Everyone has bad dreams or nightmares. As a child, they can be especially upsetting causing young ones to avoid sleep, throw tantrums, or disrupt your sleep. The following are nine tips for helping you with your children’s nightmares.
1. Help your kids to feel safe in their room at night, by encouraging them to help you check the closets, under the bed or making sure that windows are locked. Reassure them that they are safe, stay with them as they fall asleep for the first few minutes. If your child is profoundly disturbed by the dream, discuss the idea with him briefly and tell him to imagine a happy ending. You can also offer to stay with him for a few minutes until he falls asleep or provides your child a nightlight or flashlight that they can take to bed with them.
2. Maintain a regular bedtime schedule and encourage your kids to do soothing activities like reading a happy story or playing a quiet game before going to bed. If they do watch TV make sure that they are not viewing anything that could scare them or influence their nightmares. Fatigue may contribute to night terrors. Make sure your child gets enough to sleep every night.
3. Respect your child’s feelings and fears. Do not overreact, so that your extra attention reinforces your child’s reactions. Give your child support as he learns to master his fears. Be empathetic by saying things like ‘I know you are scared of your bad dreams, but you are safe at here at home’ and talk to him about the things that he is afraid of.
4. If your preschool-aged child has dreamed about monsters, you could try explaining that monsters are only make-believe. Explain that made-up things might be scary, but they cannot hurt children. Avoid making fun of the nightmare or saying that your baby is silly for worrying. Dreams can seem very real for little children.
5. If your child talks about a nightmare the next day, be patient. Listen to your child’s worries – do not dismiss or downplay them. However, if your child seems to have forgotten all about a nightmare, it is a good idea not to raise the topic.
6. If you notice a recurrent dream, explore sources of stress or fear in your child’s day. Together, try to come up with a plan to handle the pressure. You might gently ask your child about encounters with other children, television shows or other daytime experiences. If you can work out the source of the nightmares, you can take measures to eliminate or reduce your child’s exposure to the disturbing events.
7. Only allow your children to sleep with you as a last resort. You want your kids to develop healthy independent sleep habits.
Children can be terrified of their nightmares, so much that it disrupts their lives and yours. It is possible to help them cope with their fears. It can be a good idea to seek professional advice if your child is experiencing nightmares coupled with high levels of anxiety during the day. Also, ask for help if nightmares are part of your child’s response to a traumatic event.