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Night Terrors
By Bill E. Branscum   ©2001

"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 to death.

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 the child.

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 anymore.




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