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Pediatrics/Night Terror?


We adopted our son just before his 2nd birthday.  He is now 3.5 yrs old.  During his first year with us he had a few what I would call true night terrors...They occurred every 90 days or so, usually on days when he missed a nap or went to bed later than normal.  They'd typically involve him waking up screaming in the first 1/3 of the night and when we went into his room he would attack us, yell and throw things at us.  They sometimes included him trying to back away or get away from something only he could see.  Thankfully, these episodes were few and far between.

Recently (within the last 2 months) he has been having some type of nighttime event that, although not as severe as the episodes described above, is still very disconcerting.  These events have been happening every night, where he wakes up suddenly sometime in the first 4 hours after going to sleep.  He just bolts awake and stands up and starts crying.  He will call for mommy over and over.  When we go in, he clearly recognizes that someone is in the room but it is like it makes him angry.  We attempt to reach our hands down in the crib to hold his hand or comfort him and he slaps our hands and throws his stuffed animals and/or blankets at us.  This will go on for a few minutes until he eventually comes out of his funk and cries/takes our hand for a hug and some comfort. If we attempt to leave while he's laying there mad at us he starts to freak out crying.   A few seconds of hugging and he's ready to lay down and go right back to sleep.  We've been doing this daily for at least the last month.

Is this a night terror?  It is confusing to us as to why he'd be calling for us, saying "I want my mommy!" and then when we come in to throw himself down and refuse our comforting.  He doesn't have much trouble with hitting or throwing in anger during the day, he's generally a very even-tempered little boy for being 3.5.  However, at night during these episodes it is a different story.  I've noticed that if we rush in quickly as soon as he starts crying he won't react in anger.  If we wait 5 or 6 minutes before going in the chance increases he'll reject us.  He's been sleeping around 10.5-11 hours at night plus around an hour for nap each day.  Bedtime routines and times are very regular all week.

Regardless of whether he has these episodes 30 minutes after he's asleep or 3 and a half hours, he has one and it seems like that's it for the night.  Is this a night terror, or possibly some other type of behavioral issue?

Hi, Kevin,

These sound like night terrors.  If they are, then try a technique called prompted awakening.  This will be included in the hand out I will attach.  If they don't respond to this type of technique, it might be reasonable to discuss with your doctor getting an EEG, for there are some weird night time seizures that might explain this.

Good luck, Dr. Olson


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David Olson, MD


I would be happy to attempt to answer any questions about general pediatric topics, either medical issues or behavioral issues. This would include all the various questions one receives in a busy pediatric practice. I`m a board certified pediatrician in northern Michigan and have been in practice for over 15 years. I enjoy the teaching role I have in our practice and would enjoy the opportunity to help others with their pediatric problems.

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