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Toddler having screaming fits in night - gentle solutions?

(18 Posts)
RubyrooUK Tue 12-Feb-13 13:33:29

My DS, who is 2.6, is a pretty cheery toddler. He has his moments but is generally not a massive tamtrummer. He is extremely stubborn on a few things - won't use a pushchair, for example, or becomes hysterical - but for most things, he can be distracted/coaxed and so on. He is extremely affectionate.

But in the last few weeks, he has started having intense screaming fits at night. Not every night, but maybe once or twice a week. The usual pattern is that he goes to bed fine, then wakes up sweating and screaming at about 11pm. I am not sure if he is having a night terror/nightmare or just extremely angry about being awake when he is so tired. At first he seems to be asleep, but then he can scream commands "light on, light on" so he seems to be awake.

Last time, he woke up because he was hot (I think) and I lay down with him, cuddled him, shushed him etc - all things that would normally send him back to sleep. He was hysterical, kicking me and screaming at the top of his voice.

Over the period of two hours, I tried singing to him and rocking him - this made him more furious and he was yelling "stop singing! Noooo". He was thrashing around in bed so much hitting his head off the wall that I was scared to leave him alone, so walking away was not an option. Then I would try lying down with him in his bed - he would punch and kick me and arch his back screaming "no bed".

In the end, I told him in an unpleasant voice that it was fine to feel cross when you woke up and were tired but not to kick mummy EVER. He did actually stop kicking me then to my amazement but continued jerking his body around and screaming in rage.

In the end, after two hours, we turned on three lights in my bedroom as he became hysterical about the light being on (has never shown any fear of the dark before now), lay down in my bed and read three books together, during which he calmed down and became completely normal again and he passed out in my arms.

I can't really see a link between the episodes. He hasn't napped in the day for several months and is often tired in the evening. But these screaming fits have only recently started. I find them very upsetting as I can take him being upset and comforting him but these periods where it is like I have no effect on him at all are horrible. He seems absolutely fine in the morning. (My mum was staying last night and said that she would not have believed me if I'd told her he was like this as he is so good-natured generally; she'd have thought I meant standard crying instead of this total demented hysteria).

Does anyone have any ideas for how I can deal with this? Or been through similar? I am 35 weeks pregnant with DS2 and cannot conceive how DH and I can both hold a screaming newborn and a screaming toddler at night.

I'm looking for gentle solutions that don't involve leaving him to scream, particularly at a time when he is about to get a new sibling. I don't think he is intentionally being bad; he is just destroyed by tiredness and can't cope, so goes loopy.

I am working a 12 hour day today, exhausted from pregnancy, DH is away this week for work and I can't bear the thought of another two-hour marathon session of screaming tonight. This morning DS was thrilled to take a book into nursery to show everyone and was happily chatting away about spending this afternoon with my mum, whereas I want to lie down under my desk and never stop crying. Help! (Be kind.)

5madthings Tue 12-Feb-13 13:36:44

Sounds like night terrors.

Is it the same time each night? If so look up 'wake to sleep' basically a bit before he normally has the night terror go in and wake him up gently, just to rouse him a bit. This Weill reset his rem sleep pattern and may stop the night terrors.

SayCoolNowSayWhip Tue 12-Feb-13 13:39:27

Poor you hmm I am 34 weeks pg and have a 2 yr old so I know how tired you must be!

DD does the waking in the night but not to the extreme of your DS. She generally settles after a cuddle on the lap for a few minutes. If she doesn't settle I sometimes end up having to stay with her till she goes to sleep, striking hair etc.

It sounds like night terrors more than nightmares to me - I think all you can do is distract and soothe. Sometimes a bit of milk can help as well, or a teething powder.

Sorry that's not really very helpful but didn't want to read and run. Fingers crossed you have a better few nights.

BettyandDon Tue 12-Feb-13 13:41:47

I think it sounds like night terrors aswell. Not sure how to deal with these myself, we've experienced it a few times and I tried to comfort DD to not effect - she was hysterical totally out of character. But it was short lived.

Is he anxious about the new baby perhaps ? Weirdly we had the night terrors when I was about 35 weeks aswell..

mum23girlys Tue 12-Feb-13 13:45:40

My dd3 is 2.3 and I could have written this. She usually wakes screaming after around 4 hours and is inconsolable. Sometimes when I go in she doesn't even seem to be awake. It's very hit and miss as well. She might wake 3 nights running then be fine for a week. I agree with 5madthings it does sound like night terrors and the wake to sleep method can help. So hard to go in and potentially disturb them when you're exhausted from the night before though it is worth it and does generally work. I just rouse dd enough for her to turn round in her bed and go straight back over.

Best of luck. I know how awful it is when they're so upset and everything always seems worse in the middle of the night

bonzo77 Tue 12-Feb-13 13:57:04

Ds1 who as an amazing sleeper has this sometimes. I think it's like sleepwalking in that they appear awake but are not. The best and quickest solution for us is to carry him into our bed, put the tv on and let him calm down. Then when sleepy again walk him back to bed. Interestingly it was worse while I was pregnant and stopped when ds2 arrived.

SingSongMummy Tue 12-Feb-13 14:29:57

Definitely sounds like night terrors. Have a google as there are some helpful sites. I was amazed to find out that I was making my toddler's night terrors worse by trying to comfort her or talk to her. I now just lie her down, tuck her in and sit by the bed quietly and the terrors have reduced to only ten minutes or so - much better. Good luck and remember that they seem to come and go in waves of a week or so!

RubyrooUK Tue 12-Feb-13 14:33:56

Thank you all! I feel a bit better now. I have also eaten lunch so am less on the edge....:-)

The screaming sessions aren't at the same time although actually, they are all pre-midnight, now I come to think about it. But I think you may all be right and he isn't really awake until he is in a terrible state and then it's too late for him to come back down. It does seem to be more like a night terror than anything else.

I have tried the waking method a bit (my brother had terrible night terrors as a child and had to wake up and go to the toilet in the late evening to avoid them), but that seemed to make DS angry straight away. So then I thought maybe I was just annoying him more.

For example, normally you can offer DS a drink of water if he wakes in the night and that's often enough to calm him and get him to lie down. When he is is this state, he acts like the water is trying to poison him. He will not even have a sip despite the fact his throat is hoarse; it's like he is too far into the screaming to function.

I will try the wake-to-sleep method tonight again though and see if it helps (or I bugger it up again and it enrages him further).

Interesting that it was worse for your DS when you were pregnant, Bonzo. I find it hard to know what DS understands about the idea of a baby arriving; he is articulate enough to talk a bit about babies and being a big brother, but I am not sure what his emotional understanding is.....

Anyway, thanks for all being so kind. Hopefully this won't be a reoccurring feature this week when conveniently DH has LEFT THE COUNTRY......:-)

notso Tue 12-Feb-13 14:56:55

It's horrible isn't it!

DS2 2.2 years does this. It started when he got chicken pox at 11 months. I have tried all sorts of different things wake to sleep didn't work as he wakes wt different times, the only thing that works for us is to take him downstairs and sit next to him on the sofa for 10 mins, he snuggles up and asks to go to bed.

forcedinsomnia Tue 12-Feb-13 14:59:04

My ds does exactly this but the time varies. He is now 18mo so cannot really communicate with me what the problem is. I am totally on board with cuddling, singing, rocking back to sleep but when he gets like this (perhaps 3/4 out of 7nights) he will not let me cuddle him. Kicks me and arches his back in rage. I feel very helpless. sad I have thought it may be night terrors too. But leaving the night light on etc does not really help. I am at a loss. He will settle with milk/water (from a bottle), so most nights we resort to this just to keep him happy. Other nights I just sit by the side of his cot until he calms down a little and then try and cuddle him etc. He doesn't nap well at all most days (childcare etc) so I think overtiredness may be part of the problem.
Watching this thread with interest. Good luck.

GreenLeafTea Tue 12-Feb-13 15:04:55

My son suffers from night terrors. I read they can be triggered by him being over-tired so it is possible that dropping his afternoon nap has triggered your son's problems. Can you move his bedtime a bit earlier?

They're awful aren't they? And you feel so helpless.

worldgonecrazy Tue 12-Feb-13 15:10:24

It does sound like night terrors, they are truly horrible and I can see why some ignorant/uneducated people think their children are possessed.

The best thing to do, though it's hard, is to just leave them be. Put the light on, the eyes may be open but they won't know who you are, and apparantly saying their name can make them worse, so don't speak. Just ensure that the thrashing isn't going to hurt him, so maybe put him in the middle of a double bed or on the floor.

Taking him into a different room can help too.

We cosleep and have also found that doing something to stop the night terror before it gets into full swing can work too, so as soon as DD stats to get agitated we soothe her. Once the night terror is in full swing there's nothing we can do other than try taking her into a different room, which doesn't always work.

Do you or your husband suffer from sleep disorders? I'm not sure if there is a genetic predisposition, but I know that sleep disorders run in my family.

RubyrooUK Tue 12-Feb-13 15:49:35

It's interesting that there might be a genetic predisposition - I don't have night terrors and nor does DH (who does get panicked and confused if waken sometimes though) but my brother had them badly as a child.

We have tried introducing the odd nap again to see if it was DS being overtired (it probably is) but even an hour nap means he is bouncing round till 10pm. And he is furious about being woken after that hour. With no nap, he is ready for bed at 7:30/8pm in a relatively good mood, which seems more manageable!

He never sleeps more than 10 hours in every 24 anyway and frankly this much sleep is itself an upgrade on the first 18mo of his

Iggly Tue 12-Feb-13 19:07:05

With no nap and bedtime until half 7/8 and only 10 hours a night I say that's your problem - he might be chronically overtired.

I'd be going for bedtime an hour earlier. Also no TV and minimise any sugar he's getting.

My ds is 3.4 and has to be asleep by half 6 if he doesn't nap.

They fool you at this age - you don't think theyre tired as they're bouncing off the walls but that usually means they are and it takes a lot to wind them down.

RubyrooUK Tue 12-Feb-13 20:41:48

I know 10 hours is not much, Iggly. But before we dropped his nap, he couldn't fall asleep till 9:30/10 and was still bouncing brightly at 6am!

For us, 10 hours is a real improvement on his previous form. He has always been incredibly awake. We have tried a 6:30 bedtime at weekends but then he just won't go to sleep for two hours at least. He will often lie in bed but just talks and generally has no interest in sleeping. He is actually much, much better at expressing he is tired with actions and words now so until these episodes, we were feeling pretty happy.

Alas, he is the child of a parent who did not sleep through till he was three (DH) and one parent who did not sleep till she was at school (me). I am not sure what monster we've created. grin

Well, tonight he went to sleep like an angel cuddling me after a few stories so fingers crossed he will catch up on some of those missing hours....

Iggly Wed 13-Feb-13 12:58:09

My ds is a devil for fighting sleep (he talks and talks and talks) so sorry if I wasn't helpful! He took a long time to sleep through consistently! But I found that there was a window of sleep - too early and he'd take forever, too late and he'd take forever hmm was tricky but once we found the window it was a bit easier.

Fingers crossed!

RubyrooUK Thu 14-Feb-13 08:15:21

Well, quick update...

On Tuesday night, DS was an angel. Slept 7:45-6:30 and bounced awake. I felt almost like a real life human being. It was lovely.

Then yesterday, he got tired at nursery and they let him go to sleep at 3pm-4:30 "because he was so tired, bless him" and then last night he would not go to bed. He just wasn't tired at all at bedtime. I went to bed myself in his room at 8pm in the end and he finally was convinced to sleep at 11:15pm. Then woke up in the night because he wasn't comfy.

He is currently having a snooze in as he is off nursery having a holiday day with my mum. I am already at work.

My DH gets home from his work trip tonight and I have informed him that his Valentine Gift is the continued existence of his toddler despite extreme provocation. He felt that was fair. grin

melrose Thu 14-Feb-13 14:56:28

My DS2 (now 5) did this lot and would wake up crying/ screaming and alsp sleep walks. I read somewhere that a drop in blood sugar can cause an adrenalin spike in little ones whih causes these terrors/ nightmares

So considered that he may be hungry as was having tea at 5ish (and not a big eater). We started giving him a bowl of cereal before bed (about 7pm, after his bath and before a last story) It worked and the wakings became less frequent.

When he did wake it was usually linked to not eating enough or forgetting the cereal/ snack.

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