Helping Your Child with Bad Dreams

Author: Shannon Miller Lifestyle

Nightmares and Children

Has your child ever woken you up in the middle of the night crying or screaming from a nightmare?

This can be traumatic for both you and your child. As I parent we do not always know what our kids are worrying about and what might be causing some of those bad dreams.

“At first, you may not know exactly what’s troubling your child,” says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Disorder Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “because the images in nightmares are not always literal representations. Kids may report dreaming about monsters, not burning buildings.”

There are a few things you can do to help your child to possibly avoid some of those bad dreams and the preparations need to take place well before bedtime.

  • No scary movies or video games. Many of the newer video games are very violent. Turn off the news as many times very frightening to hear and the images can be very graphic to a child. Choose to watch something fun and relaxing.
  • No rough housing before bed. This includes tickling and wrestling. Don’t rile up your child;  instead focus on things that are calm and soothing to them. If you have older kids, chat with them about things that they are looking forward to.
  • Identify when a nightmare is a sign of more serious problem. “A dream that occurs over and over can be one sign,” says Patricia Garfield, Ph.D., cofounder of the Association for the Study of Dreams. Watch for patterns such as if your child seems to have a nightmare after being at a certain place or with a certain person.
  • Don’t tell your child it is just a dream. A younger child needs to be reassured with some proof and reassurance.
  • Talk to your child about their nightmare and help them describe it. Work through it with praises for anything they may have done good during the dream; yelling at the monster for example. “This helps because it helps show the kids they have the power to change the dream” Garfield says.
  • Suggest ways to make the nightmares less scary or threatening. Get you child to come up with some of their own ideas.
  • Assure your child they are not alone and that others share in many of their same fears. Reading a book that deals with bad dreams is a great way to help ease their fears and anxieties.

Source:  “How to Calm Your Kids’ Fears”,

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