We all have frightening dreams – it’s just that your toddler’s may seem more scary to him because he doesn’t yet understand they’re not real. So, if he wakes upset after a nightmare, help lay his fears to rest
Whether it’s about having puree all over your face during a job interview or giving birth on the pavement, all of us have bad dreams at some stage.
And while experts aren’t completely sold that under-twos can have nightmares, you may find your child wakes with them in later toddlerhood and beyond, perhaps after watching or hearing something frightening.
Fortunately, there are ways to comfort him and hopefully give you both a more restful night’s sleep.
There are ways to comfort him and hopefully give you both a more restful night’s sleep
Stay calm if your toddler’s woken you
Yes, your child’s woken you up at 3am, but it’s not to annoy you – he’s scared.
‘He needs you to respond calmly and lovingly, as he’s not yet old enough to regulate his own emotions without your guidance,’ says Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of ToddlerCalm: A Guide for Calmer Toddlers and Happier Parents.
Take your cue from him
Some toddlers will want to talk about the nightmare while others will just appreciate a cuddle. ‘Whatever happens let your toddler know you’re there for him however he wants you to be,’ says Sarah.
And try to avoid saying things like ‘Don’t be silly’ – show you respect his feelings and that he’s scared by the dream, even if it doesn’t sound frightening to you.
Deal with the aftermath
If the nightmare seems to have stayed with your child, get some props involved in a chat with him. ‘A good way to talk about a long-lasting fear is to use a story book with a character and situation that your child can relate to,’ says Sarah. Try The Monster Who Ate Darkness.
‘It doesn't have to be the same situation he’s dreamt about but it gives you a starting point to discuss fear and how to cope with it.’
If he doesn’t want to chat…
Get the crayons out and give him the chance to show you how he felt or what scared him by drawing a picture.
‘Some toddlers don't have the communication skills necessary to talk about their feelings,’ says Sarah. ‘You could try more creative ways such as modelling whatever he dreamt about out of play dough.’
Plus, it’s a great excuse for a fun arts and crafts session!