Top Tips for Toddler Nightmares – From Moms Who’ve Been There

baby sleeping in car seat

Sleep is a big deal. Whether you’re a sleeper or not, whether you get up at sparrow’s fart or prefer to stay in bed until lunch, if you don’t get sleep it’s a killer. It’s actually a form of torture. So when you’re expected to function like a normal human being and make sure other human beings don’t die, sleep is essential.

Which is why sleep problems are such a big deal.

Each child is different and we went through different sleep problems with each boy, but the one constant about sleep issues and children is that there will always be some. Your baby might sleep like an angel in the fourth trimester but then he’ll stop sleeping later. Or if you sort out your baby’s sleeping, you can guarantee they’ll stop sleeping later in life.

Which is what’s happening with J, our 3-year old right now.

J didn’t sleep for pretty much the first year of his life. Then we did some gentle sleep training and gradually reduced his night feeds and voila – a happy, sleeping baby. Fast forward to when he was 2 and we moved him from his crib to his big bed and he needed us to sit with him until he fell asleep – which usually took about an hour – but then he would sleep through. Fast forward to now and he can go to sleep but he wakes up 3 or 4 times a night and either needs us to sit with him until he falls asleep (which is a killer at 3am) or sleep next to him or sleep in our bed. Not ideal but fine.

But what wasn’t fine was his nightmares. We went through a few weeks where he’d wake up screaming. It could be 9 pm or 2 am and he would literally sit up in bed and scream til we came running. A lot of the time he was still asleep so I knew it had to be bad dreams.

Toddler nightmares around this age are not uncommon (especially with lockdown at the moment) but I still didn’t like them happening, so I asked my followers for advice. And boy did I get a response! Being the nice person I am I wanted to share with you the advice I was given.

These are all moms, so these methods are tried and tested. Obviously each child and each situation is different so what works for one of us might not work for everyone, but if you’re struggling with this at the moment, have a read and maybe you can find a glimmer of hope.

Read to the end to find out what worked for us!

I use a nightlight, so the room has some light ambient feel so he can easily fall back to sleep. I don’t switch on light as it makes it far more difficult to get him back to sleep. I offer a warm drink or snack, then tell him a story or sing a prayer/mantra. This reassures and comforts him and he goes back to sleep. 

Mira – Real Life Mum

My boys are aged 3 and 5, so they are high energy. This means that they often are quite restless and wake up because of nightmares.What has aided us a lot is incorporating Deep Sleep Meditations that we play via YouTube; this we start once they are in their rooms preparing for bed, through story time and ultimately till an hour into their sleep. The ones from Good Vibes- Binaural Beats are really good in that it balances their energy to rest so that mommy and daddy can rest too

Faziela – Official Dragon Mommy

We reiterate that they’re dreams (which we explain as stories in her mind) and they aren’t real. So tough though! We’ve also had great success with essential oils…specifically valor (courage oil). She seems to go through “phases” of dreaming a lot and then they kind of disappear for a while. So I diffuse valor during those periods and I’ve seen a biiiig difference.

Shannon – Jute and Juniper

I went to a talk with an OT and she says it takes hours for their brains to switch off at night after watching TV close to bedtime.

Angela – Our Sunshine Journey

We’ve had issues like this for years. It is absolutely heartbreaking. I sit with him at night while he cries and grinds his teeth like mad and there is nothing I can do. I’ve thrown the book at it – he has a weighted blanket, we do no screen time before bedtime, I make sure he is super active all day in terms of his sensory diet, I’ve put him on magnesium – and still it’s a problem. The only thing that I think has helped slightly has been putting him on CBD oil drops. I think the nightmares are just a sign of general anxiety and so I’ve put him on the drops and then am trying to help give him some coping strategies for managing his emotions at home.

Rachel – Rachie_OT_mom

We put our girls in the same room about that age which seemed to help.

Ali

Kids that age can’t tell the difference between real and imaginary. So I would focus on getting him to understand that he is SAFE, instead of that these things aren’t real. His fear is very, very real. Treat him like you would anyone else in intense fear. Snuggle and reassure him that he is safe. During the day, talk to him about how you only let him go safe places and do safe things. Show him all the things you have done to keep him safe (plugs, putting the knives up etc). Then at night, use the other tricks people are suggesting like spray bottles and what not, to give that him that extra sense of security right before sleep.

Ali – HomeSchool Money Mom

Maybe he could draw them [the dreams] too and then add silly stickers or drawings to make the scary parts of the dream funny. He can draw himself in the picture with a super hero cape or other things that make him feel strong and powerful. Changing the ending is another wonderful tool in play therapy. Sometimes at bedtime we chat to our kids about where we want to meet up in dreamland and we choose fun adventures or places before they fall asleep

Lara – Island Home Essentials

We also have problems with nightmares and I think it has to do with anxiety. The app Insight has a bunch of guided meditations and they have some cool sleep ones for kids that might help. Not sure if it’s helping the nightmares, but my kids seem to be enjoying them before going to sleep.

Rebekah

Shot in the dark (‘scuse the pun) maybe help him to create a new happy & funny ending to his nightmare? 

A friend

I do a check under her bed before bedtime to make sure there are no monsters or bad things lurking and tell her she’s safe because we can see her on the monitor. Don’t know how to stop the middle of the night waking though as the only thing that works is booting the husband out of our bed and letting her snuggle in with me – or trying to sleep in her single bed with her which aren’t long term plans of course!

Abi

This might help: get a spray / spritzer bottle and fill it with water. Then label it anti-spiders & rubbish trucks etc spray. Or, call it Safe Spray (to cover all angles). Then when he’s scared at night, he can spray it to get rid of whatever is there.

Lucinda

Try getting a ‘Worry Monster’ teddy then you can write his worries down and the monster will eat it away ☺️

Tracey

I make it a thing now to talk about the things he really likes – construction cars, lawn mowers, garbage trucks – before he falls asleep. I’m hoping that fills his brain with happy thoughts.

Odette

As you can see, we’re clearly not the only ones who have this problem!

So what did we do?

Firstly, whenever he tells us a dream, we’ll reframe it so it’s a happy dream ie talking about friendly dinosaurs. We also tell him it’s ok to be scared sometimes but when he’s in his bed he’s safe because we’re close by. During bathtime we make sure we talk about what he’s going to dream about that night and make sure it’s happy eg flying, seeing friends and oranges (I don’t know why but oranges make him happy). Finally, the one major change we made was to cut out TV before bed. We don’t let the boys watch TV for hours and hours but the half an hour Jeremy used to watch used to be between bath and bedtime, while we were putting Seb to bed. Now what we’ve done is we’re keeping Seb up later and putting them to bed at the same time but they watch TV after Seb’s nap in the afternoon. Between supper and bath/bedtime is playtime without screens.

Happily, I can report that for the most part his nightmares have subsided. We are still dealing with wake ups but at least they’re not traumatic – just annoying for us and tiring for him.

Let me know if you’ve got some good advice for toddler nightmares or wake-ups – I’d love to hear it!

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