3 Ways to Help Your Preschooler Cope with Fears and Nightmares

Nightmares and fears are common in preschool-aged children, but there are ways to help your little one cope.

Today, I’m sharing three ways to help your child deal with fears and nightmares.

preschooler aged child covering face against black background with The Sleep Ranch logo and text "3 Ways to Help Preschoolers Cope with Nightmares"

Why Children Have Nightmares

It’s normal for preschoolers to be afraid of things that go bump in the night. This healthy fear helps kids make sense of the world they live in and develops coping skills. 

As kids this age begin to understand abstract concepts, their fears become more complex as well. They’re scared of the imagined (the monster in the closet) as well as the real (strange noises and even unfamiliar people now seem scary).

So, it’s no surprise that nightmares peak at this age, too. And since preschoolers still have a hard time distinguishing fact from fantasy, their bad dreams can feel terrifyingly real.

How to Help Your Child Cope with Fears and Nightmares

It’s important to know that, like most developmental milestones, fears and nightmares are usually just a phase. 

That said, there are ways to help your child cope.

Tip 1: Explain Away Fears

If your child is afraid of specific objects or sounds, explain what they are in a logical way. 

For example, if your child is afraid of the vacuum, explain to her that it is a noisy machine that sucks up crumbs and dirt, and show her that she is too big to be vacuumed up.

If your son is afraid of going down the bathtub drain, physically show him that people are too big to be sucked down the drain.

Giving logical explanations for the things that scare our children can go a long way towards helping them realize there is nothing to be afraid of.

Tip 2: Be Mindful of Common Triggers That Cause Nightmares in Children

Things kids see or do during the day can lead to nighttime fears, so watch for triggers. Even seemingly harmless cartoons can have spooky themes or scenes. 

For example, Paw Patrol (my girls’ favorite!) has Halloween or ghost-themed episodes. 

So, if we notice the girls start to display fears of ghosts, we make sure to watch the show with them and explain that ghosts aren’t real. If we can’t be there to watch it with them, we eliminate that episode altogether.

Tip 3: Respect their Feelings, But Create Boundaries

Our kids’ fears are very real to them and so are the emotions they experience. Acknowledge that your child feels scared and comfort them, but do not reinforce their fears.

For example, if your child is scared of monsters, recognize the fear, but don’t give her a special flashlight to keep monsters away; this only affirms her belief that monsters are real!

Instead, show her there are no monsters in the room.

If your child is scared of thunder, don’t hold him tight and tell him you will protect him; this only leads him to believe Thunder is something we should fear.

Instead, get down on his level and explain what thunder is and why it is happening.

If your child is waking up multiple times a week, determine what the trigger is and attempt to eliminate it. 

Keep in mind, though, that our kids are smart, and they know how to get what they want! Make sure your child is actually scared and not attempting a slumber party with mom and dad.

Related: Nightmares vs. Night Terrors

Wrapping Up!

Fears and nightmares are common in children, but there are ways to help them cope. 

Identifying triggers, explaining away fears, and respecting our kids’ feelings are strategies we use in our home! 

If bad dreams have turned into chronic sleepless nights, check out my sleep packages. I’ll work with you to get your entire family sleeping in no time!