First, I'm not a doctor, and doctors have done very little when it comes to treating my adult onset night terrors. All of this is coming from my personal experience, along with a dash of info I've found from different resources through friends and the internet. If you feel that your night terrors, or your childs, should be evaluated by a doctor, then please do so. I don't want anyone to think that I'm trying to take the place of a trained professional.
Childhood night terrors are very, very common, and they almost always grow out of them in time. Almost every time they don't have a real cause. Adult onset night terrors usually trace back to a trauma or PTSD, but that's just not the case with little ones. It's just one of those things that they go through for no particular reason at all. Since this is a website for moms, I'm writing this as if I'm talking to the mother of a young child with night terrors.
If the night terrors are happening often enough that you think you need help making them stop, then go ahead and ask your doctor. I'm not a lot of help there, since mine come from a completely different cause than hers. Meditation has worked wonders for me, but since mine come from a trauma when I was young, the meditation is helping me deal with that trauma, and therefore helping with the NT's. I don't know if it would help a little one or not. Maybe some soothing music? I love love love the Rockabye Baby CD collection...
Anyway, here's what she's going through during the actual terror, and I'll use one of mine as an example. I used to have NT's about ants a lot. One time in particular, I dreamed that someone snuck in my bedroom and put a whole coffee can filled with ants on the shelf in my headboard. In my dream *and* physically, I sat up and started freaking out. At this point, my body was physically awake, but my mind was stuck in this NT. I could see them crawling on the bed, I could feel them crawling on my skin. DH asked me what was wrong, and I told him, out loud, that the bed was covered in ants. He told me I was just dreaming, which pissed me right off, so I grabbed a lighter and started burning them to show him they were real. Yeah, I damn near burned the house down that night.
Now, replace ants with a monster. When you try to restrain her, YOU become the monster. She sees and feels and hears a monster grabbing her and holding her. Messed up, no? In many of my NT's, DH becomes a rapist, or more recently, someone trying to kill me so they can get to Connor.
Now, what to do about it. STOP RESTRAINING HER unless she is in direct danger of hurting herself. Don't wake her up unless you absolutely have to. If you wake her up, she will remember it, and she's more likely to have "normal" nightmares afterwards. Instead, reassure her that you're there. Things like, "Mommy is here, honey. It's ok. Mommy is right here with you. Mommy made it all go away. See? Look at Mommy, she made it go away. Mommy is here." over and over and over until you break through the hallucinations and she starts to believe you. If you can get her to tell you what is happening, incorporate it into what you're saying. "Mommy made the monster go away. See? Mommy has monster spray, and it scared it away. Mommy is here. Mommy made it go away." Say "Mommy" as often as possible.
DH can usually tell what I'm seeing just by how I react, so he can tell me that he took care of the ants, or he chased the rapist away, or he just checked on Connor, etc. Make this your long term goal, because if you can make it seem like you see it too, then the NT will come to a natural close and she can go back to sleep without a single memory of it in the morning. Be prepared, though. Night Terrors happen when the mind is stuck between NREM and REM sleep, so when she has one, she's not getting quality sleep. She may be groggy the next day.
I hope this can help someone, and if it did, please vote popular so that others can see it. If anything doesn't make sense, or you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment or send me a message. Night Terrors are hard for those of us who have them, but they are a hundred times harder for those who have to watch someone they love go through it.