What to Do When 2 Yr Old Has Nightmares

Updated on January 15, 2010
M.M. asks from Seattle, WA
13 answers

My daughter just turned 2 in December and for several weeks now has been having what we can only assume are bad dreams/nighmares because she is waking up several times a week crying very hard, is very disoriented and will cling to us when we go in her room. We've been bringing her into our bed because we both work full time and all need our sleep. Though NO ONE sleeps well when she's in bed with us, but putting her back in her bed could be an hour long process... did i mention I'm 5 months prego with #2, so I really need my sleep...
She can't communicate why she woke up, we are really only assuming it's bad dreams since the previous 6-8 months she was a really great sleeper and would only wake up if she wasn't feeling well.
What causes bad dreams in someone so young? And how have all you mammas handled it?

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answers from Los Angeles on

Say a prayer with her.

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answers from Portland on

Hi, M.--

I had the exact same thing happen with my daughter. We made a dreamcatcher and practiced blowing the bad dreams away every time they occurred. We even practiced during the day. Sounds silly, but the blowing air away relaxed her. She wasn't always able to articulate what the bad dreams were at that age so I needed this prop. She is now 4 and still remembers about blowing the bad dreams away. I saw some little dream catchers at the Dollar Tree recently.

Best of luck to you and your little one-- hope you all get some good night's sleep soon. Take care!

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answers from Seattle on

If she's disorganized and can't tell you why she's upset, it might actually be night terrors. They suck. Nearly hysterical crying, incoherent, sceaming, total freaking out about being touched.... that's a night terror and unfortunately, there's not really anything you can do about them. The good news about them is that she won't remember it in the morning. If she's waking up crying and can tell you in any way what's wrong, that's a nightmare. She probably will remember those in the morning and might be able to tell you what was causing the bad dream.

My 2.5 year old has had both and there's a definite difference between the two. Talk to your ped about it next time you go in and see if they have any new suggestions.

When we talked to our ped. about it, she told us to make sure our daughter wasn't watching any tv because they are a common cause of night terrors and nightmares both. Sleep deprivation can also cause both. Ours doesn't watch tv, listens to kid friendly music and only reads age appropriate books. We have no idea what has caused the night terrors or nightmares, but the night terrors went away after about 2 weeks. Nightmares have just started this week after she got sick and hasn't been sleeping well.


answers from Seattle on


It could also be night terrors. They're like bad dreams/nightmares but your little one would not actually be awake while screaming/crying. If that's the case then soothing words and comforting hands have worked with my 2 1/2 year old.

I would also suggest either a nightlight, a dimmer switch or a light on in the hall to give some light in her room. Maybe also some "monster spray" right before bedtime to make all the scary things go away.

It is **very** disconcerting to wake in the middle of the night to your child's terror. Hope this resolves soon.

Hope this helps,



answers from Colorado Springs on

My only suggestion is to make sure she is getting good naps during the day- I have heard and experienced that if my little one is missing naps he will do this.



answers from Portland on

These sound like night terrors. Our 27m old daughter has them too and it is very hard to settle her down. I know you probably don't do milk or anything at middle of the night wake-ups anymore (neither did we), however I found that the only thing that calms her down and gets her back to sleep is a bottle (yes, a baby bottle...we still had 2 around) of 4oz of milk. We found this out because one night she had one of these night terrors and as I was trying to settle her down my husband brought me one of her baby bottles of milk. I was hesitant at first (not wanting her to expect milk if she wakes up) but decided it was worth a try. She immediately stopped crying and sucked on the milk, more reflexively than anything because she still seemed pretty unresponsive. By the time the milk was done, she was calm and about 2 minutes after that she fell asleep on my lap. We put her down and she stayed asleep. This happens about once a week and so far she does not wake up demanding milk at any time. If she wakes up normally (not a night terror) she is happy with her sippy of cold water. It might be worth a try, with a sippy or bottle whichever. Just the time it takes to drink it helps calm them down.



answers from Seattle on

My daughter had night terrors and my sister-in-law taught me this. Lay down next to her and quietly start telling a story about her favorite cartoon or a fun activity to turn her dreams to something pleasant. (Ours were playing at the park with characters from Sesame Street.) After 3 or 4 times my daughter became able to do this on her own without anyone waking up.
good luck



answers from Portland on

My daught used to do that all the time. We learned that the more we let her wake upthe worse it is. We just play into it without asking questions. "I'm right here, I'll take care of it. You just lay back down and go to sleep." if she does wake up, she is still scared, but also confused bacause she has no idea what she was dreaming or what just happened. They are called night terrors. Our pediatrician said to cut out all adult tv watching when she was awake. We were only watching shows like Friends and she was either in the other room or in and out of the room. It worked though!!! Apparently, she was hearing or seeing things that she didn't understand and her mind would process it and turn it into something scary.



answers from Seattle on

My son is 2 yrs 2 mos and he started doing the same thing right when he turned 2. I can totally relate w/ 3 in the bed and noone sleeping well.... i asked his dr about the dreams and she said their bad dreams aren't like adults, but that developmentally they are at the age where they can start to imagine and dream and they aren't good at separating dreams from reality. They also can't understand/express that it is a dream, but we can explain it in simple terms.

we hug and talk about that it's jsut a dream, and he sleeps w/ us.

we're thinking of getting a trundle bed below a twin so i can sleep there on bad nights and he can sleep in his own bed/room instead of ours. we'll see....
good luck- if you find out something that works great email me! :)

also, my sister in law put a dream catcher over the bed when her son was 4 or 5 and they would send the bad dreams into it- she recommended that to me when my son was born. i didnt think 2 is quite old enough but it sounds like someone below did it pretty young so i might try it. the idea is nice and the deep breaths are calming.



answers from Eugene on

My son started doing something similar and I think it might have been related to getting his two year molars--so maybe check to see if she's got those coming in. Once he got those he went back to sleeping well. I don't have any advice only that I found a real correlation between what appeared to be nightmares and the tooth thing. We would drug him before bed with Tylenol and put my son in bed with us too (we didn't get great sleep I'm sorry to say!).



answers from Portland on

Hi, M. :)

I was reading the responses to your question because my daughter, who is 20 months, has been doing the same for the last month.

None of the answers were helping at all until I got to the very first one that was left (at the very bottom of this page).

My daughter's two year molars have been coming in for the last month and a half or so. I didn't make the connection at all, but that's just about when she started waking up about 3 times a night, crying in anguish. I didn't even make the connection until just now when I read this page.

Food for thought :) As for the nightmares idea, my MIL, who is a grade school principle/teacher, said that language skills are connected to dreaming, and that supposedly kids don't dream until they start talking. So that could definitely be a possibility as well. Usually with our daughter, we just go in, give her a hug (we never, ever take her out of her crib, cuz once you do that, it's like the point of no return and they expect it every time) talk to her soothingly, telling her it'll be alright, give her her stuffed animals, and tell her to lay down. She usually goes down very easily.



answers from Anchorage on

Try giving her Moon Drops by Historical Remedies - they are completely natural - you can get them at a natural food store or online, they are yummy lozenges that are not hard like others) and will help your child sleep through the night. I personally take one every single night before I sleep, when we are on overseas trips to avoid jet lag the kids will take them on the plane to sleep, or whenever they have a hard time trying to fall asleep. I think that would be a natural remedy you could try.

The number one way to get rid of these dreams is to pray - have a prayer each night with her asking God to protect her and her mind/dreams as she sleeps so she will not be affected by outside influences.



answers from Bellingham on

For the most part I wont go into details too much here as many may not agree religiously. However, changes and imagination can account for a lot of it. I have twins, and one of them is particularly vulnerable to nightmares. We have a very short process that really helps change the focus. It takes a little patience tho, but you are welcome to give it a try. When either one of them comes to me at night with a nightmare or crying, the first step is to (if they are still in bed screaming for you) open your eyes. Make themselves conscious. Then to get away from the negative feelings left by the dream/vision, concentrate and think about all of the child's favorite or fun things...like playing with friends, a certain birthday party, a certain game, their favorite toys...get the brain to be distracted by happy thoughts. that is what I say "think of your happy thoughts." and before you know it things aren't so scary. My boys are 9 and Jahshua still has to have the lights on at night. This is a simple process that has always worked for me and now they can do it for them selves...unless it is really too scary for them to handle, but the are fewer and further in between as they get older. I wish you well in your endeavor to sleep.

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