Helping with Night Terrors at Summer Camp
There is a difference between nightmares and night
terrors. Nightmares are bad dreams that you have
during REM sleep.
It is characterized by a disturbing dream that scares
you. You wake up scared and worried, but are generally
Where Night Terrors Begin
Night terrors are another beast altogether. Night terrors
bring terrible feelings into the reality of the children.
Many wake up screaming and sweating, thinking their
experience was absolutely real. They do not always recognize you at first and are often inconsolable for
Those that suffer night terrors may not always be able to tell you why they are frightened. The fear is
real though, and it terrifies them.
They aren’t usually associated with dreams as they occur during non-REM sleep. Dreams only exist in
So what happens when you’re working as a counselor at a summer camp in Stony Brook and one of your
kids wakes up with unmistakable signs of a camp terror? What can you do as a counselor to help them
For one, you can make the area safe for them. They may not be
interested in seeing you right now, especially if you run at them
These kids are terrified of anything out of the ordinary. Without
being able to recognize their parents at times, what chance do
you have as a new leader in their lives?
Take Some Steps
You can make sure that there is absolutely nothing that could
harm them though while they experience their episode. Give
them 5-15 minutes before you come in to approach them.
Take this time to check on the other kids. The others within ear shot will surely be wondering what
Calm them down and tell them not to worry, that you’ll check it out. Explaining a bit about night terrors
might help them understand what is happening.
After the 5-15 minutes is up, approach the terrified camper. Their heartbeat will have slowed down
significantly and they’ll be able to see you for who you are.
Approach confidently and obviously so as not to scare them with your approach. Talk to them a bit
about what happened, but try to keep your words comforting.
Tell them you’ve checked around and everything is just fine. Encourage them to go back to sleep and
you’ll continue to keep an eye out for them.
Come morning time, ask your camper what time they normally went to bed at home. Keeping a normal
sleeping schedule can protect them from more episodes in the future.
See if you can adjust their schedule so that they get to bed at a normal time and get a full night’s rest.
Keep these conversations personal and private as it can be embarrassing for the child to talk about in
front of the group.
Be understanding and compassionate. You are there to protect them in their fear.
Throughout the experience, remember that although you cannot always prevent them from happening,
you can handle the situation when they do. There are a few things you can do to help them enjoy their
time at summer camp on Stony Brook.
Photo Credit: Bruna Camargo, Capt' Gorgeous