"Something wicked this way comes" and it isn't
a wive's tale, a myth or an urban legend. A Night Terror
is to a nightmare as a hurricane is to a rainstorm. I
hope this is a subject you never have occasion to know
anything about firsthand, but if you have children between
the ages of three and five, I urge you to read this now
as you won't have time if you ever need to know. If your
child experiences a Night Terror, it will scare you half
This monster is known, and has been referenced, by a
lot of different names. Whether you call it Night Terrors,
Sleep Terror Disorder, Pavor Nocturnus or DSM-IV AXIS
I: 307.46, it is truly a horrific experience and I think
it is worse for the first time witness, than it is for
Night Terrors are most common in children between the
ages of three and five - I had three children in that
age group when my wife left. Night Terrors were a common
event around here for a while.
I have not led a sheltered life, but the first time I
saw a child of mine screaming, with their eyes wide open
and utterly incoherent, it shook me. "Blood curdling"
is a cliche I am reluctant to use, but when Ryan screamed,
it was a sound that you would not expect a child to be
able to make. I fully expected to find my other children
murdered in their beds and some wannabe "Jason"
hiding in the closet with a knife.
Dook was different. I'd find him with tears rolling out
of eyes like saucers unable to talk to me at all. He was
the hardest for me to deal with because I was always worried
that he was alone in his bed, just lying there silent
- stricken by some stiffling terror, horrible beyond imagining.
Compared to theirs, I suppose Megan's were pretty much
"run of the mill." The worst thing about Megan's
was that her Night Terrors seemed to "trigger"
them in Dook.
I researched, investigated it and read everything I could
find. There is no cure or any way to prevent them. I also
read a lot of "advice" I believe to be idiotic.
For example, many sources counsel against waking the
child up - I don't care what anyone says, or what their
credentials are, if you find your child caught up in one
of these things, wake that child up.
I wake them up, turn on every light in this house and
I make it clear to them that I am consumed with a furious,
take no prisoners, attitude. Something frightened my baby
and Papa's gonna kill it! You don't want to say a lot,
it's your attitude and demeanor that reassures them.
My children do not fear me at all, I never "lose"
my temper, but my kids have seen me let my temper go at
adults a time or two. They know that people take me seriously
when I get annoyed, and they know that nothing provokes
me like having someone mistreat one of my children..
I wake them up, turn on all the lights and get a flashlight
for each of my kids. We search this house from one end
to the other, and we look everywhere - and I do mean everywhere!
These kids go from room to room, closet to closet, cupboard
to cupboard and drawer to drawer with me, fully aware
that when we find it - whoever, or whatever it is - I'm
going to kill it for daring to come to my
house and mess with my kids. It is reassuring
to a terrified child to know that the most dangerous thing
in their house is their dad.
When it is clear to everyone that there's nothing here
to be afraid of now, I take the child to bed with me.
I don't tell them to go to their bed, they don't beg to
come to mine - they'd know better than to ask because
we all know that nobody, but their mother, has ever slept
with me in our bed.
We just go lay down and relax for a while so they can
"tell me all about it." They don't usually have
much they can say - it isn't like a nightmare where they
have a memory of frightening events but I keep them talking
til they fall asleep. I carry them back to bed in the
early morning hours once the Night Terror period has passed.
I handle this way because children coming out of Night
Terrors generally have no specific recollections of monsters,
or a vicious dogs - or anything else. All they know is
the shadowy fear of some evil, wicked presence.
I combat that intangible shadow with light, lots and
lots of light. It isn't a miracle cure for the Night Terrors,
but it is the best thing I've found.
I drive away the "presence" they feel with
an angry presence of my own. I am truly capable of being
the most dangerous, vicious thing in this house - I hold
them close and make them know they are safe.
We search the house the way we do to kill time. In the
aftermath of Night Terrors, their little body is so juiced
with adrenaline that they must do something. It makes
them feel empowered to join me in hunting down whatever
threatened them and it eases their mind to see for themselves
that there is nothing there to fear.
The whole thing is an exercise in parental "control."
My approach is to jump into the situation, seize control,
light everything up, set out to hunt "it" down,
establish safety and stability, and then maintin control
until the episode is over.
I am eternally grateful that I don't have to deal with this