Trying to soothe an unsoothable child
It’s happened before, although it’s becoming less and less frequent. What terrifies me is that I know it will happen again.
It’s the middle of the night, often midnight or a little bit after. Nomi and I are soundly asleep in our bed when we suddenly hear one of the girls shouting from their room. Sometimes it’s Squeaker calling for Daddy and needing a snuggle in order to get back to sleep after having been woken by a bad dream. Sometimes Muffin too is woken by a bad dream and also needs a snuggle to get back to sleep.
But sometimes Muffin wakes up, or appears to wake up, and she sits in her bed and shouts and screams. We try to comfort her or help her, but she just sits there, grunts, and screams some more. She kicks off her blanket if she hasn’t already and she throws her stuffed animals out of the bed. To our distress, her screams wake up her sister, who sometimes joins in but with less intensity, and usually manages to fall back asleep. But Muffin continues her behavior for anywhere from a half hour to an hour, before she settles down and fades off back to sleep.
The next day, she doesn’t remember a thing.
Although we haven’t had a formal diagnosis, a search of the Internet and a discussion with other parents led us to suspect that Muffin is suffering from night terrors. Her behavior is fairly consistent with the descriptions we’ve seen. At first, we thought it was just normal nightmares, but the clinching factor was her inability to be soothed and the lack of memory of the event the next day.
Fortunately, as I noted before, these don’t happen too frequently. It happened on the night of November 1, and then not again until this past Wednesday night. So that’s roughly three weeks between incidents, and we honestly can’t remember the one previous to those two. It’s something of a comfort to know that these things happen with other kids as well, and that there really is very little we can do except make sure she doesn’t hurt herself during these incidents.
There is, however, one thing that makes Muffin’s night terrors particularly alarming and disturbing.
We live in an apartment building with close quarters with our neighbors, and we know that she has previously woken our neighbors in the middle of the night. We’ve had one neighbor contact us to ask us if everything is okay. And the reason is probably not just the shouting and the screaming, but the words she shouts and screams as she is undergoing her night terrors. If we try to help by saying anything soothing, or even if we don’t do anything, she shouts “Bad Mommy!” and “Bad Daddy!” and “Stop it!”
Needless to say, when she screams these things, we get a little worried. Someone who doesn’t know us might get the wrong idea about what’s going on. Indeed, when the one neighbor inquired as to our kids, we invited her over to see for herself that the kids were doing fine. I have to admit that if I heard a neighbor’s kids shouting and screaming, I too would be moved to look into their welfare, and I’m glad that someone did. But it makes me all the more eager to find some sort of solution, some way to calm her down.
Unfortunately, from everything we’ve read it seems as if she just has to grow out of them. In a way, Muffin’s night terrors do serve one purpose. They remind us that even as parents we are not all-knowing and all-powerful, as much as we want to be. There will be times when we are completely helpless to assist our children, for whatever reason. I remember my father telling my mother at one point that my brothers and I had to make our own mistakes or else we wouldn’t learn. Muffin’s night terrors sort of remind me that there will come a time when I do have to let my own kids make their own mistakes, so they too can learn just as we did when we were younger.
But it’s a cold comfort. At least they slept soundly all last night.
This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.
About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. Copyright 2014 by Michael and Nomi Burstein.
Special Note: The Brookline Parent extends condolences to editor Grahame Turner and the whole Turner family for their recent loss.