Tips for Handling Night Frights

Night frights, or night terrors, are never a pleasant experience. If you are a parent who has experienced these, you know just how awful, absolutely exhausting, frustrating and heart-breaking it can be. Since experiencing them with our little Poppy, I took to the internet to figure out the best way to help her cope but all the information I found seemed to contradict each other or just didn’t work for us.

If you don’t know, or would just like to be educated on night frights, a night fright is where a child wakes up in the night and seem to be awake, but cannot snap out of what seems like a nightmare. They may scream, cry, thrash around the bed. It ain’t pretty.


Tips for handling night frights


What Caused Her Night Frights:

We started to notice that she had them when she had a particularly busy or active day, or when she was overly tired. She also seemed to have them when she’d be going through a growth spurt. Some nights we could anticipate her having them because of her activity or schedule from the day. If you can mentally prepare yourself beforehand, it may be a bit easier to handle later. Sometimes it was as simple a reason as she needed to use the restroom.

What Her Night Frights Looked Like:

She would start off whining about an hour or two after she fell asleep, then it would turn into a full on tantrum in her sleep. She would kick her legs and thrash around in her bed. She would scream and cry like something was hurting her or she was having a bad dream. Other times she would just whine. I’ve been so tempted to video her while she’s in the middle of these frights, but it can be pretty disturbing at times and I just cant bring myself to do that to her.

Ways We Coped:

If we could anticipate them coming on, I would add rubbing her legs to our nighttime routine, as we determined that it was something that was bothering her.

I’d also make sure she used the restroom right before going to sleep. Most people do this anyway, but we found it helpful if that was the last thing she did before falling to sleep.

Some people will say it’s best not to awaken or to touch your child during a night terror, we found this to be the most unhelpful bit of advice as she would continue to have them all night long if we didn’t wake her up completely. We would bring her out of her room so she wouldnt wake up her sister. We would talk to her and try to get her to respond to us. Sometimes she’d be able to answer, but still not be completely awake. We’d ask her questions, try to get her to point out certain things in the room, get a drink, anything to get her more aware of her surroundings and wake up. We’ve had her help make hot chocolate, go to the bathroom, walk around the house, wash her hands in cold water, listen to music, turn on a favorite tv show…ANYTHING.
If she was especially…’thrashy’ we would let her roll around on our carpet in the living room until she started responding to our requests.

Once she was more awake or aware of what was going on, I’d try to find out what the problem was, and get her to talk about it. A lot of the time she’s not able to explain why she was upset, but other times she’d be able to tell us if her legs hurt or if she was scared. Getting her to talk, helps calm her down and helps us know how best to approach the situation.

We tried waking her up for just a minute or two before we went to bed to alter her sleep cycle. We’d go in and give her another goodnight kiss, ask if she needed to use the restroom or a drink, or  a different stuffed animal. She’d usually groggily respond, ‘no’ then fall right back asleep.

The key was waking her up as soon as we could. The longer it took, the more distraught she’d become and the more tired and impatient we’d get. We could tell the instant she woke up and she’d calm right down and ask to go back to bed.

I am not proud of this, but on one particularly difficult night, nothing was working and we could NOT wake her up so we stuck her in the shower, pj’s and all. She went from whining to laughing in about 2 seconds flat and started taking of her pj’s so she could enjoy her late night shower. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Luckily it worked in our favor.

The nice thing is that these terrors dont last forever. They are just a phase that children will grow out of. I think it’s harder for the parents to deal with than it is for the children since they hardly remember them happening!
Just hang tight and be patient, this too shall pass.

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