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Coping with Nightmares
Nightmares are never pleasant for anyone, but they can be particularly difficult if your child is suffering from them. You may feel helpless and upset for your child. The truth is that there’s a great deal you can do to help them deal with any nightmares they might have. Here’s a logical sequence of events that can help them settle back down to sleep, and which should also prevent recurring nightmares and anxiety about sleep.
Dealing with a Nightmare
Go to your child’s room
Go there to comfort and reassure them.
DO NOT ask them to tell you about the dream
This will make them relive it, and might even lead to them having the same nightmares again.
DO NOT engage with the content of the dream
If they say they saw a big scary monster, don’t start looking for it in the closet or under the bed.
How many of us remember what we have just dreamed of minutes before we wake up each day? Dwelling on a bad dream is difficult when we have other things to pay attention to. Make suggestions that will help your child get back to normal.
You might suggest:
- Going to the bathroom
- Washing their face
- Planning breakfast when they get up in the morning
- Reminding them of all the exciting things they will be doing the next day, and how much they will enjoy them once they have had a good night’s sleep
Settle them back down
Younger children might benefit from a special toy, blanket, or nightlight, as long as it does not shine in their faces and interfere with their sleep. Older children might like a fresh set of PJs or a quiet chat. Some parents teach their children relaxation, stress relief, and meditation exercises. These can be as simple as breathing meditation, with long, deep breaths, or as complex as a visualization, in which the child can go to a “happy place” in their mind whenever they feel stressed.
Distract them and tire them out
There are many ways to distract them and help them get back to sleep. Bedtime stories can always help. Choose an old favorite – nothing too exciting. Give them a magazine or photo album of happy images to go through. Some like to listen to music. Start with Brahms’ lullaby.
Dealing with Recurring Nightmares
If your child keeps getting nightmares, widen your attention to other important aspects of their life, such as:
- What they are watching on TV
- What they are reading
- What games they are playing on the computer
- What issues they are encountering at school, such as bullying or stress
- What problem or conflicts there might be in your home
Then take steps to address the issue. For example, ban horror movies and books. Make sure they are playing games suited to their age level. Talk about important issues at the dinner table and during non-pressure moments. Discuss dreams, for example, and how nightmares can be unpleasant, but they are just products of the imagination – not a glimpse of the future or a sign something terrible might happen.