You asked

My child regularly has nightmares. What can I do to help?

The first step in helping your child to deal with nightmares is to determine that they are definitely the problem – not nightmares or some other sleep disturbance.

If your child is having genuine nightmares, then he or she will be visibly shaken or scared. He or she will probably also have trouble getting back to sleep, and the nightmare will usually occur during the second half of the night, when he or she is in what’s known as the REM sleep phase.

The causes of nightmares are usually either something your child has seen, or heard, such as a movie, story or news report. Being agitated before bed, or even over excited, can also lead to nightmares, as can any changes to your child’s normal routine. Something as simple as moving to a ‘big’ bed, or starting potty training can trigger your preschooler’s very fertile imagination to dream up nightmares while he or she is asleep.

When your child has a nightmare, physically reassuring him or her is key. Hold your child, and talk to him or her about the bad dream. Find out what, if anything he or she remembers about the dream, and, if necessary, show your child that there are no monsters in the cupboard, or that you and your partner are okay, if that’s what the dream was about. Turn on a night light, and tuck your child back into bed once he or she has calmed down. Try to avoid taking your child into your bed with you, as this can set up a pattern that’s hard to break.

Sticking to a regular bedtime routine is one of the best ways to avoid nightmares. Keep it calm and quiet, so your child does not get over excited, and try a night light, which often helps. You can also read stories with a sleep theme before bed, and you might want to try using props. A dream catcher, or even a water pistol to use against ‘monsters’ can help your child to cope with nightmares on his or her own.

More questions

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