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Tackling Bad Dreams, One at a Time

Does your child suffer from bad dreams? If so, the first thing to know is that it is normal. Young children have bad dreams, from time to time. The more you know about what can cause them and how to address the situation, the more you can help to keep those bad dreams at bay!

Bad Dreams and Nighmares Explained

Bad dreams, or nightmares, usually happen during the rapid-eye-movement (REM) period of the night, when the brain is really active, despite the fact that the person is sound asleep. Some of these dreams can seem quite realistic. While the peak period for children to have such bouts of bad dreams is usually thought to be between the ages of two and five, they can continue on throughout childhood. There are many reasons why a child might have a bad dream, which makes addressing them a little more individualized. If you learn more about what may be causing them, you will be more successful at preventing them.

Why Bad Dreams and Nightmares Happen

Often, kids have bad dreams as a result of something that has happened during the day. Perhaps they are worried about something, have overheard scary things on the news, or may have watched a scary movie. Other times, they may use bad dreams as an excuse to get into their parents bed. Many people also believe that certain foods, such as chocolate, eaten too close to bedtime can cause bad dreams. If your child has bad dreams, here are some things you can do to try to address the issue:

  • Create a 'good dream routine' with your child. Start by having a calming bedtime routine and discussing something pleasant that they can dream about.
  • Try placing helpful tools, such as a dream-catcher, in their room, to help bring them comfort.
  • Discuss the bad dream with them, so you can explain that it isn't real, which will help to calm their fears.
  • Explain to them that having some bad dreams is normal. You may even want to pick up a children's book on the topic, to help cover the issue.

Occasional bad dreams are common throughout childhood. We can help to reduce them by limiting a child's exposure to scary things, such as scary movies or negative news on the television, and creating a positive bedtime routine. But if your child has an ongoing and frequent issue with bad dreams, then you should speak with your pediatrician.