How Night Terrors Forced My Family To Unplug

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You never forget the moment where you wake up to your child screaming. The bleary-eyed rushing to their room only to find them awake but not awake. The early night terrors Wyatt experienced were full of him:

  • Tracking objects, with his eyes, that were not there… but if you watched him, you’d think there was something.
  • Shivering, teeth chattering to the point you’d think that they might break.
  • Pure terror.

Night terrors make a parent feel helpless as it is hard to convince someone, who isn’t awake, that there is nothing trying to kill them.

Tabitha and I started to notice a pattern though. Looking at our bedtime routine, we were watching TV, specifically playing videogames, up until the point Wyatt went to bed. So we re-evaluated our evening routine and turned off the television. 

For me, being the dad who loves sharing gaming with his kid, this killed me. KILLED ME! The effort it takes to read a book aloud or play a boardgame is far more than turning on the TV and playing a game. Call this being a lazy dad at the time, I admit it now. But our evenings changed for the better. The night terrors, which seem to be caused by a combination of electronic stimuli and tiredness, slowly faded away. Over the years, with each book we read aloud, each boardgame we played, we slowly learned to interact more as a family in the evenings.

Today, I can’t say everything is perfect. The night terrors like to rear their heads on the occasion (but are more infrequent). We still watch TV shows before bed, but we have learned that certain TV shows don’t seem to trigger the night terrors as much as others (I think it has something to do with the amount of blinking lights). Our family reading time has segued into Wyatt having his own reading time at night.

My Little Scythe

Smart parenting often requires sacrifice. In our case, that has meant moving any gaming time away from bedtime (we’ve noticed that an hour buffer works). I’ve learned that I can still game with my son but that often it is good to shake things up with no screens. The battlefield of the Chess board, the trophies of My Little Scythe, all work together to make non-screen memories and keep the night terrors at bay.

Night Terrors

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Wyatt had another night terror.

I walked into his room to find him yelling and looking around for something on his pillow. His eyes darting about, as if tormented by unseen things. I asked him for five dollars. Nothing. If he had been awake, that would have brought a quick response. He continued moan-yelling, speaking in an asleep language.

I crawled into bed with him. Rubbed his back. Told him to go to sleep. We laid there for awhile. His eyes darting, refusing to stop their dance. I told him it was okay. Everything was okay.

Growing up, my sister suffered from epilepsy. I have seen things that I wish I could un-see. Prayed desperate prayers to God to take away her seizures. Which he did. But I can’t shake the images of her eyes darting about. Her seizures remind me of my son’s night terrors. Two completely different things, I know. Both haunting.

After awhile the heater kicked on. Wyatt finally calmed down. I left him and got back in bed. My mind awake.

Parenting is hard. I often feel as if I am failing as a dad. And then I have a moment where my son needs me.

I just want to be a good dad. A dad who has an actual relationship with his son. I try to move beyond what was modeled for me. Overcoming the past by active engagement.

The night terrors will one day cease. Wyatt will grow older, mature, and one day move out. I hope that the foundation I am building in our relationship is enough. I don’t want him to realize, as an adult, that he and I have nothing to say. Life is too short and precious for that.