When my 2 1/2-year-old has a bad dream, should I wake her up?
There are two types of "bad dreams" in young children, nightmares and night terrors, each with its own cause and treatment. Nightmares are scary dreams that awaken a child. A 2-year-old will usually wake up and cry for the parent or go to their room. She will have some recollection of the dream. Talk to her about the dream and reassure her that she is okay and that it really was just a dream. Yes, this means checking under the bed and the closet at the child's request. Your weekend trip may have triggered nightmares about separation anxiety, or your child may have been watching frightening movies, TV, etc.
During night terrors, your child may appear frightened and cry out, but she will remain asleep. She may open her eyes, but will not recognize the presence of anyone else in the room. Although these episodes can be quite frightening to parents, they are harmless to the child. The episode will go away in 10 to 30 minutes without intervention, when your child falls into a deeper sleep. You cannot wake her during a night terror, but you can watch her to be sure she does not harm herself if she gets out of bed. She will have no memory of the night terror the next day. Night terrors can be triggered by overtiredness, so it's possible that your child's regular sleep pattern may have been disrupted while you were gone. Making sure she gets enough sleep may prevent or reduce the frequency of night terrors.