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Lena Engel
Worked as an Ofsted Early Years Inspector for Kensington and Chelsea Borough. Supported teachers in schools to improve outcomes for children’s learning, and written for Nursery World Magazine. She trains, assesses and mentors early years practitioners, and offers advice and guidance to parents.
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Stage 8 – before 5th birthday

How can you help children deal with nightmares?

Many children have nightmares and it is often hard for parents to know how to help.
In Short

Be aware that your child is quite likely to have nightmares when there has been change in his life. This can be something like a house move or a new school. These suggestions may help you support your child during this time.

  • Help your child get used to sleeping through the night by tucking him in tightly with a top sheet and blankets or a top sheet over a duvet. The idea is that you are helping to keep your child secure and warm. He is also less likely to kick off the duvet which might wake him up.
  • As much as possible it is good to keep to a calming routine before bed with a bath and a story that your child can choose. See our article on helping your child to sleep well.
  • For younger children find books to read to them which are about having dreams and nightmares – by reading amusing stories children can understand and externalise their fears better, and can accept them as a normal part of learning to sleep. Also talk at other times of the day about dreams and nightmares, saying how they could be frightening but they were often very strange and interesting. Make up funny sounding dreams to tell them about dreams that you may have had yourself.
  • Offer a night light to stop your child being frightened if he wakes up in the dark.
  • You may have to help lift your child before you go to bed and put him on the toilet. If he’s younger, you can leave a potty in his room so that he can use it easily through the night.
  • Try setting up a chart with a sticker for each night that he manages to stay in his own bedroom. Offer him a reward if he manages three out of seven nights a week to start with, and then extend that to four or five etc, as he gets more confident.
  • Start to build his independence by giving him simple tasks to do around the house, such as making his own bed, setting the table, or putting the washing in the machine. Always ensure that you give descriptive praise to your older and younger children so that they hear what you really like about the efforts they have made. Eg “I really like the way you set the knives and forks beside the plates because they are so straight and easy to pick up and use. Well done and thank you”
  • The more your child develops confidence and the more independent he will be, the more he will feel happy at school, as well as in clubs after school and the easier it will be for him to sleep securely through the night.

If you would like to contact Lena for one-on-one advice for children aged 0 – 19 years, please email her on

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.