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My son’s nightmares wake him up at night


Dear Life Coach,

Over the past few weeks, my 10-year-old son has been waking up at nights because of scary dreams and refusing to go back to bed. This has been a disturbance to the entire household, since, at that point, he tries to wake up his two younger sisters, because he wants to play instead of sleeping. I am not sure why he is having these scary dreams and I am concerned for him and us because no one is getting any sleep. The night time sleep problems are driving us all crazy.{{more}}

Sleepless Mother (SM)

Dear SM,

It is distressing for you and your household since your son is being scared by his dreams.

What’s Going On:

Here are some factors that contribute to your present situation: nightmares, possible biological condition, and or trauma/severe emotional stress, among others. These I will address briefly.


Nightmares are scary dreams that recur each night and that awaken children (or anyone who has them) from their sleep, and they are able to recall the details of these dreams. Nightmares generally occur between ages seven and 10. When children awake from scary dreams, they are alert and the feeling of fear and anxiety lingers with them.

Biological Condition/Trauma/Emoti-onal Stress

Nightmares are generally due to trauma or severe emotional stress, but sometimes there may be biological causes as well. If your son has been exposed to trauma (or extreme stress), that is, if he has experienced anything that he believes (consciously/unconsciously) has put his life at risk, or someone he loves, or even someone else’s, then the recurrent nightmares are his mind’s way of trying to process and resolve what has occurred.

The Media as a Source of Trauma

The media (TV, Internet, video games etc,) could be the source of trauma for your son. These media have a lot of graphic images such as disasters (news), corpses/homicide/suicides (CSI movies), violence (video games) that are not healthy for young minds. While death, violence and horror are not healthy for any child or youth, some children are more sensitive to these negative images and may be more traumatized by them than other children; e.g. one child might watch severe flooding on the news then feel that he or she is at risk for the same disaster (feel that his or her house and family may also be washed away, or become worried about the persons who have been hurt or left homeless by the flood). Yet this same scenario may not impact another child severely.

What to Do:

Medical Evaluation

Have you son medically evaluated to determine any biological reasons for recurrent nightmares.

Talk with Your Son

Talk with your son about anything that may have occurred at home, school, in the community or otherwise that could have put him at risk or that was scary to him both in the recent and distant past. Your son may not be aware of what may be frightening to him but with skillful questioning you may be able to put two and two together.

Seek Counselling

Refer your son to the school counsellor or other professional counsellor with a view to having him or her explore with your son, the source of his trauma and resulting nightmares.

Nightmares Fade with Time

Assuming that your child is in a safe and loving environment, know that nightmares will disappear with time for most children.

Let your Son Ventilate

Let the son talk about his dream. Assure him that the person or thing in his dream cannot harm him because it is only a dream although it is scary. Help him to figure out a positive way to end the dream and have him rehearse it and remember it prior to bedtime.

Prepare your Son for Bed

Prepare your son at nights for bed by reading him a good, non-scary bedtime story and help him to wind down for sleep gradually. Fill his mind with positive things before bedtime. Also remind him of the new/alternate dream to the scary one.

Stay Close at Nights

Since your son is likely to wake up because of nightmares, find a way to have your son sleep nearby. This way you will be on hand to comfort him and try to get him back to bed without him running around and waking the entire household. Reassure your son that he is okay, that it is only a dream, that he is safe, and that you are nearby to protect him.

Monitor all Internet, Television, Video Game Activities

Since children may be traumatized by violence, death, and horror in the media, it is imperative that you monitor all electronic activities, including TV, Internet, video games, etc and ensure that your son is watching only positive, educational and uplifting programming.

SM, nightmares are generally challenging for families, but with patience and the above strategies in place, over time the matter should be resolved. Best wishes for you, your son and your household.

Life Coach


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