Dealing with Bedtime Fears, Nightmares, Night Terrors in Toddlers

Dealing with Bedtime Fears, Nightmares, Night Terrors in Toddlers

Toddlerhood is an incredible phase of your child's development, filled with imaginative play and new experiences. However, this period can also introduce new fears, including bedtime fears, nightmares and night terrors, which can disrupt their sleep. In this article, we'll explore how to handle these sleep disturbances while maintaining healthy sleep habits for your little one.

Bedtime Fears

Sometimes our toddler’s brains start thinking about those new fears right before going to bed. They are often caused by new experiences that can lead anxiety, such as starting preschool or going to a new daycare. Toddlers may also be afraid of the dark, monsters, or being alone.

Dealing with toddler's bedtime fears requires a combination of patience, understanding, and effective strategies. The best thing you can do in this situation is to get on their level and reframe what they're afraid of: try to make up a story to reframe their experience around what they're afraid of. Turn whatever their “monster” is into something fun, silly, or even sweet instead of something to worry about.

Here are a few things you can do to help your toddler cope with bedtime fears:

  • Open Communication. Encourage your toddler to talk about their fears. Create a safe space where they can express their feelings and concerns without judgment.
  • Create a bedtime routine. This will help your toddler wind down and prepare for sleep.
  • Read your child a story or sing them a lullaby. This can help to calm them down and make them feel safe.
  • Make sure their bedroom is a safe and comfortable space. This could involve making sure the room is dark enough, but not too dark, and that there are no scary shadows or objects in the room.
  • Nightlights for Comfort. Nightlights can be your child's best friend. They provide a reassuring glow that can help alleviate the fear of the dark.
  • Stay calm and reassuring. If your toddler is scared, try to stay calm and reassuring. Let them know that you are there for them and that they are safe.
  • Gradually help them overcome their fears. If your toddler is afraid of the dark, for example, you can help shine some light on the things that might be scaring them. This could mean literally turning the light on and examining the shadows in their room.
  • Be patient and understanding. It may take time for your child to overcome their fears.
  • Stay with your child until they fall asleep. This will help them to feel secure and loved.



Toddlers go through many changes, both physically and emotionally. These changes can lead to new fears and anxieties, which can sometimes manifest as nightmares.

What are nightmares?

Nightmares are vivid dreams that can cause your toddler to wake up feeling scared. They usually occur during the second half of the night, specifically during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when the child is in a lighter state of sleep. Because of this, they are easily remembered and can be quite distressing.

What causes nightmares?

Nightmares can be triggered by various factors, including:

  • Stress or anxiety
  • A frightening experience during the day
  • New experiences, such as starting preschool
  • Teething or illness
  • Changes in the child's life, such as the arrival of a new baby or a move to a new house.

How to help your toddler cope with nightmares

When your toddler experiences nightmares, providing comfort and reassurance is key. It's important to respond with patience and understanding, while also mantaining bedtime boundaries. These unsettling dreams can leave them feeling scared and anxious, seeking comfort from you. While it's tempting to let them sleep in your bed, there are alternative strategies to consider.

Here are a few tips for helping your toddler cope with nightmares:

  • Talk about the dream. This can help your toddler understand what scared them and make it less scary.
  • Reassure your child that it was just a dream. Tell them that they are safe and that the dream is not real.
  • Help your child calm down. You can do this by rubbing their back, singing to them, or telling them a story.
  • Redirect your child's thoughts. Talk to your child about something else that is happy or fun. This can help them to forget about the nightmare.
  • Special Lovie. A special stuffed animal or toy, like a Build-A-Bear, can offer comfort and reassurance. Consider adding a heartfelt touch to make it even more special.
  • Monitor Communication. If you have a baby monitor, use it to communicate with your child and offer reassurance without leaving your own bed.
  • Personal Photo: Place a framed photo of yourself next to their bed. Your toddler will find comfort in the sight of your smiling face, providing a sense of security in the dark.
  • Avoid screen time before bed. The light from screens can interfere with sleep.
  • Make sure they are getting enough sleep. Tired toddlers are more likely to have nightmares.

It is important to remember that nightmares are a normal part of childhood. With your help, your toddler will learn to cope with them and get a good night's sleep. Most children outgrow them by the time they are school-aged.


Night Terrors

A Different Challenge

Night terrors are episodes of intense fear that happen during the deepest stage of sleep.

Children who experience night terrors may scream, cry, or thrash around, and they may be difficult to wake up or console. They may also appear to be awake and aware of their surroundings, but they are not actually conscious. Night terrors can be very frightening for both the child and the parent, but they are not harmful.

Night terrors are not usually caused by anything that is happening in the child's life. They are thought to be caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, brain development, and sleep deprivation. Night terrors usually go away on their own by the time the child is 5 years old

Managing the Night Terrors

Night terrors tend to be genetic, so talk to your parents and in-laws to see if anyone in the family has ever dealt with them. Seeking guidance from a pediatrician is advisable, as they can offer insights into managing night terrors safely.

Night terrors can be challenging to handle due to your child's altered state of consciousness. Here's what you can do:

  • Preventing Overtiredness. Preventing night terrors often involves maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and ensuring your child gets sufficient rest. Adjust bedtime, if necessary, to avoid overtiredness, moving it earlier by 15-30 minutes if they occur regularly.
  • Do not try to wake your child. This will only make them more upset.
  • Stay calm and speak in a soothing voice.
  • Help your child to lie back down and go back to sleep.
  • Talk to your pediatrician. If your child is having frequent night terrors, you may want to consider talking to your pediatrician. They can help you to rule out any medical causes and offer additional advice

What’s the difference between Nightmares and Night Terrors?

Nightmares and night terrors are both common in toddlers, but they are very different.

Here is a table that summarizes the key differences:



Night Terror

When they happen

Second half of the night

Deepest stage of sleep

Child's awareness


Not awake

Child's behavior

Can remember the dream and may be upset

May scream, cry, or thrash around but is not easily consoled


Usually minutes

Up to 30 minutes


Can be occasional or frequent

Usually infrequent



Q: Are nighttime fears in toddlers normal?

A: Yes, nighttime fears are a common part of toddler development and signify a growing imagination and newfound awareness of their surroundings.

Q: Are nightmares a sign of a deeper issue?

A: Not necessarily. Nightmares are a common part of childhood and are often unrelated to underlying problems.

Q: Can I prevent nightmares?

A: While nightmares are normal, you can reduce their frequency by ensuring a calming bedtime routine.

Q: How can I create a bedtime routine that soothes nighttime fears?

A: A consistent routine with soothing activities like reading, gentle music and cuddling can help your child feel secure.

Q: When should I be concerned about night terrors?

A: If night terrors are severe or persistent, consulting a pediatrician is advisable to rule out any underlying medical issues.

Q: Are night terrors hereditary?

A: There can be a genetic component to night terrors, so it's worth discussing with family members.

Q: Should I wake my child during a night terror?

A: It's best to ensure their safety during a night terror but avoid waking them unless necessary.



Dealing with bedtime fears, nightmares, and night terrors in toddlers is a part of parenting. By understanding these challenges and implementing the strategies outlined in this article, you can provide comfort and support to help your child sleep peacefully. Remember that most children outgrow these issues as they grow and develop.



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