How To Deal With Nightmares With Your Toddlers

By Lisa Ketchmark

March 11, 2019

Hi my name is Lisa. I am a proud Mama to 3 inquisitive, energetic, and beautiful children. I am also very proud to be a Registered Nurse and The Mama Coach for Hamilton, Ontario. I thoroughly enjoy educating and supporting families, in an attempt to make parenthood a touch easier.

Oh nightmares, how I dislike you so.  Even as an adult I have the odd nightmare and it takes me awhile to relax, ease my fears and fall back asleep.  I remember having nightmares as a child, waking up frightened and calling out for my parents. Unfortunately looking back, some of my nightmares could have been avoided.

A nightmare is a scary, unpleasant, bad dream.  When a toddler wakes from a nightmare, those images are still fresh and your toddler could be filled with fear and anxiety.

So, let’s start here, how can we avoid nightmares or at least some of them?  Firstly, don’t leave your child with a family member or babysitter that thinks it’s funny to let your kids watch a scary movie.  My Uncle, let me and my siblings watch Children of the Corn, way before any of us were developmentally ready. It didn’t help that there was a corn field behind my house.  That movie terrified me and caused numerous scary dreams.

Please remember, scaring toddlers or young children should not be a form of amusement and can cause nightmares and night wake ups, disrupting everyone’s sleep.  

Second, try to avoid having an overtired toddler.  Overtired toddlers are more prone to:

  • Excessive crying at bedtime
  • Frequent night waking’s
  • Broken/short naps
  • Nightmare/night terrors

Check out this article, with tips to avoid an overtired baby. 

Thirdly, try to stick to a calming bedtime routine.  A bath, pajamas and brushing teeth, then reading some happy/calming books not scary ones.  Tuck your little one in with happy thoughts on their brains.

Now obviously not all nightmares can be avoided.  Our toddlers are full of imagination. Not only is their vivid imagination developing but they are also developing some fears.  So, what should you do if your toddler wakes with a nightmare?

  1. Do not engage in conversation about the nightmare in the middle of the night.  Comfort your toddler, ease their anxieties and let your toddler know that they are safe.  Calm them down, give them a hug and tuck them back into bed and give them there lovie to cuddle.  Try to not make a big deal about it.
  2. Discuss the dream/nightmare in the morning.  Reinforce to your toddler that the T-Rex in the closet does not exist.  There are no ghosts under their bed, since ghosts are imaginary and reinforce, that they are safe in their bedroom.  
  3. Monster spray, unfortunately although a great idea, you are validating that monsters exist.  We prefer to promote that monsters/goblins/zombies just do not exist. You are safe. A monster, ghost or T-Rex cannot get you in the middle of the night, just like they can’t get you in the middle of the day.
  4. At this point, your toddler that has always slept in the dark, may need a night light.  Now that they are developing an imagination and fears, the dark may be scary. We have learned that blue/green spectrum lights can affect melatonin levels however red/orange/yellow hues do not seem to interfere.  If you feel like a nightlight could help your toddler, check out the Ooly or a salt lamp.
  5. Calming white noise may also be beneficial.  It can help block out the scary noises that our furnace for example sometimes makes.  

Good luck!! If you feel like you need more sleep help with your toddler please contact your local Mama Coach.  If there is not one located near you, all Mama Coaches can offer you virtual support.

You Got This, Mama!

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