Your child 1-3 years

Nightmares: how to appease it?


Your toddler is terrified by a nightmare ... How to react? Update on some misconceptions to better understand these bad dreams and help you adopt the right attitude.

Nightmares are useless

  • FALSE: Nightmares are very useful because they serve as an outlet and allow your child to evacuate the tensions, anxieties and negative emotions experienced during the day.
  • During sleep, the brain "digs" into the subconscious to recover what your child has buried and makes nightmares out of that material. Your toddler is very jealous of his little sister? He dreams of a huge spider devouring her. Thanks to this nightmare, he can express his hostility without feeling guilty and thus "cleaning" his head.

Parents can take their child to bed to reassure him

  • FALSE: A small child who is awake from a nightmare does not make a clear distinction between reality and what he has just dreamed of. Hence his terror. It is therefore essential to reassure him by taking him in his arms. And especially speaking to him: "This big spider does not exist in real life, it's you alone who invented this story." Turn on the light to help him emerge from his bad dream, tell him something about nice to divert his mind from the memory of the nightmare.
  • On the other hand, it is not wise to take him in your bed: to find himself between his parents, in a place that is not that of a small child, would only create confusion ... therefore anxiety , and maybe other nightmares!

You do not have to wake up a baby who has a nightmare

  • TRUE : If he is terrified, eyes wide open, but does not seem to hear, it is not a nightmare but a night terror. While the nightmare occurs during the second part of the night, during REM sleep, the night terror arrives in the first part of the night, during deep slow sleep.
  • Do not do anything except watch that your child does not hurt himself. It is useless to talk to him, he does not hear you because he sleeps. The next day he will not remember anything. Some children never have night terrors, others have them when they are very tired and sink into a sleep too deep.

Nightmares signal your child's difficulty

  • TRUE : If your child is having more than one nightmare a week, especially if he does it every night, you can be sure that he is going through a difficult time: something in his life is disturbing him. It's up to you to lead the investigation to discover what, to find a solution.
  • There are many nightmarish events in a toddler's life: the birth of a baby, a move, a quarrel with a boyfriend, a new nanny or a mistress who scares him, tensions between his parents, the illness a grandparent, etc.
  • Without trying to interpret absolutely the nightmares your child tells you, you can find clues: in very young children, nightmares are much more transparent than in older adults and adults.

Isabelle Gravillon, parent supplement of Popi magazine

Thanks to Lyliane Nemet-Pier, psychologist, author of This child who does not sleep ... To finish with the sleepless nights, ed. Albin Michel.