Charlotte Montessori Blog

Toddlers and Nightmares

Toddlers and Nightmares

Nightmares typically begin between the ages of 3-6 years old. Studies suggest that nearly 50 percent of children in this age range experience nightmares.  Doctor Montessori can easily explain this statistic.  Around the age of two and half years old there is the awakening of the conscious absorbent mind.  In short, this is when children become conscious learners.  Parents may recognize this as the “why” phase.  Children become more aware of their world and want to know how things work, and why.  It only stands to reason that they would also become more aware of things that frighten them, and more able to put a name to it.  While infants and younger toddlers can become frightened, they are less aware of the cause and less likely to conjure up these fears while sleeping. Whereas an older toddler could hold on to a frightening experience and re-live it in their sleep.

Here are some ways to help children who are experiencing nightmares.

-The pillow flip: I once read, in a long lost article, teach your child to flip their pillow over after having a nightmare. This act wakes up the brain long enough to break the dream cycle.  This is also a great way for the child to feel more in control of what is happening.

-Physical reassurance: When you child has been awoken by a nightmare your physical presence is the most reassuring thing to your child.

-Talk through the nightmare, talking about what is real and not real can help the child differentiate between dreams and realty.

-I do not recommend “monster spray” and other abstract forms of coping with nightmares. This gives the notion that monsters are real, if there is a spray to get rid of them.  This type of idea can make dreams more realistic.


Occasionally parents can confuse nightmares with night terrors.

Nightmares typically occur during the latter half of the night when the child sleeping less deeply. Children awake from nightmares having some recollection of what has frightened them.  Night terrors happen during the first half of the night when the child is most deeply asleep.  When a child is having a night terror they remain fully asleep and have no recollection of what happened.  Never wake a child having a night terror, and never try to restrain them.  Make sure they have safe place to complete the process and seek help from a physician if the night terror persist.  Night terrors are typically much more frightening for parents, than for the child.


Meghan Redman


All in one resource for solving sleep problems in kids and teens

Take Charge of your Child’s Sleep

The Sleep Doctors

Judy A Owens

Jodi A Mindell

(this book explains a little more about the pillow flip)

Healthy Kids

(this is a great explanation of nightmares versus night-terrors)


(this explains more about the science behind nightmares)