What can I do if my child has nightmares?

We all have nightmares from time to time, but they can be especially upsetting for children. Help them feel safe by acknowledging and comforting their fears.

    Dad looking at baby in cot

    Things you can do

    • Show and tell that you understand how scared or upset they feel.
    • Tell a soothing bedtime story, or sing some favourite songs or rhymes together.
    • Encourage your child to cuddle a favourite soft toy.
    • Gentle touch can be comforting. Try stroking down your child’s arm from shoulder to hand, stroking the face or making circles on their back.
    • Ask them to tell you about the best part of their day, or what made them laugh.
    •  If they wake up from a nightmare, talk about what they might like to dream about instead. Encourage them to ‘switch the channel’ like they would on the TV and choose a ‘happy dream’ channel.
    • Help your child to avoid upsetting stories, games or films before bed. A bedtime routine will also help them unwind and release anxious feelings.
    • Start a sleep diary. Note down the times they wake in the morning, nap, go to bed and wake during the night. You can include what you did if they woke at night, and how they felt.

    Nightmares typically start between the ages of three and six. They happen during deep sleep, usually in the early hours. Unlike night terrors, children can remember nightmares (or remember feeling afraid) after waking.

    Go back

    Activity: use mindfulness to soothe nightmares

    Read

    Talk to us

    Free and confidential live chat with parenting staff. Chat online or request a call back when it’s convenient for you.

    Chat icon on mobile phone