How can I help my child who has more nightmares than usual since the coronavirus pandemic?
It is not uncommon for children (and adults!) to have more nightmares during times of stress and uncertainty. Even if your child is too young to understand the concept of COVID-19, she likely does perceive changes in her daily routine and heightened emotions in the adults around her. For children who are able, have a conversation about COVID-19. There are many resources that discuss how to talk to your child about COVID-19 and how to reduce stress for your child.
Another important consideration is the amount of sleep your child is getting. When children get less sleep than they need, they are more likely to have nightmares. Even getting 20-30 minutes less sleep than usual can increase nightmares. Changes to your child’s sleep schedule to allow more sleep may be enough to reduce the nightmares.
Finally, if children are able to talk about their nightmares, you can do some activities during the day to reduce stress and negative emotions around the nightmares. Ask your child to tell you about the nightmare, and then guide him in creating a new ending that is funny or positive. Draw a picture of the nightmare, and then add components to make it silly (for example, a monster wearing a pink hat or a vampire on roller skates).
If your child’s nightmares do not respond to these strategies, you may want to consult with a behavioral sleep medicine specialist (a psychologist or other licensed health professional who has board certification in behavioral sleep), many of whom can see patients via telemedicine (video visits).
You can try this list of sleep centers that specialize in pediatrics and ask if the center has behavioral sleep providers.
You may also want to try this list of board certified behavioral sleep providers, though not all of them will treat children.
This post was written in the Spring of 2020. Please follow your local guidelines and advice from family health care providers for appropriate, current coronavirus safety measures.