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What Parents Should Do For Night Terrors

Sleep expert Heather Turgeon, co-author of "The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night's Sleep—Newborn to School Age," will fix your family's sleep problems in this space as she does in her home consultations. Turgeon's solutions are nonjudgmental, kind and—best of all—based on science.

No situation is too challenging. Leave your sleep problem in the comments. Let's all get a good night's sleep, finally.

Q. My 2 year old is having night terrors. Help!

Kathleen

Kathleen,

My son has night terrors on occasion, too, so I know how scary they are for us as parents. It's so hard to see your child seemingly so upset without knowing what's going on in his little mind or how to help. First, here's how you know these are night terrors (also called sleep terrors):

  • Your child screams, cries, or makes disturbed sounds, sits up and moves around in bed
  • He's not responsive to you, you can't calm him down and he won't answer you when you talk
  • Night terrors usually happen in the first few hours of the night (whereas nightmares happen usually in the second half of the night)
  • Your child doesn't remember what happened in the morning

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Night terrors are nothing to worry about, and we can't really keep them from happening (just like with nightmares). They are a strange little phenomenon that occurs when children are trapped between awake and asleep.

The thing you can do as a parent is to stay calm and ensure that your child doesn't hurt himself if he's flipping around in bed. It's next to impossible to calm, rationalize or talk down a child in the midst of a night terror, but usually, if you give it a few minutes, your child will move out of it and he'll naturally calm down and go back to sleep.

After he's through the night terror, there's no reason to stay in the room. Just re-tuck your child, give him a kiss and leave. Most likely, he won't even remember what happened the next day.

Sometimes night terrors are exacerbated by sleep loss and also by anything that disturbs your child's sleep, like needing to pee. Certain kids are predisposed to having night terrors, and they seem to run in families. Try not to worry too much and just make sure anyone babysitting knows to expect it and what to do (since they tend to happen in those early hours of the night when babysitters would be there).

Let me know how it goes!

Sleep happy,

Heather

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