Bad Memories/nightmares

After experiencing a traumatic event, it’s very common for children and adolescents to have bad memories (trauma-related images, sounds, thoughts, etc.) that pop up at unexpected times. Children and adolescents may also have more nightmares or display trauma-related play behavior.


  • After a traumatic event, it’s very common for children and adolescents to have nightmares.
  • The content of the nightmare might not be connected to the traumatic event.
  • Help your child to understand that nightmares are a normal and a common reaction after a traumatic event and usually go away by themselves after a few weeks.
  • If your child wakes up in the middle of the night because of a nightmare, make sure that they are fully awake and soothe them. Help your child feel safe and help them to fall asleep again by soothing them. Do not start extensive talks or discussion in the mid of night.
  • Sometimes it’s helpful to use a nightlight in your child’s room or to give your child their favorite cuddly toy or something that reminds them of you (e.g. pillow or scarf).

Recurring memories of the traumatic event

  • Explain to your child that the bad memories and the fears that are related to these memories will disappear soon.
  • Help your child face situations that are related to the traumatic event (for instance, people, places, sounds, smells, feelings, time of day).
  • Help your child to understand that remembering something from the past doesn’t mean experiencing it again in the present. Memories are always about something in the past.
  • Encourage your child to face fearful situations and praise your child when they succeed in doing so. Encourage and praise courageous behavior.
  • You can help your child by showing them how to distract themselves or take a break from bad thoughts and think of something nice (such as your child’s last birthday party).
  • Do something nice with your child and help them to think about pleasant memories of doing something fun, meeting friends, or doing other nice activities.

Physical reactions when remembering the traumatic event

  • Try to find out if there are physical reasons for the pain or reactions. If not, comfort your child and explain to them that sometimes people feel pain because they have to think about a traumatic event. That doesn’t mean that they’re ill. This kind of pain will disappear without medicine.
  • Distract your child with pleasant things, encourage them to play or to do other activities that they like.
  • Don’t pay too much attention to the physical symptoms. Tell your child that you will play with them, as soon as they feel better.
  • In case of stomach-ache, you can make your child a warm compress or a tea, or in case of headache you can put a cold flannel on your child’s head.
  • Use all the strategies that were helpful before the traumatic event.

Feeling emotionally upset when remembering the traumatic event

  • Calm your child and explain to them that it’s normal that they get upset more easily than before.
  • Assure your child as much as necessary that they are safe now.
  • Encourage your child to talk about their worries and offer your child different ways to express themselves (Emoticons, drawing, etc.).

Repetitive trauma-related play

  • If your child often plays the same trauma-related scene (e.g. accident, violence), play with them and help them to find a happy ending (e.g. by protecting threatened figures).
  • Let your child know that you and other adults protect them. Tell them about specific examples.
  • Help your child play games that are not related to the traumatic experience.

Acting as if the traumatic event would happen again

  • Assure your child as much as necessary that they are safe now.
  • Explain to your child that it’s normal to feel sad, frightened or angry when they remember the traumatic event.
  • Let your child write down their worries and encourage your child to speak about them.
  • Relaxation exercises (for instance, simple breathing exercises like counting to three while breathing in and counting to five while breathing out) can help, if you repeat them often.