In the quiet of the night, I lay awake anticipating what is sure to follow. A piercing scream, followed by "Mummy?! Help me, Mummy!". The dreaded night terrors, which are almost a nightly occurrence.
If you have ever had the unfortunate task of dealing with a toddler who has night terrors, you will share my pain. If you haven’t, thank your lucky stars. It is the most heartbreaking, challenging, frustrating event to deal with; nothing you do can make it better and you feel so useless just waiting it out.
My 4.5 year-old has been suffering from night terrors for almost 2 years. As he has gotten older, the frequency and intensity has worsened. He is a very sensitive soul, and the slightest change (or impending change) will set him off. This year he started Kinder, so it was always bound to happen.
Around 1am is when the first shattering scream bounces through the house. It is always followed by a terrified, "Mummy?!’. I take a deep breath and prepare myself, willing patience to filter through my sleep-deprived state.
As I walk into his room, he is usually sitting up, eyes wide-open, yet not really seeing. Some nights he will yell incoherently, other times he is capable of fully engaging in conversation- of a hysterical nature. He will be screaming saying that he ‘can’t do it’, or he has ‘forgotten how to breathe’ and beg me to help him. To make it all better.
As a mum, that is the only thing I want to do. However, as hard as I try, I cannot. When I try to physically soothe him, he lashes out hitting and kicking in my direction, thrashing around on his bed.
When I verbally try to calm him, his screams get louder as he tells me to leave him alone. When I leave his room, he begs me to come back and make it all better. So, I sit there, occasionally quietly talking, mostly in silence and just wait until it passes.
These attacks can last anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour. Sometimes, this will happen three times a night.
It is almost like these are anxiety attacks, and they could very well be. But, it seems night terrors are extremely common and kids will eventually grow out of them.
As parents, there is absolutely nothing worse than seeing your child so hysterical, begging you for help and you not being able to do anything to make it better. You feel like a failure.
I have spent hours reading up on night terrors and anxiety in pre-schoolers, I have spoken to Doctors and Maternal Health Nurses, and I will continue to keep looking for the best ways to approach it.
For other mums/carers who may be going through this too, the best advice I have been given is to not talk directly to them, don’t tell them to calm down or try to hug them. Simply sit with them, maybe read a book or just talk about something they like, so that they can hear your voice and know that you are there. It doesn’t seem like much, but it seems to help shorten the episodes.
As horrible as they are, hang in there, it too will pass.