Nightmares and Pre-schoolers



Recently we have been having problems with our resident pre-schooler…she is having nightmares, which are disturbing for her and for us. She has been an incredibly good sleeper since around 2 months old but now is having difficulty going back to sleep after waking from a nightmare in the middle of the night.

Being a good grandma and blogger…I did some research that I would like to share about children and nightmares.

Children around three years old begin to have fears …nightmares are sometimes the results of these fears and anxiety.Usually these ‘bad’ dreams wake them up during the last half of the night and sometimes it is difficult for them to return to a peaceful sleep.

“The child may dream about danger or a scary situation. Nightmares may involve disturbing themes, images, or figures such as monsters, ghosts, animals, or bad people. Loss of control and fear of injury are common themes”

Bedtime routines that are quieting without the stimulation of a scary story or television show are helpful to ward off scary dreams.

Reassurance is important…this is a time when a parent will wake with a crying child and will want to go and console him/her and listen to his/her story. Sometimes your child will want to frantically tell you about the nightmare in vivid detail but if they don’t …no need to press them.

In the morning they may want to talk again about their dream and this is a time when you can perhaps create a different ending for the story one that is not so scary…this may help ward off a recurrent dream theme.

Coping strategies can include checking around the child’s room with him /her so they know there is nothing lurking under their beds…monsters are real at this point in their young imaginations.

There are also things that you can do to help your child. Especially with younger children, a security object such as a favorite stuffed animal or a blanket can help a child feel relaxed and safe in bed. Other things that can help are leaving a low nightlight on in your child’s bedroom and teaching him relaxation techniques. Have your child imagine a relaxing scene, such as a being on the beach or watching a sunset, will help him relax after a scary dream. Children can also use their imagination to help them settle down and fall back to sleep. Have your child imagine a different ending to the nightmare, hang a dream catcher over your child’s bed which helps catch the “bad dreams,” or have your child draw pictures of his nightmare that he crumples up and throws away.

Our little one  has a magic wand that helps to ward off  ‘bad dreams’…some nights it works better than others…

Nightmares are real and scary…your presence and a big hug is above all the best reassurance for your little one that all is well especially in the middle of the night!

4 thoughts on “Nightmares and Pre-schoolers

  1. Such an interesting post. My now 5 yr old was having the same issues. We even took it as far as going to the doctor with it. Her doctor told us at that age is when kods start to have dreams and don’t realize what they are. My daughter is now five and from time to time she has bad dreams but for the most part she understands what they are a little better. Some of the things me and my wife do is read her a nice book before she goes to sleep. We even watch something soothing as well. I think that kids tend to remember a lot and one thing I don’t want is for her to remeber something she watched on tv before she goes to bed.

    daddy america

  2. I am a child therapist in the US and saw your interesting discussion of bad dreams. In my experience, children can be helped with bad dreams when they understand that “dreams are stories we tell ourselves for a reason — we just have to understand the reason.” Then parents can think with them about upsetting events that occurred the previous day that might have caused the bad dream. Typical experiences that can cause bad dreams are: fights with siblings or friends; getting in trouble at home or school; losing something important; being ill and having to stay home, etc. To facilitate this process of helping children understand their bad dreams, I have written a children’s book coming out in March of 2012 entitled “Mommy, Daddy, I Had a Bad Dream!” for ages thee and up. Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D.

    • Thanks so much for your comment…dreams can be so upsetting for little ones who have difficulty understanding that they are not real.I will be interested in reading your book when it comes out in March. I hope you continue to read Parenting in the Loop’s Blog.

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