2-1/2 Year Old Crying/screaming in the Middle of the Night

Updated on June 05, 2008
A.R. asks from Andover, MN
16 answers

My 2-1/2 year old no longer sleeps through the night. Almost every night he either cries out repeatedly or starts screaming sometime during the night. Sometimes, I go in and he kicks and punches as soon as I touch him, and I can't tell if he's awake or not. Other times, he stops crying and just says "Mommy lay with me" and grabs on tightly to my arm. I wonder if he could be having nightmares? Is he just scared? He doesn't tell me what's wrong, and I'm not sure that he would understand the dream concept yet. Not sure what I can do for him...

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answers from Minneapolis on


My first child went through this and I had a friend who's son did, too. Everyone is right - it is night terrors. Start timing when they happen, then wake them up about 30 minutes prior to adjust their sleep cycle. Sometimes you don't even have to get them out of bed, just enough to change the pattern.

Good luck,

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answers from Minneapolis on

My daughter is a very active dreamer including talking, kicking, laughing, etc.

I'd try and explain the dream concept to him. I did with my daughter at about 2 because she was experiencing similar to what you're describing. I explained that our dreams are what our eyes see at night when we're sleeping. Our eyes play tricks on us at night because our eyes see so many things during our life, that they don't know what everything is, so sometimes, our eyes will see scary things too and those are called nightmares. I also explained that dreams are good for our brains and sometimes, dreams let us go places without leaving our beds because our eyes imagine some very cool things too, like beaches or playing.

To help him understand, try and focus on the good dreams, vs the bad and maybe that will change his additude about sleeping and dreaming so he doesn't go to bed scared or concerned, which will in-turn create more nightmares. Instead, if he focuses on the good parts of what our eyes see at night...it might make him look forward to dreaming and the good experiences he can have at night. My daughter understood and soon, she was able to differenciate between a nightmare and a dream, and was able to share her experiences with me in the morning. It's quite fun. :)

I have had multiple dreams (sometimes nightmares) everynight since I was little, and I LOVE them, even the bad ones. I'm fascinated by them and wish I knew more about them. Some people aren't fortunate enough to have them or remember then when they wake. I feel sad for them because in our dreams, we can really experience another life without having another life. Good luck.



answers from Madison on

Sounds like night terros. Do not touch him or make fast movements or turn on lights. The best thing to do is sit there with out talking and let it pass till he falls back asleep. Yes is very hard to do and not to hold them but it works. You can tell when they say the same over and over.



answers from Milwaukee on

my daughter goes thru this too and she's not 2 yet. its just night terrors/nightmares. all you can do really is just hold him or if the hitting is really bad just take him into your room or the living room, turn on the light and let him go thru it. there is really nothing u can do but be there when he snaps out of it. just bare with it, it wont last long. my daughter hasnt had one in a couple weeks.



answers from Rochester on

My son also had "night terrors" when he was 2-3 years old. I agree with all the other posts...there isn't a whole lot you can do. We tried different things such as rubbing his back, turning on the light, taking him to a different room, etc. They are not awake most of the time. You can go on the internet and do a search on night terrors if you would like to learn more about them. Gavin would cry, scream, hit, kick, etc. We felt so helpless...you want to do something but we quickly learned that you just have to let him get through it and he will go back to sleep. I also noticed that it usually happened when he was overtired or had a big day!!! (Too much stimuli) Eventually it will just stop. Hang in there!!!!



answers from Duluth on

you should check closer to see if your child is awake. as a child i had a lot of night terrors... my son has also had a couple... where i would be sitting up screaming, whatever... and my eyes would even be open, but rolled back.. there was and still is NOTHING any parent can do about them to make them go away. the general advice to parents is to just stay with the child and make sure they arent in physical danger.... you can try to comfort them, mostly that makes me feel better. lol. they usually stop after no more than 5 minutes.

the only advice ive ever heard of is to time how long it takes between falling asleep and having this terror, and wake the child up about 10 minutes or 30 minutes before that... take them to the bathroom, get a drink of water, snuggle. thats the ONLY thing ive ever read that is supposed to at least help.

kids grow out of this, so dont panic that this will be something that lasts forever. www.askdrsears.com has information that could be helpful and you can get the sleep book and there is info in there that might help you.

he could also be having nightmares, especially on the times he is actually awake. you will be able to tell the difference, because he will respond to you when you come in the room, with a night terror he wont.

the times he wants to cuddle could be a nightmare or it could be that he woke himself up in the night terror and was scared then too...

the night terrors dont get remembered in the morning either, so dont worry about that.

its scary, and i hope that it gets better soon....



answers from Minneapolis on

It sounds like he is having night terrors. It is very common at this age and really hard to deal with. When my son started this we tried to give him some coping techniques. We taught him some Bible verses and we prayed before he would go to bed that God would protect his sleep. It is a very disturbing stage to go through, but most of the time it takes care of itself when his brain develops more. His fear is real, but should not be reinforced. Be gentle but firm with him so that you don't create a dependence on you for him to go to sleep.



answers from Minneapolis on

I agree with the other posts. My son had night terrors at 2 1/2. It last about 4 months and then just disappeared. We didn't do anything about it. We would just let him scream it out and would never try to wake or reassure him because that always seemed to make it worse and/or last longer. (He isn't really awake when it happens although it may seem that way to parents. I had them too when I was a young child.)

We also discovered that as long as he didn't deviate from his bedtime more than 2 nights/week, he tended to have less of a tendency to have them. I was told that it had to do with the brain's maturation process and that it was completely natural and he would grow out iof it.




answers from Minneapolis on

Like the others, I think it sounds like it might be night terrors. My son had them. They can get worse with fatigue and stress. Has anything changed in his life recently? Has he been overly tired for some reason? You can't do much during the actual night terror, but you might be able to decrease their frequency by addressing those issues. On the other hand, some kids have them for no reason at all. I know they are scary! Good luck.



answers from Lincoln on

It sounds like he has night terrors. Night terror is usually caused by not having enough rest (nap) during the day. When the terror happens at night, he is actually still asleep even though he seems awake to you. He doesn't understand you are trying to comfort him nor does any comforting works. You just have to wait until he settles down by himself.

My daughter went through this stage until she turned 4. As long as she had a good nap during the day, she had a good night of sleep.

Hopefully this helps. Good luck.



answers from Milwaukee on

Yikes. My youngest had this. My other 2 never did. They turned out to be something called "night terrors." You can read tons on it, in books, the internet, etc. They outgrow it, but it is scarey. They think that super deep sleepers get this. They can't snap out of the REM stage, and are out of control. My youngest started wtih it at age 2, and I remember being so scared. It was totally over by age 4. Knowing that he'd be alright made it livable. He'll outgrow it, don't be scared. But read all about it for some enlightenment.



answers from Minneapolis on

Night terrors will end overnight (you will ALL sleep on the first night) with homeopathic help:

You have a choice - both of which work:
Aspen - a Bach Flower remedy or 'flower essence', or
Aconite - a homeopathic remedy.
Both are available on-line - or drive into the cities into any natural food or natural vitamin store and you will find them in the vitamin section.

How to use them:

Aspen: put four drops in a glass of water, milk or juice before bed. Even a few sips will do the trick. Aspen is almost tasteless but on the sweet side.

Aconite: put 3-4 pellets in his mouth before bed as he falls asleep. They are sweet.

My highest recommendation is Aspen as it is easy to give and has the best results.

Sweet dreams A..



answers from Cedar Rapids on

I bet your son has night terrors. If that is what he has, you are not suppose to touch him and I don't think you are suppose to talk to him either. I think you are just suppose to watch and make sure he does not hurt himself. From what I heard the more you try and comfort while they are going threw this, the longer it lasts. Not saying that is what it is, but it sure sounds like it.



answers from Madison on

Sounds like night terrors. Does it happen an hour or several hours after he falls asleep? A lot of times they are not awake. They scream and kick and their eyes can be open like they are awake but they are not. The best thing is to do is sit in the room with him while he is going through it and to make sure they don't get hurt. Wait until he calms back down and he will go back to sleep. Do not wake him. If you wake him from the night terror he will go back into later. Night terrors is when a child gets caught between R.E.M sleep and deep sleep. Night terrors can start as early as 18 months. I have a daughter who is 4 1/2 and still has night terrors every once in a while.

Good luck I know they can be scary.

Amanda mom of 3 2 girls 4 1/2, 3 and a boy 17 months.



answers from Minneapolis on

certainly sounds like night terriors. It is very common in 2-4 year olds and they don't realize that it is just a dream. Many times they think that it really happened and most times they are not fully awake.
I would sneak into my sons room rub his back for a minute and let him fall back asleep without having to get "involved" with him in the middle of the night. It does eventually go away. I noticed that my son would have this happen on nights that he was over tired than other nights. So make sure that your child is getting enought rest.



answers from La Crosse on

My sister had a condition called nightterrors, which is like having really bad realistic nightmares. My daughter also began showing symptoms when she was about 2. If this is the case, the only thing you can do is wait it out. I leave a nightlight on for my daughter and if I notice her sturring and fussing in her sleep I waked her up, lay down with her and rub her back and help her fall back asleep. She doesn't understand what a dream is yet, but if I ask her if she is scared she says yes, and that I when I know.

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