Why toddlers have nightmares

A piercing scream in the night, “Mommeee! Help!”

The little one is sitting bolt upright, his tearful face and sobs a sign that, in his world, something is very wrong. In one way, bad dreams can be seen as a sign that your baby is growing up, his imagination maturing to the extent where it can evoke imagery that can scare him awake.

Toddlers go through a lot of new experiences and feelings daily that it could sometimes become too confusing or scary -- and just like adults they sometimes work these experiences out through their dreams.

Your toddler won’t easily distinguish fantasy and reality, which is why nightmares are extra scary.

Major changes in your toddler or your family’s life can trigger nightmares. They may start following events like:
  • Starting nursery school or going to a new school.
  • Moving home.
  • A parent starting a new job with different hours.
  • A few nights away from his parents.
  • Another baby in the house.

Taming the terrors

  • Get to your toddler as fast as you can when you hear him scream.
  • The only “medicine” he needs is loving words and comfort.
  • Don’t switch on the lights, take him out of his bed or speak in a concerned or loud voice – this will just upset hum further.
  • Just sit with him on his bed, comfort him and he will very quickly fall asleep again and will probably not remember anything the next day.
  • If you know what is causing the nightmares (like major changes in your life) it can help to talk to him the next day about this and explain the changes in a positive light and reassure him.
  • You might think that your toddler is too small to understand a serious conversation, but he does.
  • If your toddler’s nightmares persist or become more frequent it could be something at school or daycare which is bothering him and which needs closer investigation by you.
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