18 answers

2 1/2 Year Old Having Night Terrors

My husband travels throughout the year for weeklong trips, and then for longer duration of time in the summer. Lately, my 2 1/2 year-old daughter has begun having "night terrors" in his absence. She is always very attached to me, but she becomes crankier throughout the day and wakes up a lot at night, almost hysterical...when my husband is away. I understand why this might be happening, but I wonder if anyone else has dealt with this and has any suggestions of how best to handle it?

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Wow...first of all, thank you to everyone who posted advice! It felt so supportive to have that feedback. My daughter (knock on wood) did not have a night terror last night, and hopefully tonight will be the same. My husband has called faithfully every night and let her know he had got her a special "purple present" (her request) and she is excited about that...I love the ideas of giving her something of my husband's to cuddle with or have near her when she sleeps. I have also kept a very consistent schedule every morning and night which seems to really help her feel more secure.

I had never thought of the fact that she might have to go to the bathroom. She isn't potty trained yet, but does go inconsistently during the day. That is a thought.

It was helpful to hear I'm not alone...thank you so much!

Featured Answers

I would say to have him call you or you call him and let her talk to her daddy so she can hear his voice. Maybe that will help her a little and have him tell her that daddy will be home as soon as he can. Have him sing her a lullaby or her favorite song to help soothe her before bed. Try not to give her a lot to drink at night before bed either.

More Answers

My son began having night terrors at about that age.

Try gently waking your daughter about 15-20 minutes before the night terror typically occurs. If you google "night terror treatment" you'll find many articles discussing this.

We were able to offset our son's night terrors by doing this - we'd wake him just before we went to bed - which was hard to do because he would be soundly asleep at this point. We roused him just enough to elicit a response - sometimes we had to help him sit up in bed just to get a mumble out of him. It worked, without fail, though.

Best of luck!

Hi! My son has had night terrors as well. I have read the responses and agree, when overly tired, he had them more. I could tell (sometimes) when he was getting ready to have one, he would be restless, tossing and turning in bed. I would turn the light on in the room and lightly wake him up. I tried a small glass of water too. He would go back to sleep, most generally without any terrors. Hang in there, she hopefully will grow out soon!
Best of luck!

My 20-month old doesn't have night terrors, but she does react to my husband's absence. He is a pilot and he is gone sometimes 4-5 days a week (mostly 4 days a week). By day 3 she is crankier, more clingy, wakes up at night, and needs a lot more affection and care. I stay very upbeat about his absence when I'm around her (because it gets hard for me too) and speak of him being home in a few days and how he will give her "big hugs and kisses". I let her speak with him on the phone and we send pics back and forth. It seems to help when she gets to speak with him. And now she tells me that "Daddy home, I give big hug and big kiss". And the day he is coming home, I repeat "daddy is coming home today" etc etc. and she squeals with delight and runs around the house. I think making his absence not seem so "dismal" may help your girl.

I had night terrors as a young child and then had odd sleep walking/vomiting during a portion of my pre-puberty years. There was no diagnosis and I outgrew both. For the record, I had two loving parents, one a stay-at-home mom and a dad that worked regular 9-5 hrs. I had two older siblings that also cared for me.

My point is that you are just being hard on yourself by making yourself feeling guilty about your husband's periodic absence. The night terrors would most likely occur regardless. There is no explanation for them and they simply go away with time.

Now, if she is showing signs of stress like losing hair, banging her head, or something along those lines, then maybe she see a child psychologist. If not, all you can do is comfort her when they occur.

Something else you may want to consider is that when your husband is gone and you temporarily become a "single" mom, you will have more stress which in turn makes you more sensitive to your daughter's crankiness. So, inadvertently you believe her attitude change is due to your husband's absence and really you are more exhausted and less tolerant. Just a thought.

Hi S.,

My oldest son, who is 9, has had night terrors off and on for the past 3 yrs, and it always comes when he is stressed out about something. He starts screaming like the devil is after him, and often runs out into the hallway. They are scary to watch, but they pass quickly and my son does not remember them the next day. You are right in connecting this to your husband's trips. It's hard for a 2 yr old to truly comprehend what is happening when Daddy leaves for a long time. When it happens, the best thing to do is to go in and comfort her until she calms down. You don't have to talk, because she is still asleep really. A loving hug has always done the trick for us, and then we lead him back into his room and into bed.
Maybe you could put a special photo of her and Daddy together next to her bed, and tell her that Daddy will be watching over her while she sleeps. Another idea is, if possible, have your husband call home around bedtime to say a quick goodnight, or have him read a short story to her over the phone. Hope this helps! Good luck!

When my now 3 year old daughter was that age, she went through a period of night terrors. They were pretty draining on the rest of us. We tried something called "special play time" where I would spend about 10-20 minutes in interactive play with her, on her bed right before putting her down for the night. The object is to let her lead the play (choose something she likes), and gently speak encouraging words to her while you're playing ("I like spending time with you", "you are playing so nicely", "Mommy loves you", etc) to help her feel secure. After we did this for about a week, (and also during the day), the night terrors went away. Hope this helps!

Well I can tell you they are scary. My daughter is now 10 and has out grown the night terrors but she use to go crazy. Jump up out of bed and run down 17 stairs. I was so scared that she would fall down them. I could not calm her down and if you try to calm her down in a negative way that never works. Just hold her and rock her or something that sooths her is the best thing to do. The good thing is they do out grow it. The thing I found out is the terrors are worse if they have less sleep. Give her a small nap during the day. The terrors will be a lot better if she gets some more sleep. The less sleep the worse they are. My daughter even though she is 10 almost 11 she still has to have the required or more sleep because then she still talks in her sleep. I have even seen her get out of bed and say things that don't make any sence and then goes and gets back in bed. She does not do that when she has plenty of sleep.

I would say to have him call you or you call him and let her talk to her daddy so she can hear his voice. Maybe that will help her a little and have him tell her that daddy will be home as soon as he can. Have him sing her a lullaby or her favorite song to help soothe her before bed. Try not to give her a lot to drink at night before bed either.

Hi S., my daughter used to have them. If your child is having them, she is not awake. She simply appears to be awake. My doctor told me to talk her through it. Let her know that I am here and she is okay. She also told me not to try to hold her because I could become whatever is scaring her in her dream. Because she was sleeping, I had to speak louder, but it worked. I hope this helps.

Both of my children, at one time or another when they were about that age, had night terrors. There's really nothing you can do, other than stay close to make sure they don't hurt themselves (try to run, slip and fall, whatever). Neither of my children were coherent and they didn't want to be held. They just sat on their beds, had the night terror, and when it was done they calmed down and went back to sleep.

I know it's a surreal situation and you feel helpless. Just stay right beside her, and when she's done and calmed down ask her if she wants to be held/hugged, unless she goes right to sleep.

It will soon pass and she'll be fine.

Take care and God bless.

D.
www.marykay.com/dwardchampion
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My son used to have night terrors as well.....they are horrible......and it breaks your heart....but hang in there....all of a sudden my son's went away.....I'm not really sure why...but they did. When he was having them I knew not to wake him up....and not to touch him...as that would only make it worse......just saying "it's ok...mommy's here".....and not touching him helped a bit.....but really just being there seemed to help...then he would go back to sleep. I feel your pain....it breaks your heart to see them so scared.....I hope you get through it soon.
My sister's daughter has them as well.....and from what I hear it is hereditary.....
Good luck to you......

My daughter had night terrors for a few years, but only once in awhile. I learned that night terrors occur when the body is trying to wake up but the brain gets somehow stuck between sleep cycles. My daughter would scream, and if we tried to comfort her she would hit us or push us away. Once I found her kneeling on her bed and clawing at the corner of the wall! It was like a horror movie -- very creepy in the moonlight from the window. Anyway, I eventually discovered that she just needed to go to the bathroom, but because she's such a heavy sleeper sometimes her mind would not be able to rise through the sleep cycles to actually wake up! The next time it happened, I picked her up and carried her screaming to the bathroom and put her on the toilet. In a minute I could hear her going, and as soon as she did she stopped screaming. Then I would carry her back to bed and in the morning she knew nothing of it because she'd actually been asleep the whole time. Very bizarre. But maybe there is something that's waking your daughter up at night, but she can't quite wake fully. If you can figure out a trigger, that might help, but if it's just nightmares that she can't wake from, that's more difficult.

My son had night terrors which have progressed to sleepwalking and my daughter now has night terrors. I was told by their pediatrician NOT to wake them up because they are inbetween stages of sleep. The sleep stages get progressively more adult like as they get older and this is why they outgrow them. My son was violent, trying to hurt himself and me so I had to restrain him and they lasted a long time. My daughter's are different. She goes from mad to wanting to be held. Oh, sometimes they need to pee and just taking them to the bathroom helps and is why they wake up. Make sure they pee before bed if possible and plenty of rest is essential. The posts before me were right. Naps or going to bed earlier helps immensely. Good luck!

my now 11 year old daughter also had night terrors,that started around 2 years of age ,I took her to the doctor and was told that even though she looks like she is awake ..eyes open ,that she really isnt you need to hold them and actually keep talking to them till they respond and actually wake up ,ask questions she can answer and eventually she will be ok ,how to avoid them I am not sure ,luckily my daughter grew out of them the last time she had one was over a year ago,hope this helps some

My 5 year old son used to have night terrors until I saw a naturapath and put him on a high dose magnesium, which relaxes the body. His night terrors were very upsetting to watch as a parent because he would sit up in bed and stare straight ahead and scream or cry even though he was still asleep. All you can do is not to try and wake him but gently hold the back of his head and lay him back down and whisper in his ear, it's O.K Mummy's here and then he would just go back to normal sleep. Since he has been on the magnesium he hasn't had any more night terrors. All the best.
R.

My granddaughter had night terrors, and it was a nightmare for the people trying to comfort her. The beauty of night terrors is that she never remembered them in the morning. We're not sure when they started because she "woke up" unable to be consoled as an infant. Nothing seemed to set her off...we never knew when she would have them. After much research and questioning, we found one theory that she had them when she felt unsafe, although there didn't seem to be a reason for her to feel unsafe. Another theory was that some of the foods she ate could cause an episode. My daughter cut out sweets from lunchtime to bedtime, and that seemed to deminish them. After a major life change for the family, a move to a distant state, a new marriage to a wonderful man who has the children's best interests in mind, and a very good play therapist, the night terrors have disappeared. You won't have to be so drastic, but you might try play therapy and the removal of sweets. My prayers are with you.

My child did the same thing when my husband nd I were separated. I would bring her down and lay her on the couch.
She would promptly roll over and go right to sleep. After about a month, I took her back to her bed and she slept just fine the rest of the time. I wish you the best of luck wit your little one. You might also try a radio turned down low.

I had this happen to me when my two older girls (Now 11 (almost 12) and 10 year olds) dad left me. My 10 year old was just getting ready to turn 2 when he left. And he didn't say good bye to them nor me, just up and left when we were all asleep. I thought everything was fine at the moment...but obviously not. The only way I could deal with it is letting them sleep with me or near me. THan I learned to stay in their room and read them stories, sing to them, let them know that you are there and nothings gonna change that. It was seriously hard. I couldn't even go into the bathroom with out them latching to my leg...and there's nothing funny there. Its sad and depressing, especially in their point of view. You can talk to your husband about sending her emails or let her talk to him on the phone. Some way have him let her know that he's coming home and soon. I know how hard it is to deal with all that, but thats the only way I could keep my kids from having horrifying dreams and feeling neglected.
Hope this helps a little. Seperation anxiety happens to almost everyone of us.

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