Nightmares and What to Do about Them
If your child exhibits two or more of the symptoms listed below, he or she probably has “night terrors,” an episode of awakening from sleep in a state of acute panic. Most characteristic is the sense of extreme terror; often there is no recall of having dreamed.
- Child abruptly awakens with a piercing scream.
- Child appears terrified or in pain.
- Child cries, moans, yells, or mumbles incoherently.
- Child sits up, jumps out of bed, or runs around.
- Child’s eyes are open but unseeing; appears dazed; pupils dilate; may hallucinate
- Child’s heartbeat is racing (double the normal rate).
- Child perspires profusely.
- Child breathes rapidly and shallowly; may gasp for breath.
- Child remains agitated for several minutes to half hour.
- Child rebuffs attempts to console; attack runs its course.
- Child has been asleep only one-and-a-half hours (two-thirds of all episodes occur early in the night).
- Child may have night terrors at any age but is often younger—three to five years old.
- Child has little or no recall of dream imagery; any imagery consists of a single violent threat.
- Child has no recollection of attack in the morning.
First Aid For Night Terrors
- Be available and protective.
- Do not attempt to hold forcibly or restrain child unless essential for security; restraint may intensify outburst.
- Do not become angry or try to rouse the child by shaking, slapping, yelling, etc.
- Touch child lightly; if possible, put arm around child or stroke face and arms soothingly.
- Walk with child if he or she moves about restlessly.
- Speak softly, calmly, and reassuringly, even if child does not appear to hear. Say such things as “It’s all right. Everything’s all right. It’s all over. I’m here. You’re okay now,” etc.
- A warm washcloth gently wiped over the face may help the child recover.
- Let the child return to sleep as soon as possible.
Realize that there is probably nothing seriously wrong with the child; such attacks are usually symptomatic of an immature nervous system and are typically outgrown.
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