Nightmares

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Nightmares are very real and very scary for children. It can be even scarier for parents to know what exactly they should do when their child is having a bad dream or wakes up very upset from a bad dream.

Nightmares are bad dreams that will typically occur towards the morning.  Children may often wake up feeling scared or upset.  These bad dreams can occur because of an upsetting previous day or for no obvious reason at all.

Night mares are most common in children between the ages of 3-5 years old. Generally, if your child wakes up from a nightmare, they will settle quickly as soon as you appear.

If your child says they have the same bad dream over and over again, this may be a sign of stress or emotional upset.  To help prevent this, you can talk with your child during the day and ask them what is bothering them. What are they worrying about?

As parents, what do we do?

  • Help your child feel safe.
    • Help make your child feel safe and comfortable in their bedroom. Doing this might mean that you put on a night light, leave the hall light on, play soft music, have special bedtime clothes, or have your child’s favorite pictures on the wall. If your child has a favorite stuffed animal or blanket this may be very useful for bedtime and calming your child down to go to sleep.
  • Develop a bedtime routine.
    • This will help your child feel secure. For example:
      • Put your toys away
      • Brush your teeth
      • Have a bathe
      • Use the potty
      • Put on favorite pajamas
      • Read a story
      • Kiss goodnight and into bed.
    • Avoid scary stories and TV shows.
  • Reassure your Child
    • If your child wakes up frightened, tell them they are safe. You may like to hold your child and tell them that nothing bad will happen.
    • Explain to your child that nightmares cannot hurt you.
    • Tell your child that they are safe because mommy and daddy are close and will take care of them.
  • Listen to your Child
    • Let your child tell you what the bad dream was all about. Listen calmly and do not look worried.
  • Help your child relax.
    • Practice some breathing techniques or going floppy like a rag doll.
    • Although lying down with your child may get them back to sleep, do not do this often as it may lead to other sleep disruptions in the future.
  • Leave a light On
    • If there is a light left on and your child wakes up from a bad dream, they can quickly figure out that they are safe in their bedroom.
    • This may make it easier to distinguish a dream from reality.

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