Nightmares

Nightmares

The best thing that you can do if your child has a nightmare is comfort them. Following most nightmares, your child will be reassured by a few minutes of comfort.

Sleeping sound in primary school children - nightmares management

Comfort your child

The best thing that you can do if your child has a nightmare is to comfort them. Talk to them quietly and give them a hug. Following most nightmares, your child will be reassured by a few minutes of comfort. Stay with them in their room. Let them know that you are nearby and will make sure that they are safe and secure. Most children are still tired after a nightmare and will be ready to fall back to sleep. Avoid frightening or overstimulating images, especially just before bedtime (such as frightening stories, movies and television shows).

Give your child a security object

Having a security object like a soft toy or blanket that your child can keep in bed with them can be helpful. This often helps a child feel more relaxed throughout the night.

Leaving the light on

If your child asks to have a light on, put it on the lowest setting possible so that your child can fall back to sleep. Bright light can stop children falling asleep.

Discuss it the next day

The next day, you may want to talk to your child about the nightmare to see whether there is anything that is upsetting them. Most of the time nightmares are events with little meaning, but if your child begins to have them often, you should try to figure out what is worrying them.

Encourage the use of imagination

Some children do well with using their imagination to get rid of nightmares. Your child can draw pictures of their bad dreams and then throw them away, or they can try to imagine different endings to their nightmares or they can imagine their favourite colour as a big cloud pushing away the nightmare.

Ensure your child is getting enough sleep

Make sure your child is getting enough sleep, as children who are overtired can have more nightmares.

Get outside help

If your child's nightmares are severe, meaning that they happen often and are causing anxiety problems for your child during the day and at bedtime, speak to your family doctor, school nurse or counsellor or paediatrician.

You can also check the page on nightmares and night terrors.  

Thumbnail of 'Nightmare' handout

Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand thank the Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia, for making this content available to parents and families.

© Copyright – Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 2014. Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), no part of this content may be reproduced by a process, electronic or otherwise, without the specific written permission of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

This page last reviewed 06 July 2017.
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