I am not a parent myself, but I have been responsible for a big part in the rising of my sister. We have an age gap of 13 years, which creates a fun but complicated relationship between us. She knows that I am not her dad, and that I am her brother, but she listens when I tell her to do something and we are best friends.

Since a couple of weeks, I am less at home. I'm going back to school while having a full-time job. This causes me to only sleep at home for 2 nights every week. Since last week, my mom told me that she is having nightmares. As I am her best friend, she came to me last night, while silently crying, saying she had a nightmare about skeletons and mummies. I know this is absurd, but I also know that a kid's imagination is far more powerful than mine. That's why I tried to listen to what happened in her dream, I asked why she was afraid of them, and if there was anything I could do for her.

After she stopped crying, I said that she was getting cold (my window is open when I'm working late). I asked her if she wanted to go to bed again, and refilled her water bottle. I stayed with her until she fell asleep, and then went on to my room again to work some more.

My question is: did I handle this correctly? This is the first time she actually came to me in the night. I am not sure if there is more to the story than her just having a bad dream?

3 Answers 3


I see no issues with what you did, clearly it reassured her enough that she was happy to return to sleep. It may be worth incorporating the following techniques into aftercare for a bad dream in future though. I've found this to be helpful not only for children, but also adults.

Often we are woken from negative dreams whilst the stimuli are still scary. This can obviously be deeply disturbing, but also may discourage an individual from wanting to fall asleep. Revisiting the nightmare whilst awake is a helpful tool, although the content may still be frightening or painful to relive. For scary content there are two ways of dealing with it, this is best done in the moment rather than left for the mind to exaggerate the feelings or forget aspects of the nightmare.

1) Trivialise the content through comedy. There's a great Harry Potter reference here to Bogart's if you're familiar. I should clarify this is not to laugh AT her for being scared, but to help reduce the fear of the scary aspects of the dream. You take the aspect of the dream that is frightening, and you make it funny or ridiculous. For example, maybe the mummy is covered in toilet roll and wearing roller skates, but is really just a friend dressed up. Maybe the mummy has a furry tail or big bunny ears. Goof around with it as much as possible to take away their fear factor. In a dream, the object will change and allow her mind to find an 'out' that was missing before. It may take some practice and repetition like most things in life.

2) Get her to repeat the story, but you help her add in a hero figure (be they a parent or a cartoon she likes, for adults it's recommended they try to make themselves the hero protecting them). This hero can shout at and scare off the threat, using magic or whatever her mind can conjure with your help, so long as it feels real to her.

Lastly, limit her exposure to inappropriate content and follow age restriction guidelines, they really are there for a reason. Showing her the fun side of dressing up, fireworks, trick-or-treating and the silly side of Halloween should make it a fun holiday for her. It sounds like you both have a great relationship too.


I think you did great.

When anyone has nightmares, the first help is to assure her (or him, does not matter) that there is a safe place for her.

Just holding her and say that everything is ok now, that you are here to protect her from anything - it is the first thing and most important, of what you can do. (At my personal experience it is more important than saying that no danger exists - as for her the mummies and skeletons are really real, sometimes even more, than what she can see or touch. I remember nightmares, that continued, while I was awake and I did really see them. So be it, maybe they are real, but she is safe now. THAT is important in the first moment.)

I personally would not try to deny her nightmare or try to make fun of it, while she is still under its influence. But maybe some next day (if she remembers the nightmare, but it is "long ago" gone,) you may talk to her more about mummies and in the light of the day make speculations about how would mummy use toilet paper or something like that ... or talk to her more about how the mummy was really done and that all those wraps are glued tightly together, so the mummy could not move, if it was done right. And fake mummy is not a real mummy, but maybe somebody in costume. Or maybe not talk about it at all, if she did not bring it up, you know her better, than any of us.

The next thing, when the nightmare is not so intensive or when ended is to provide some help and point the thinking in another direction. Your explanation about open windows is a nice rationalisation, why she had that dream and she accepted it, so it worked nicely. (It may or may not be the true reason, probably there was at least something else, then just cold, but if she believes, that it had just this simple reason and that the reason was removed, then she thinks the right way and she knows, that no more skeletons will come this night. And so no more skeletons will come.)

You did really, really well, that you listened to her seriously. For her that nightmare was real and you did trust her and so you could help her. It does not matter, how realistic it would look to you - dreams have the power to change anything as in dreams the visual and the feeling (and sounds, and knowledge and such) do not need to be anyhow related.

(I had lot of dreams, where I died, but it was just interesting, no fear was there. And I had a dream of a big matchstick - it did not anything, there was no risk of fire from it, nothing, but I was scared to the bones and could not even work out why. Also I had really nice dreams about music - and I did hear all the tones as different kinds of blue color - visual and hearing simply switched place. Dreams are just like that sometimes - put unrelated (sensoric and/or emotional) labels on unrelated (dreamed) inputs without any logic).

There are also other things, that can help send nightmares away, but those are individual. The common is for her to believe, that it works. (As the nightmare is just a play of her mind, another play of the mind is able to fight it.) For some people "small rituals" work, but maybe even better is, if there is a "hero", who she can call for help and the "hero" would save her for sure. It may be some fairy, or her loved doll (which is awake at night and fights skeletons for her with magic), it can be a wooden sword or a shield near bed (well mainly for boys, but who knows), or the ability to magically summon an item in dreams and be sure, that it would protect her from anything. Magical rod, princess robe, unicorn, old teddy bear ... just say the magic formula in you dream and it would come and protect you from anything.

(Well the trick is to believe it and to say the formula - because if she can say the formula, she is able break the nightmare - that is, how it works. If she has something like that, she can use it in her dreams (but she would probably not remember it, while having a nightmare) or when she wakes up, you can tell her to use it and then you together summon the "hero" or the "artifact" and it will do its work. When you call it together, it would work for sure, because she would be fighting the nightmare with an even more powerfull spell (it is kind of self-fulfilling prophecy).

Bad dreams just happen. Really bad dreams are terribly realistic, while they last and even some time after. Sometimes there is a "clear reason" for such dreams (if something bad happened in real life), sometimes it is just touch of illness or bad food, or being tired or stressed and sometimes there is no reason to be found at all.

Really good is, that she did go to you for help (so she likes you and trusts you to help her) and that you really helped her.

If she will not have nightmares too often for long time, I would not think, that there is something bad. When a human grows, its body and mind are changing, sometimes really fast and at school age it is clearly visible. Also there is a lot of new information and whole big world around that she cannot fully understand (nor anybody else) and it brings a lot of insecurities. Somebody will react more visibly, somebody keeps it inside, but that is really individual and everybody has to go through this phase of life - adventures all around, but also insecurities and dangers.

She will have probably more nightmares in her life (we all have them from time to time), but she has somebody to help her and it is you :)


You did great, I can't think of anything you could have done better. I've found children may be afraid of certain elements of a dream, but a conscious mind will reassure them that they are safe in their bed and allow them to get back to sleep. Fortunately, we don't typically resume our previous dreams, so I can only assume her dreams for the rest of the night were of fluffy bunnies or something else innocent!

You should also look at stimuli in her environment and see what you can do to limit it. I know that this time of year (October), has numerous scary elements related to Halloween. Many of these, especially the ones that death related are downright scary to young kids. They may not visibly show it while awake, but be sure these images will come up on their dreams and possibly frighten them.

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