Helping you and your child cope with youngster’s nightmares

Our son is three years old and in the night he will sob, cry and scream out when he is asleep. Can you tell me more about night terrors?

Q: Our son is three years old and in the night he will sob, cry and scream out when he is asleep. Can you tell me more about night terrors?

Juli: While nightmares are common in children, night terrors occur in only about five per cent. Kids between the ages of four and 12 are most likely to have night terrors, but they can occur at any age. Nightmares happen during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep and can usually be recalled when the child wakes up. Night terrors, on the other hand, occur when a child is switching between stages of sleep and usually have no narrative associated with them. In other words, with most night terrors, a child will not wake up and be able to recall a dream involving a scary monster or anything else specific.

When having a night terror, a child often sits up in the middle of a deep sleep, screaming and sometimes thrashing around. As hard as you try to console your child during a night terror, it’s not likely to work. He might not recognize you or even acknowledge your presence. Most experts recommend that you don’t wake your child up during an episode. Instead, keep your child from getting hurt, but let the terror run its course. He is likely to fall back asleep and have no memory the next morning of what happened.

Night terrors tend to be genetic. You can reduce the likelihood of night terrors in your child by making sure he sticks to a regular sleep schedule. Kids are most likely to have night terrors when they are overly tired, sleeping in an unusual place, or dealing with significant stress.

Q: Our seven-year-old daughter is an over-the-top perfectionist. If her crayon strays outside the line, she throws the picture away. If her bedspread has wrinkles in it, she freaks out. How can we temper this behavior?

Jim: There are practical steps you can take to minimize these challenges with your daughter. Author Shana Schutte has crafted a list of five ways to balance perfectionism in kids:

1) Don’t encourage your child’s perfectionism. If your daughter throws a tantrum because the shoes you picked for her don’t match her outfit, don’t bend over backward to accommodate her. She needs to learn how to compromise in order to function in life.

2) You don’t indicate where your daughter falls in the birth order, but it’s important to recognize that firstborn children are often perfectionists. Parents tend to treat their firstborn with more attention to detail. If you’re a new parent and your baby’s pacifier falls in the dirt, you sterilize it. But by the time child No. 3 arrives, you just wipe the dirt on your sleeve and stick it back in his mouth.

3) Take a personal inventory. If you tend to have perfectionist tendencies yourself, address them. If you stress out over every minor detail, your daughter will pick up on that and behave the same way.

4) Maintain a sense of humour. When your daughter feels like life is falling apart as the result of a mistake she’s made, a little joking or acting silly can send a strong message that imperfection is not the end of the world.

5) Tell a story from your own experience. This is especially helpful in moments when humour is not appropriate. Talk about how you felt when you were younger and believed you weren’t measuring up.

Your goal is not to change your daughter’s personality entirely. It is simply to help soften the edges so that she’ll feel more relaxed and secure despite her mistakes.

Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, host of the Focus on the Family radio program, and a husband and father of two. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three. Submit your questions to: