The Dad’s Guide to Dealing with Nightmares

  by Chris Horst

Home Alone embodied my deepest childhood fears. While Harry and Marv were not exactly a fearsome duo, the thought of robbers breaking into my home kept me up at night. Sure Kevin McCallister dominated the Wet Bandits—and he gave me hope—but that didn’t help me when I was trying to sleep.

Nightmares are normal. Heck, it’s a scary world out there. Many kids experience fears and dreams that prevent them from sleeping or wake them from their slumber. And though none of us like seeing our kids suffer, nightmares do provide an opportunity for dads to fully embrace our fathering responsibilities. In addition to the terrific counsel provided by the Cleveland Clinic, here are a few tricks I’ve used to navigate my kids’ nightmares.

1 – Undermine the enemy

When Harry and Merv meet Kevin’s perfect traps, the thieves looked like buffoons, not villains. In a similar way, we try and bring humor and humiliation to whatever foe our kids are battling. Once, when our oldest son came to us with his nightmare—a colony of knife-wielding mice were attacking him (who knows where that came from?)—my wife artfully subverted the villain:

Next time the mice come after you, I want you to imagine that instead of regular knives, the mice are attacking you with knives made of cheese. But when they get close to you, they forget their mission and begin chowing down on their weapons.

He laughed. We laughed. And the storm passed.

2 – Prevent scary with happy

Before going to bed, one way we attempt to preempt nightmares is by rehashing the day’s best memories and by envisioning the fun awaiting us tomorrow. We have found this helps transition to bedtime on a high note. And, we’ve found it helps prevent nightmares before they happen.

3 – Savor the moments

These interactions can be trying – especially when you get woken up in the middle of the night. In many instances, logic just won’t prevail. And amid these moments, the best thing we can do is simply be present. Take five more minutes. Hold your kid. Tell him or her how deep your love runs. Comfort and soothe. And, capitalize on that moment to help your child understand just how much you care.


Dadcraft guest, Dave Strunk, shared wise thoughts about the importance of a bedtime routine. Such routines ought to include fun elements, of course, such as storytelling and maybe even a little face smooshing.

Picture by Jeremy Thomas; Used via Unsplash license.