The difference between nightmares and night terrors is that with nightmares, children are usually able to remember what they’re about. With a night terror, your little one will have no memory of the event. They’re inconsolable, they’re unarousable, they don’t realise what’s happening and once it’s over, they go back to sleep. Normally, a night terror is in the start of the night, so almost pre-11 PM, whereas a nightmare would be in the last half of the night.
If your little one is having regular nightmares, I would check that none of her reading material or anything she’s watching is triggering them. If they’re scared of monsters/ghosts/etc. my biggest gripe is when parents use “Monster Spray” to scare the monster away. I feel that you’re inadvertently saying that monsters are real. I’m not a fan of locking cupboards or checking under beds either – for the same reason.
If it’s a nightmare, you just need to console your child – “Everything’s fine, etc.” and the key is to do it during the day too. Don’t limit your conversations about this to night time when your kid is inconsolable and scared witless. Address their anxieties during the day. Perhaps if they’re a sibling, I’d be checking that they’re not feeling like they’re not getting enough quality time with a parent. It might just be about checking in with her during the day and talking about the issues during the day, so that at night time it’s not taking over in her brain.
With night terrors, I’d also be addressing any anxieties that your little one may have during the day. Ensuring a good sleep routine and that they’re not over-tired will help too, as night terrors are more frequent when they’re over-tired.
As frightening as they are to witness, it’s important to remember that it’s not affecting your little one and they won’t remember what’s happened after. They eventually do grow out of them.
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