How To Help Your Child Deal With Nightmares – Part 1

How To Help Your Child Deal With Nightmares – Part 1

by Dr Emma Gray - 18th November, 2014

When we sleep our brains process what has happened to us during the day.  New experiences (good and bad) present challenges that require additional processing, so dreams are often more vivid following an eventful day.

Children’s lives are full of new experiences which makes them much more prone to vivid dreams and nightmares than adults.  Therefore, the first thing to bear in mind when helping your child to deal with a nightmare is that it is a consequence of their day which is more often than not filled with a plethora of new experiences and learning opportunities.

In part one of this blog we will outline 2 of 4 key techniques that will help your child to deal with nightmares whilst also building their confidence in managing their emotions and experiences thus protecting them from problems with anxiety, depression and low self esteem both now and later on in life.

1. Settling down

At the end of every day make sure that you child has a chance to talk about their day.  This way you can support them to begin processing their experiences, set a precedent for talking about problems and make sure that your child is never left alone for too long with a worry or problem.

This approach will give your child the message that they are important and that you are interested in them; demonstrating this on a daily basis will build your child’s self esteem and confidence to a level that will protect them from mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders that are driven by core underlying low self esteem (e.g. eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder {OCD}, panic disorder) both now and in the future.
Ask them to tell you 2 good things and 2 bad things from each day, then help them to explore what made each experience good and bad and then work out a plan to solve any remaining problems (e.g. talking to the teacher together the next morning).

2. Reassure

When your child wakes from a nightmare they will be scared and disoriented, they will need a little time and space to get their bearing so as a first step just sit quietly with them and gently reassure them that you are there and that they are safe.  Whatever time it is try not to rush past this step until your child is completely calm.

If your child is happy to go straight back to sleep steps 3 & 4 can be carried out in the morning, if not move on to these once your child is calm. Step 3-4 are covered in the second part of this blog.

The second part of this blog will look at two more techniques. Click below to navigate.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


Read more about my approach to counselling here...


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