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Raising Children Topics..

You are here : home > Raising Children > Fears and Anxieties > Dealing with Nightmares

Dealing with Nightmares

Dealing with Nightmares

Nightmares create a havoc in the minds of children. Children get frightened and disturbed by nightmares. They are unable to fall asleep. an occasional nightmare is normal but if nightmares are recurrent then it means that the child has some problem. Read here for some tips on dealing with nightmares.

The terrors of the night 

Arpita Ghosh was awoken one night by the sound of whimpering. She rushed into her children's bedroom to find her five-year-old daughter Alpa eyes tightly shut, tossing her head from side to side and whimpering. She was obviously having a bad dream. 

Even adults have nightmares, sometimes even when we're awake! But on a more serious note, it will be quite easy to recall nights when you've woken up with your heart thumping with the uneasy feeling that something has disturbed your peaceful slumber. It takes a few minutes to come out of the nightmare and realize it was just that - a bad dream. Even then, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth and it is difficult to go back to sleep. If nightmares are so disturbing for adults, one can only imagine how bewildered and frightened they leave children. 

Let us pause here to make a small distinction between nightmares and night terrors. Night terrors can be alarming for parents and children alike. During a night terror, a child may scream or cry, but will not respond to calls to wake up. Parents will just have to wait for the child to fall back into a deep slumber. In all likelihood, the child will have no recollection of the previous eventful night when he wakes up the next morning. 

While the occasional nightmare is not an extraordinary occurrence, recurrent nightmares may indicate that your child is experiencing an abnormal degree of stress or anxiety about something. While you can provide the immediate comfort and support, it may be wise to consult your pediatrician or a counselor. 

What to do when your child has a nightmare

  • If you wake up to the sound of your child screaming in the throes of a night terror, don't panic. Hold him in your arms and make soothing noises till he calms down.
  • If he has a nightmare, wake him up gently and tell him that he was just having a bad dream and that everything is all right. 
  • Do not make him feel that you have 'saved him' or protected him from anything or that he is safe only when you are present. He should feel that he is capable of handling the situation. 
  • Do not cosset him and be overly sympathetic or he will think that having nightmares has its own rewards. Give him a hug and a kiss and put him back to bed.
  • Ask him if he would like to go to the bathroom. Sometimes the urge to go to the bathroom disturbs one' s slumber.
  • If your child is deeply disturbed by the dream, discuss the dream with him briefly and tell him to imagine a happy ending. Sometimes leaving a night light on helps. You can also offer to stay with him for a few minutes till he falls asleep. 
  • Only allow him to come and sleep with you as a last resort. 
  • You could discuss the dream with him in the light of day to gauge whether it is a reflection of a deeper problem.
  • Maintain a regular bedtime schedule and encourage him to do soothing activities like reading a happy story or playing a quiet game before going to bed instead of watching television.


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Suhana.10 years ago
my son refuses to sleep all alone at night because he gets scared to sleep alone at nght.
Bill.10 years ago
what not to do

*donít wake them. if children cry out but are still asleep when parents go to their room, it's not necessary to wake them. unless children are extremely upset, it is possible that the nightmare will end and they will return to normal sleep. parents should just stay with their children until they either wake up or sleep peacefully again.

*donít let children sleep with you. it is not a good idea for parents to get into their children's beds or to allow their children into their bed after a nightmare. this might give children the message that they should be afraid of their own beds. this may also turn into a habit that is very difficult to break.

*donít tell children nightmares arenít real. it will probably not help to tell children that their nightmares were not real, or that it was "just a dream." to children, the nightmare seemed very real, and was very frightening. instead, parents should try to explain to their children what a dream is and that all people have them.

nightmares are a normal part of almost all children's lives. the best thing that parents can do to help their children cope with nightmares is to find a way to calm and support them if they're upset by one. however, if parents have any concerns about their children's nightmares, especially if children are having other problems, it is best to consult their children's health care provider.
Helena.10 years ago
i am portuguese and my 8 years old son suffers from night terrors sometimes one a weak. as his bethroomm is next to mine, i can only understand that he is having a terror because i can hear him crying very low, wile wispering "mam... mam". when i get into his bethroom he is generally sit staring at something, with a horrified look in his face, shaking and cpmpletely wet. can anyone help with some information? it is very scarry to see him in such a trouble and not being able to help him.
thanks. my email address is:
DEWANNA.10 years ago
my daughter has been waking up for the last week around 3am all week crying and saying she is seeing lights and monkeys and spiders with three eyes and snakes and mice and they are going threw her and whey she turns her light on in her room they disappear but as soon as she turns her light off they come back messing with her she says it dont hurt but she is scared what should i do what can these be or what could this mean sould i get her seen by a doctor please help
grateful.10 years ago
thank you for your helpful and practical has helped me to see a more sensible way to to deal with these.
Dad.10 years ago
nightmares and night terrors are two different thing. a child will wake from a bad dream and recall the dream. a child suffering from night terrors will open eyes, walk around, scream or other seemingly awake activities - but is actually still in a deep sleep. the child will not recall the incident when they wake.

night terror is a sleeping disorder that can be treated by a pediatrician in extreme cases. usually it occurs in children 3-8 years old and disappears before the child is 9. aside from not remembering the terror, children with night terrors have a lot of trouble waking up in the morning, despite a seemingly full night's sleep.

never wake a child having night terrors. comforth them and ease them back to sleep. if it's interfering with your child's health, see your pediatrician or a sleep disorder center at a hospital.
Tony.10 years ago
why cant the internet provide any information on the topic of nightmares? i mean it doesnt seem to want to be too specific on what to do about them. does anyone know of a specific web site?
Lonni.10 years ago
what if the child is moaning and screaming and the only way to get them to stop is to wake them? when he is woken he still has to be sat up and the lights turned on to get fully awake, otherwise the nightmare or night terror continues. during these he will grind his teeth as well. help!
Mima.10 years ago
my 3 1/2 yr old grandaughter slept with me on overnite stay last nite. woke me up often with teeth grinding and deep sobs yet sleeping and no tears. i know some of her stressors but wonder how is this going to affect her over the years. the stressors will not change. thanks for telling me how to cope when it happens again.
Valna.10 years ago
monitor child's food. when children overeat, they can get indigestion and have bad dreams.
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