When your child has a nightmare, it can be quite unsettling for you and him or her. It’s even harder to understand when your child isn’t at the age yet to be able to communicate what has distressed him or her in the middle of the night. When your toddler wakes disturbed from deep sleep, it’s most commonly from teething, not feeling well or becoming sick, or from a nightmare or night terror.
Why Nightmares Occur
A toddler’s nightmares usually occur because of something scary that they experienced just before bed or because of stress caused by separation anxiety from a parent at bedtime. Don’t be hard on yourself during this time in your child’s life - There is no link to any emotional problems because of nightmares. They just simply occur and are common for all toddlers and honestly, all humans.
Soothing Your Child After a Nightmare
If your child doesn’t fall asleep within a few minutes, go to your child and soothe him or her by holding them in your arms, rubbing their back, etc. Physical reassurance and comfort are critical for a child to feel safe, secure, and protected, especially after a scary nightmare. We also recommend making sure your child has his or her favorite stuffed animal or blanket with them for extra comfort.
A night light may also help since your child is getting older and more aware of the dark, and the dark can seem scary. Keeping the bedroom door open may possibly help as well so your child knows you are close by.
If your child is old enough to understand words, trying to comfort your child by saying, “It was only a dream,” doesn’t normally help since it’s hard for your child to differentiate between a dream and reality at a young age.
How to Help Minimize Nightmares
To help your child become more calm and relaxed before bedtime, we recommend a warm lavender bubble bath, some peaceful reading to your child, and rubbing his or her back as they fall asleep. Prohibit television or screen time an hour before bed to help calm and quiet their minds as well (and yours too!).
The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping your home’s temperature around 65 degrees for optimal sleep – not too hot and not too cool.
Check to make sure your child’s night light isn’t too bright or too dim. Bright enough to give off just a little light but not so bright that your child can’t fall asleep with it on.
If your child’s nightmares continue over an extended length of time, you may want to make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to make sure he or she isn’t getting sick or an underlying issue isn’t causing discomfort and restlessness.