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Kids Nightmares: What Causes Them and How to Handle Them

Right around preschool-age, children start recognizing that nightmares are only dreams and cannot hurt them. This does not mean your child is any less scared. Your little one still needs your reassurance and understanding. Here’s a little bit of information about what may be causing his or her bad dreams and what you can do to help:


What causes nightmares?

1. An active imagination could be part of the reason your child wakes up in a cold sweat. Preschoolers use their imagination to make sense of the world around them. It can be used as their way of working through new information.

2. Children at this age have difficulty separating reality from make believe. They may believe in the Bogeyman as much as they believe in Santa Claus, making their nightmares that much more realistic.

3. Stress can trigger nightmares and stress is often a result of change at this age. Starting preschool is a huge change in preschoolers’ lives so a sense of worry and stress is only natural.

4. If something traumatic has recently happened in your child’s life, that could be the perpetrator. If there was a recent car accident or severe injury, nightmares could be a natural effect.


How can you help?

1. Help your child calm down as much as you can. Even though he or she is worked up, it’s important that they lose as little sleep as possible.

2. Try asking your kiddo what the dream was about and then use simple logic to explain that it was only a dream and, even though it was certainly scary, it wasn’t real and can’t hurt them.

3. When talking about the nightmare, keep it short and simple. You want to listen and reassure your little one, but you don’t want to spark their imagination and trigger any new nightmares.

4. Try soothing you child by rubbing his or her back, singing them a song or maybe just giving them a huge hug.

5. Prevent nightmares in the first place by sticking to a bedtime routine. Whether this includes reading a book, telling a story or singing a song, follow the same pattern nightly. Routine creates a sense of safety.



-“Nightmares.” Kids Health.

-“Nightmares.” What to Expect.

-Photo courtesy of Jeanne Claire Maarbes/

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