Dear David Coleman: Night terrors... how can I help my son to get over these frightening episodes?
Question: Since December, my seven-year-old son is getting frequent night terrors. He wakes screaming and crying in his bed, entirely unaware of his surroundings but petrified. He never remembers the terrors in the morning. His bedtime routine is solid and we have checked at school for any stress. Is there anything else we can do, or is it just a case of riding it out?
David replies: Night terrors are more common than we might think, with between one to five out of every 100 children experiencing them. They usually start between the ages of three and four years old, with frequency of occurrence dropping off as children get older, with teenagers rarely getting them. That suggests that if all else fails for your son, he will eventually grow out of them.
The cause of night terrors is not well understood. You are correct to focus on his bedtime routines and to ensure he gets enough rest, as being overtired can be a prompt. Similarly, it is thought that background stresses and pressures on a child may increase the likelihood of night terrors. So, it is good that you are addressing that too.
Perhaps adding in some pre-bed relaxation techniques to his routine might help. Massage can be good for this, as can relaxing music, or meditations like guided visualisation. Since he doesn't recall the night terrors, the experience may be more distressing for you, so you might need the self-care and relaxation skills more than he does! Beyond that, unfortunately, it is mostly a case of riding it out until the phase passes.