How can I Help When my Child Has Nightmares?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 January 2020
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Every parent understands that at some point, children will experience the terror of having a nightmare. How parents choose to approach these situations will make a huge difference in how the child reacts to the situation, and whether or not the event of a nightmare has any lingering consequences. Here are some ideas on how you can help your child when he or she experiences night terrors.

One of the most important things to do is to listen and understand the fear that nightmares bring to a young child’s mind. Brushing them off as a bad dream and telling the child to go back to sleep will send the message that you don’t care about your child’s fears. Instead, allow the child to talk about what occurred in the nightmare and how the chain of events felt. Talking it out can help your child to put the night terror in perspective.

Defusing the scary aspects of the nightmare can also help to move the child’s thought processes into other paths. After talking about the nightmares and what transpired in them, engage in some simple “what if” games. What if this or that had not happened in the nightmare, and instead this other more positive event had happened? How would that change things? This simple mind exercise can often help the child to feel in control of the nightmares, turning them into sweet dreams by altering events.


Another essential of dealing with children’s nightmares is to help them develop a sense of being safe and secure in their own beds. This can sometimes be accomplished by something as simple as leaving the bedroom door slightly open, so light spills in from the hallway. A nightlight placed in the room may be helpful. At the same time, placing some object of security such as a stuffed animal in the bed may help to ease worries about the bad dreams coming back.

Identify the origin of the nightmares. Dreams can be triggered by all sorts of stimulation, from eating certain foods just before bedtime to watching movies or television shows. If the child nightmares appear to be linked to some particular waking phenomenon, try removing that from the routine and see if the nightmares begin to fade away.

While nightmares are a part of life even for adults, children’s nightmares can be particularly distressing. If different techniques at home don’t seem to minimize the impact and frequency of the nightmares, consider taking the child to a health professional for evaluation. Often, the origin of the nightmares can be identified in a short time and simple treatments will restore a pleasant night’s sleep to the child involved.



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