Bad memories and nightmares

After experiencing a severe trauma or being prolonged or repeatedly exposed to traumatic events, it’s very common and normal that children have bad memories (trauma-related images, thoughts, etc.) that pop up at unexpected times, even long after the events. Children may also have more nightmares or display trauma-related play behavior.



  • After traumatic events, it’s very common for children to have nightmares.
  • The content of the nightmares might not be connected with the traumatic events.
  • Help your child understand that nightmares are a normal and common reaction after traumatic events.
  • If your child wakes up in the middle of the night because of a nightmare, make sure that they are really awake and soothe them. Help your child feel safe and help them fall asleep again by helping them to think about something positive.
  • Sometimes it’s helpful to use a nightlight in the child’s room or to give your child their favorite cuddly toy.
  • If your child remembers the nightmare in the morning, it’s helpful to talk about it and soothe them.


Repetitive trauma-related play

  • A lot of children replay trauma-related scenes.
  • Young children find it particularly difficult to express their feelings and thoughts in words. It’s helpful for the child to express these by playing or drawing.
  • If your child often plays the same trauma-related scene (e.g. physical abuse), engage in the play and help them find a happy ending (e.g. by protecting threatened figures).
  • Let your child know that you and other adults protect them. Tell them about concrete examples.
  • Encourage your child to engage in other, non-trauma related, play as well.


Frequent mentioning of the traumatic event

  • It’s positive if your child wants to speak about the traumatic events. Listen to your child and speak with them about what happened to them.
  • Allow your child to cry or to be sad; don’t expect them to be brave and strong.
  • Don’t wait until your child speaks about what happened to them by themselves. Instead, talk about the traumatic events yourself. But accept it if your child doesn’t want to speak about it.
  • Pay attention to your child’s feelings. Ask them about their feelings and thoughts if they look worried.
  • Be careful not to show your own concerns and worries to your child and don’t talk about them with your child or in front of them.