My 3 yr old niece is waking up in the middle of the night with screaming fits, screaming "help me", " I hurt", and her body goes rigid and starts trembling and shaking (like a seizure). She will bicycle her legs and will release a blood curdling scream (like being possessed). Sometimes she is screaming for over 2 minutes before she gets out words like: momma, doie, cuppie, help me and I hurt.

Automatically I thought night terrors bc she was getting them only at night. But now it's happening during nap time and when she throws "temper tantrums" during the day. She could be sitting down watching t.v. and break into a "night terror" while she is awake. We took her to childrens E.R. and they diagnosed her as having temper tantrums. So we will be going get other advice but I would love to hear from anyone at this point what this is and what we can do about it.

  • Hi, and welcome to the site! We're not going to be able to medically diagnose your niece, but I think this is an on-topic question as it's far enough from medical diagnosis that perhaps someone has had some similar experiences; but please trust your doctor over anything you read on the internet for the medical side of things. Hopefully you get some good answers!
    – Joe
    Feb 7, 2020 at 15:20
  • Thank you. We are trying to figure out things and get in touch with her doctor. We are looking for advice not a diagnosis so any tips on May be how to keep her calm would be greatly appreciated until we can get a hold of her Dr.
    – user38299
    Feb 7, 2020 at 15:33

1 Answer 1


The nighttime and naptime behavior does sound like pretty classic night terrors (screaming/incoherent, shaking/shivering, happens upon waking up from sleep or between sleep cycles), but having "night terrors" while entirely awake is not usual/normal.

Sudden tantrums with no obvious cause, or sudden severe mood swings in toddlers and pre-schoolers are not entirely uncommon, although not all kids are subject to them to the same degree. I have found that usually there is a 'reason' for the sudden tantrum, although it can be something as small as "I just remembered that I have a toy dinosaur and I want to play with it but it's not in my hand right now" or "I am REALLY hungry all of a sudden!" Sometimes there's no obvious external cause, but the increasingly intense inner thought life of a developing child overwhelms them when they think of something upsetting. So I wouldn't say that the diagnosis of tantrums is impossible.

On the other hand, something feels a bit 'off' to me with the diagnosis of temper tantrums in this case. This is not a medical opinion, but a parenting one: When your child is obviously distressed and uses words like "I hurt", believe them. It seems to me that there is a physical cause of some kind. It may be something as simple as gas pains or teething, but I personally would work from the assumption that -something does hurt and she needs your help/comfort- and not that she's being willful or misbehaving.

If you feel that there is something medical going on, it may help to film the behavior on your phone so that you can show the doctors exactly what it looks like.

Here are some articles about sudden unexplained crying in toddlers: https://www.hellomotherhood.com/article/33250-side-effects-teething/ https://living.thebump.com/signs-symptoms-abnormal-toddler-screaming-15553.html https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/behavioral/wacky-toddler-behavior-sudden-crying/

  • 2
    Not really relevant, but OP does have videos it seems - I removed that from the original question (as it was phrased in an irrelevant way) but perhaps should've left it in a different manner. (@OP - please feel free to edit that detail in, but as a detail of things you've done as opposed to a chatty comment. Thanks!)
    – Joe
    Feb 10, 2020 at 20:11

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