is a scary dream that is so frightening it completely
wakes up a sleeping child and leaves him/her scared afterwards.
They are quite common and usually harmless but by
recognizing the bad dream, reassuring your child and using a few
helpful techniques you can avoid
most related sleep troubles.
Although more usual in toddlers and bigger
kids, they can
occur as baby sleep
disorders from as early as 1 year old.
that a night
terror is quite different from a nightmare. A night terror
is not a dream but rather how a child feels and reacts after waking
from a deep sleep.)
How to recognize nightmares
When your baby or toddler has a nightmare, you will know: she will wake
up, be frightened and cry or scream. She will need your reassurance
before she can go back to sleep.
Usually they occur
in the second part of the night, towards early morning.
If your child wakes up screaming in the first part of the night, she
may be having night
terrors in stead - (or simply need a night feed ...
He/she will normally remember what happened, also the following morning.
common cause of nightmares. That includes scary images or
during the day but also being afraid of the dark or of being alone or
going to bed alone.
How to help your baby
What you can do to prevent nightly
troubles because of scary dreams:
Make sure your baby sleeps in a
safe environment that also
reassures her. Install a night light. Leave the bedroom
door open when possible and assure her you're always near during the
night. Use a gentle and relaxed bedtime routine.
From when your child is very young, even
before having nightmares, talk
about dreams from time to time.
When you pick
her up after sleeping, ask her if she's been dreaming,
what she has seen while sleeping. I used to jokingly ask if they dreamed about me this time?
This is a
really simple way to learn that it's completely normal, and good, to have dreams.
her that all she sees is not real, rather that it is like a story on
TV. This will help her understand scary dreams later on.
talk the dream through right after it happened: let
your child tell you what she saw.
If she's too
young to do that, you
can do it for her: "You
had a bad dream, right? I think you saw something you didn't like and
it may have made you feel uneasy. That's why you woke up. I know it's
but luckily it was just a dream ...".
No need to go
into full detail, the main point now is to both acknowledge and
If something in her room scared her, now is a good time to check
together: nothing under the bed, the cuddly toy is actually a nice soft
Bring her back to bed once reassured - or stay with her until she's
reassured. Tell her you'll come back and check on her soon (and of course truly do so, whether she's already back asleep or not).
Before she goes to sleep again, help
rid of the scary thoughts (which can still linger) by
provoking fun images.
Talk to her
something she likes and try to bring up those images in her mind. For
me tell you about swimming dolphins. Dolphins are very good swimmers,
can you see them, in the ocean? They swim and swim, and then jump high,
and swim some more ...
This is a
powerful way to get rid of the scary images and makes it easier to settle
and drift off again, it works a bit like a simple meditation.
morning, talk about the dream again, this time in more
detail. You can also
have her make a drawing of what she saw if she likes.
and identify what scared her most. It will usually be an
imagined animal or scary person, but it can also be something or
someone real, or something that happened.
talking, or looking at the objects or images that scared your baby
together during the day, you may be able to relieve some of the fear.