It is completely normal for children to have nightmares occasionally, beginning around the age of 2. Nightmares normally occur in the later part (or early morning) of their sleeping time. There are many reasons why children have nightmares, but for the most part, they are caused by the world around them. It’s normal for children to have nightmares about things like aggressive animals, monsters, or distressing events they have witnessed (even from TV shows or video games). Children with vivid imaginations tend to have nightmares more often.
Here are some ways to help your child when they are having nightmares:
- Keep your child on a regular sleep schedule.
- Get to your child as quickly as you can to reassure them that they are okay and you’re there to help them.
- Encourage your child to tell you about their bad dream if they can. Validate feelings by telling them you understand why they would be afraid, but assure them that the nightmare they had was not real.
- Keep a nightlight in your child’s room.
- Allow them to sleep with a comfort item, like a favorite stuffed animal or blanket.
- Once your child is calm, encourage them to go back to sleep.
If children are having recurrent nightmares, they may be experiencing some kind of stress during the day that needs to be identified. If you are concerned about your child’s nightmares, try keeping a sleep diary for a few weeks. This can help you track how much sleep your child is getting, how often they are waking up with nightmares, what works to console them and get them back to sleep, or any changes or stressors that might be present in the home and contributing to the nightmares.
If you feel that your child needs additional help regarding sleep concerns or nightmares, ask your pediatrician for more tips.