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How can I help my little one with nightmares?

By BabySleepAdmin 2 weeks ago

How can I help my little one with nightmares?

“I had a bad dream!” These words can pull at any parent’s heartstrings, especially when they come from a frightened child in the middle of the night. Nightmares are distressing dreams that usually result in a child waking up. Young kids often dream about imaginary things such as witches and monsters. For older children, nightmares may involve natural disasters like earthquakes, the loss of a loved one, or other scenarios that evoke fear, anger, or sadness. These negative emotions can make it difficult for a child to go back to sleep following a nightmare, prompting them to seek their parents.

To address nightmares effectively, it is first important to make sure that what your child is experiencing is indeed nightmares. Particularly, it is important to distinguish between nightmares (“bad dreams”) and sleep terrors. Sleep terrors are episodes during sleep in which a child cries, screams, or thrashes around, but is not really awake. During a sleep terror, children are generally not responsive, and in the morning they usually have no memory of the episode (unlike their parents, who may be quite shaken up by the experience!). Unlike nightmares, sleep terrors typically happen in the first half of the night.

If your child is clearly awake during these episodes, has a difficult time falling back to sleep, and tends to recall and describe them in the morning – they are probably experiencing nightmares. So, how can you help your child cope with nightmares to ensure everyone gets a good night’s sleep?

1. Have a calm and consistent bedtime routine. A bedtime routine acts as a “buffer”, easing the transition between wakefulness and sleep. A consistent routine can reduce tension and help your child prepare for sleep. A bedtime routine is recommended to last about 15-30 mins, including relaxing activities such as a bath, reading a story, and singing lullabies.

2. Pay attention to what your child hears and sees. Be mindful of what your child is watching, hearing, or reading, especially close to bedtime. Avoid scary or intense videos, intense news content, or household tensions, that might trigger nightmares. Instead, make sure your child’s environment is calm, and any bedtime stories or shows are not too arousing.

3. Provide reassurance as well as empowerment. If your child wakes up upset from a nightmare, comfort them with some cuddles, and remind them that they are safe. At the same time, remind yourself and your child that nightmares aren’t dangerous, and gradually encourage your child to go back to sleep in their own bed.

4. Encourage playful expression. During the day, talk to your child about their nightmares. Some kids may not be able to explain their bad dreams, but they might show them through drawing or play. If your child doesn’t want to draw or play about their nightmares, don’t force them. But if they do – be open to hearing about their dreams and thoughts. Child-led play can be a great way to work through fears, and bring you closer.

5. Try imagination-based techniques. Using your child’s imagination can help them cope with nightmares. Depending on your child’s age and what they are like, you can try different things like a magic “anti-monster spray,” a dreamcatcher, or a stuffed animal to protect them. You can also make a “DreamChanger” from an old remote control, telling your child it can change the channel of their dreams if they have a nightmare. A recent study showed that using something like a DreamChanger intervention helped 3- to 10-years-old have fewer nightmares.

6. Practice relaxation and positive imagery. Simple relaxation techniques can help your child feel calm and ready for sleep. You can practice deep breathing exercises, gentle stretches, or guided imagery where your child makes up a happy, soothing story for their dreams. Encourage them to think about this story a few times a day and even try to dream about it.

Using these strategies can help your little one deal with nightmares and get the restful sleep they need. However, if your child’s nightmares happen often and are very scary, or if they affect how your child acts during the day, it may be helpful to talk to your child’s health care provider or a child psychologist. They can provide additional strategies and support, tailored to your child’s needs.

  Sleep Problems, Sleep Training