The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers


Nightmares, Night Terrors and Fears

The lack of adequate, restful sleep can affect your child’s mood, behavior, health, memory and growth. If there is anything standing in the way of a good night’s sleep for your child it’s important to address the issue and solve the problem. Following is a list of typical sleep disrupters and possible solutions.


Children spend more time dreaming than adults do, so they have many more dreams—both good and bad. Telling young children after a nightmare that “It was just a dream” doesn’t explain what they experienced, since they don’t understand the fantasy aspect of dreams – after all, most of them believe that the tooth fairy and Big Bird are real. Keeping this in mind, it is best to comfort children in the same way we comfort them when they face a tangible fear. If your child wakes with a nightmare:

  • Be there and offer comfort.
  • Stay with your child until she feels relaxed and ready to sleep.
  • Stay calm and convey to your child that what’s happening is normal and that all is well.
  • Reassure your child that he’s safe and that it’s OK to go back to sleep.

Night Terrors

  • During a night terror your child will wake suddenly and she may scream or cry. Her eyes will be open, but she won’t be seeing. She may hyperventilate, thrash around or talk incoherently. She may be sweating and flushed. She may seem scared, but your child is not frightened, not awake, and not dreaming. She’s asleep and in a zone between two sleep cycles.
  • A child having a night terror is unaware of what’s happening, and won’t remember the episode in the morning. So the terror part of night terrors is named for the parent who watches the disturbing scene.
  • During a night terror you may try to hold your child, but often this will result in his pushing you away or fighting you off. The best response is a gentle pat, along with comforting words or Shhh Shhh sounds. If your child gets out of bed you can lead him back. If he’s sitting up you can guide him to lie back down. Just keep an eye on him until he settles back to sleep.

Nighttime Fears

It’s normal for a child to imagine monsters or other things that generate a fear of the dark. Even if you explain, and even if you assure him that he’s safe, he may still be scared. You may reduce his fears when you:

  • Teach your child the difference between real and fantasy through discussion and book-reading.
  • Find ways to help your child confront and overcome his fears. If dark shadows are creating suspicious shapes, give your child a flashlight to keep at his bedside.
  • Leave soothing lullabies playing, or white noise sounds running to fill the quiet.
  • Give your child one, two, or a zoo of stuffed animals to sleep with.
  • Put a small pet, like a lizard, turtle, or fish, in your child’s room for company.
  • Take a stargazing walk, build a campfire, or have a candlelight dinner to make the dark more friendly.
  • Ask your child what will make him feel better.

Preventing Sleep Disrupters

Some things have been found to reduce the number or severity of sleep-disturbing episodes. Since they are all based on good sleep practices, they are worth a try:

  • Follow a calm and peaceful routine the hour before bedtime.
  • Maintain a consistent bed time seven days a week.
  • Avoid books and movies that disturb or frighten your child.
  • Have your child take a daily nap.
  • Provide your child with a light snack an hour or two before bedtime, and avoid a heavy meal, spicy food, sugar or caffeine during that time.
  • Remember to have your child use the potty just before she gets in to bed.

Is there a time to call a professional?

Don’t ever hesitate to call a professional if you have concerns about your child’s sleep.

Excerpted with permission by McGraw-Hill Publishing from The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers (McGraw-Hill, 2005).

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