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3 - 5yrs Clinic

Social skills

Childhood nightmares

Children don't tend to start having nightmares until they are at least two years old but more commonly these might start when they are at least three or four. Unless the upset caused by the nightmares appears to be extreme, don’t worry too much about them – we all have ways in which our brains unload during the night and children get this too from time to time.

Coping with nightmares

•  Sometimes an incident is not a nightmare per se, but just a vivid dream that upsets the child on waking because it seemed so real. Waking up in a dark room can make it seem worse than it was.

•  Calmly reassure your child and give her a cuddle.

•  Whilst you don’t want to overeact to a nightmare as this will cause more alarm, you should avoid putting your child’s experience down as ‘silly’. Treat her fears as genuine and talk about happier things.

•  If you can, stay with your child until she goes back to sleep, unless you feel she will get too dependent on you being there night after night, in which case sit on her bed for a while, stroking her hair perhaps, and then quietly explain that you are going away but that you will be very nearby still, in your own bed.

•  Ideally, take your child back to her bedroom if she has climbed into your bed. This is so that the bedroom itself does not become part of the nightmare experience. Leave a light on or lay down with your child while she gets used to the idea that her bedroom is a nice place to be again.

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