My daughter, who is coming up for 3 years old has never been a good sleeper. She regularly wakes during the night, sometimes up to 3 or 4 times but more commonly once or twice.

More often than not she simply wants comforting from her mum, but all too often it turns into a full blown tantrum with the typical tantrum behaviour of:

  • Screaming / Crying
  • Lashing out / Hitting
  • Head banging / Hair pulling

During the day, tantrums are quite rare. She is a very well behaved child for the most part, with what I would consider to be a very good ability to communicate for her age (I mention this because most advice on tantrums says that the child is having trouble communicating). The problem is that at night she seems to be almost half asleep and totally unable to rationalise or communicate. I don't however think that this is a case of night-terror as she doesn't exhibit the typical behaviour of screaming whilst clearly still fully asleep.

I tend to deal with this by:

  • Switching her bedroom light on (I know this is bad, but the only way i've found to end the tantrum is to wake her up fully, and the light as we know stimulates her awake)
  • Shut her door (She has a baby sister in the next room, I cant have her screaming in the hallway as it'll wake the baby)
  • Sit with her in her room (I hate the idea of shutting her in there on her own. Although this leads to other problems as she then gets violent with me for blocking her way out. Bit of a catch 22, if I dont sit in front of the door she'll run into the hall and scream. If I do, she lashes out at me).
  • Let the tantrum run its course (This sometimes takes up to 30 minutes, but typically 15. Once the tantrum is over she turns back into the well-behaved child I know. Has a cuddle, and goes straight back to bed without a fuss).

So does anyone have any insight how to deal with this? Am I doing it all wrong? I'm sure she will grow out of it - they almost always all do, but I would like to hear others POV.

  • I know this is an old question, but wondering if you had any diagnosis or if it worked itself out. My daughter (3 and a quarter) has been going through something almost identical to what you describe.
    – user7174
    Mar 29, 2014 at 2:51
  • @Amanda - We never sought any professional diagnosis on this. All the information available says its quite normal, that they grow out of it, and not to worry too much. Im pleased to say in our case that was right. Now approaching 5, my little one vary rarely does this now. Occasionally, but really not often. If you're really worried see a doctor (as always), otherwise it might take time but your daughter will simply grow out of it.
    – Jamiec
    Mar 31, 2014 at 8:07

3 Answers 3


I'm not a pediatrician, but it DOES sound like night-terrors. She's right at the age where night-terrors typically start, and her behavior sounds like it's incredibly out of the ordinary. Some children who are in the middle of a night terror can appear to be awake (eyes open, up and moving around, etc.), but they're not.

This is a great YouTube video by the HealthScienceChannel about night terrors and the mom in the video describes a very similar situation as what you are describing (daughter appears awake, she's interacting with her environment in a cognizant manner, fighting her mom, yelling, screaming, etc).

ETA: Does she remember any of it in the morning? One of the defining characteristics of a night terror is that the child has no memory of it at all.

ETA (again): Ok, so I've been thinking about this and, on a whim, I googled Night Tantrums and it doesn't seem to be all that unusual. Parents are very explicit: It isn't a night terror. I can't find an official resource, but several mommy blogs and mommy message boards report similar experiences. Some moms reported that they seemed to be tied to growth spurts, others suggested that they found it happened most often when their kids were over-tired when they went to bed. One mom said that she found out her daughter had an ear infection and once that was cleared up, the tantrums ceased. Hope some of that helps. It sucks to be in a situation where you can't help your child.

  • Thanks for the link, helpful but works to confirm that this is not night terrors. 1) She doesn't wake quickly with a scream 2) She does remember the episode ("I was a naughty girl last night, I work mummy and daddy") 3) She often doesn't seem to be awake, but still asleep (or at least sort of half way between).
    – Jamiec
    Feb 21, 2012 at 15:07
  • Well, at least you now know what it ISN'T :-D
    – Meg Coates
    Feb 21, 2012 at 15:41
  • "ETA:"? Do you mean "Edit:"? I only know "ETA" as estimated time of arrival which doesn't make sense in this context. Feb 21, 2012 at 21:29
  • 2
    Can also mean "Edited to add" :-D Used it in other places with no problems.
    – Meg Coates
    Feb 21, 2012 at 21:48
  • @Meg: Yes thanks for the additions. She remembers it all in the morning. As I mentioned, she even seems to exhibit remorse. She knows it's wrong when she is in "rational awake mode" but can't be reasoned with when in "irrational half asleep mode". On the second edit, I totally know this is not uncommon. Just having a hard time knowing the best way to deal with it.
    – Jamiec
    Feb 22, 2012 at 12:21

our daughter had, what we were told were, night terrors. we were advised to not wake her or try to understand what she was saying. we simply made sure she was safe, sang a song, and left the room. she seemed to grow out of it. believe me it is hard to leave them - she would be screaming and seem to be in pain, but i was told, and believe, that she was not in pain.

now, she also had bouts of waking in the night and asking for things - water, food, a pillow, anything, and when we would not come she would scream and cry for us - sometimes working into a state similar to what you are describing. this was a different situation - we made sure she was safe and let it "run its course", as you had said. i think the most important thing is consistency. if you choose, which we found to be the best remedy, to let it run it's course - be sure to do that every night. go to the door once, assure the child that you hear them, but that it is time to go back to sleep - yes, they will continue to fuss, but it seemed to let her know that we were aware of them, but not going to come in while they should be sleeping. it worked.


Our son started doing something similar but not quite as bad. It turned out that is was largely due to his bed. He apparently could not get comfortable and it was becoming too small for him. We went out and purchased a larger bed for him and the number of instances of that happening have gone way down. He was in a toddler bed before and he moved into a full bed.

  • 1
    I think you could be right, and its something weve seriously been considering too. I think we're going to change her bed to a normal single froma toddler bed. I'll report back if it makes any difference.
    – Jamiec
    Feb 29, 2012 at 8:23

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