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Parent Talk.

Byline: By Shona Russell

Bringing up babies and children is never an easy job. SHONA RUSSELL aims to help you with practical guidance and information, based on her experience as a counsellor, a child-care writer and mother-of-three. If you have an issue you think she can deal with, write to her here at the Chronicle. She will do her best to share some down-to-earth advice.

Q. My four-year-old son has started to wake in the night very distressed. He screams out loud, and thrashes around his bed, and seems very upset. I go in and try to soothe him but he doesn't seem to be aware of me, or anything I say to him. It lasts about two minutes, then he calms down and lets me tuck him in and he goes to sleep again. He's been doing this for about four or five weeks, and although it's not every night, it has happened about a dozen times now, always at about the same time ( 2am or so.

He never remembers what happened in the morning, and doesn't seem to be bothered by it. He spends the rest of the night in a deep sleep as far as I can tell, so he is not suffering as a result. I have been told this is a phenomenon known as "night terrors" and I just have to wait for him to grow out of it. I can't help thinking there must be something wrong and he is unhappy about something I don't know about.

A.This does sound like night terrors. Some children do get them and there is no evidence that they are linked with anything upsetting in the child's life, but do make sure of this by asking his friends' parents, and seeing what the teacher at his school thinks about it.

It has been found that children do grow out of this, often quite quickly. At other times the episodes become less and less frequent until they die away.

You might be able to help with this by slightly altering his bed time. It's been found that altering the pattern of shallow and deep sleep seems to break this habit - try putting him to bed half an hour earlier or later, or changing his routine in some other way.

Night terrors are quite different from nightmares, by the way. These do seem to be related to fears and daytime distress if they are happening regularly. Everyone, adults and children, have the occasional nightmare, and younger children may be more frightened by them as they find it harder to make a difference between dreams and reality.

Some children walk in their sleep, but this is quite rare. Again, if it happens, it is something they tend to grow out of and, as long as you check your child is safe, there is no real concern. Sleepwalkers do seem able to protect themselves and don't fall downstairs or bump into things.

In your son's case, you are doing the right thing by just going in as you are doing now, and checking he does not hurt himself. When the episode is over, settle him back down again.

Q My six-year-old daughter has started to refuse to put her seat belt on when she goes in the car. Her grandparents let her ride in their car without one, and she says she wants to do the same in ours. She likes to stand up between the front seats, but I say that's dangerous. Sometimes she makes such a fuss I let her get away with it on short journeys.

A I don't understand you, truly! This is an issue where Mummy really does know best, and you need to make this clear to your daughter ( and to her grandparents.

If the problem is one you cannot deal with just by being calm and firm, then you can think of other ways. Let her have a chart with a tick for every time she uses her seat belt without a fuss, and when she has 10 ticks, she gets a small treat.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 28, 2004
Words:680
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