Waking Up Afraid
This is the more usual kind of night waking. Nearly half of every group of toddlers studied by research workers suffers from it. The waking is due to some form of nightmare, but of course we don't know what the child dreams, thinks, or sees while asleep.
Some children wake up terrified several times each night for a while and then not at all for months. Others wake three or four times a week for months on end.
The waking may take the form of instant panic, so that you find the child sitting bolt upright in the crib, clearly terrified. On other occasions it is as if he is grief-stricken, so that you find him lying down, crying as if something dreadful has happened.
Either way, if you arrive quickly, the drama is usually over in 30 seconds. One glimpse of your familiar face, one soothing pat and the child is asleep again. He remembers nothing about it in the morning. If you don't arrive quickly, though, things tend to go from bad to worse. The toddler becomes more and more afraid as he listens to his frightened voice crying in the night-quiet. When you do come to him he is shaky, tense, and sobbing. Instead of being reassured by a glimpse and a pat, he may need 15 or even 30 minutes' cuddling and talk before he can settle into sleep again.