want to bring her in bed with you. You need sleep and are in survival mode at that point! The only thing is, she will certainly get used to that and, as you know, it could become a tough habit to break. If you're ok with that, there's no problem. But if you don't want that to continue, you should find another solution sooner rather than later. The sleeping arrangement might become more difficult once the baby arrives. I feel for you!
C.
http://daisyandpear.blogspot.com

Are you SURE they're nightmares? She's a little young to tell you in detail if she had a bad dream, but she could just be waking up, finding out she's alone, and screaming until you come in. My son, who is also 18 months, always screams as if someone is in there with a knife when he wakes up, regardless of time of day or night. It's just his baseline reaction to waking and finding himself alone and unable to get out of the crib. (the louder he screams, the sooner someone will come get him, right?) Also, it is my understanding that most nightmares happen in the first hour or two of sleep, not the middle of the night.

...but you have to do what you feel comfortable with. I'd CIO, but I'm heartless that way.

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