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31 - 33 months

Why does my toddler have nightmares?

14 May 2020 | By Anna-Bet Stemmet


From the age of two upwards you may find that your child has nightmares. This can be very scary for a parent, especially if the cause is unknown. Here are a few important things to realise about toddler nightmares. 

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Nightmares don’t necessarily mean trauma 

According to Essie de Jager, a trained early-childhood teaching professional at Tjokkertuin Childcare Centre in Malmesbury, the first thing many parents imagine when their toddler has a nightmare is that they were subjected to some form of trauma. 

“While it’s normal (and right!) to be vigilant, I normally advise parents not to jump to conclusions or get carried away straight off the bat. Talk to your child and see how much information you can get out of them about the nightmare – what frightened them? Did it remind them of something that had happened to them before? For young children, even a dream of falling over and skinning a knee can be troubling enough to cause tears. Depending on your child’s language skills at this age, you may be able to solve the issue by talking about it and reminding them that it’s not real and they can’t get hurt in dreams.” 

Separation anxiety is often a root cause

“Between the ages of 31 and 33 months, separation anxiety is a normal fear to have. Toddlers want their parents close, and some get quite upset when their primary caregivers leave to go to work or take care of other responsibilities,” explains Essie.

“Parents will often find that toddlers have nightmares of being lost or getting left behind. In cases like these, it can be helpful to comfort and reassure your child regularly, especially just before bedtime. Keep the bedtime routine light and happy - turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime, tuck them in, read a story and spend some time getting them settled. The reassurance of a regular routine can make all the difference."

Get help if you feel overwhelmed

Essie recommends that parents seek the advice of child psychologists or healthcare professional as soon as they feel overwhelmed by the extent to which recurring nightmares affect their toddler. 

“If you find that your toddler's nightmares become progressively worse or happen more often, and you can't comfort or reassure them using your go-to techniques, it may be time to seek some professional help to get to the heart of the matter,” she advises. “The same goes for situations in which a lack of sleep due to repeated night terrors has an impact on your child's daytime activities. A child psychologist can assist by guiding you and your child in implementing relaxation strategies or could suggest other coping techniques.”

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

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