How to Cope With Your Child's Night Terrors

You've just dozed off when you're jolted awake to the sound of your child screaming in fear. What's going on? Savvy Psychologist Dr. Jade Wu joined Mighty Mommy to demystify night terrors in children.

Cheryl Butler
2-minute read
Episode #540

Although a busy day at work, an unexpected flat tire, and a no-show with the babysitter wasn’t in the plans for today, at long last you’re in bed. Just as you're drifting off to sleep, a blood curdling scream jolts you awake. You run to your child’s bedroom to find her flailing and shrieking in absolute fear. No, the scariest monster of all time isn't hiding in her closet. It’s more likely a frightening experience that many parents face—night terrors in children.

Dr. Jade Wu, QDT’s new Savvy Psychologist, joins Mighty Mommy to discuss this scary-but-common condition. Dr. Wu is a clinical psychologist who specializes in health psychology. In the clinic, she uses evidence-based treatments to help patients improve their health and cope with illness. In the lab, she conducts research on the role of sleep in chronic health conditions. Today, she's sharing her expertise on night terrors (or sleep terrors) in children. 

With a brand new school year about to begin, parents are starting to transition their families from the laid-back summer mode to a more structured back-to-school routine. Part of this new schedule includes getting our kids into a healthier bedtime and sleep routine. Sleep has many benefits. Think about how great you feel after you've had a full night's sleep—you're more energized, less cranky, and you feel ready to take on the day. Getting adequate sleep helps your body ward off illness and bad moods. Night terrors can have a serious impact on you and your child's quality of sleep.

What Are Night Terror Symptoms in Children?

The term night terror sounds pretty scary, especially if you're not sure what your child might be experiencing. The symptoms of night terrors in children include:

  • Suddenly awakening from sleep
  • Screaming, screeching, or thrashing
  • Intense terror from an unknown source
  • Wide eyes with dilated pupils
  • Sweating, racing heartbeat
  • Confusion and inability to communicate

Expert Advice for Dealing with Night Terrors

For kids who face sleep difficulties, getting enough rest isn't always easy. Night terrors, and the disturbed sleep that comes with them, can take a tole not only on your child but on your family. Dr. Wu will offer her professional insight on this condition and offer advice to help frazzled parents cope. 

Have a listen to the interview by clicking on the player above. In this episode, we'll answer these common questions.

  • What is a night terror?
  • What happens to my child during an episode?
  • What's the difference between a night terror and a nightmare?
  • Do night terrors affect kids of all ages?
  • Do adults have night terrors?
  • Is your child aware during an episode?
  • Are sleep terrors dangerous?
  • What things can predispose a child to night terrors?
  • How can parents help their children?
  • Are there any steps that help prevent sleep terrors?
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.