If you’re a parent, you more than likely know what it feels like to just drift off to sleep and then hear a tiny voice call out to you (or sneak up right next to your side of the bed) because of a nightmare. Nightmares seem to be especially common when children are about 3 or 4 years old – right around the same time fear of the dark develops. Nightmares can be trying for children and parents, both of whom need a good night’s sleep. While you can’t stop your children from having nightmares, there are some things you can do to help your kids through them.
The first few minutes after waking from a nightmare, the dream can still feel real. This realism is amplified in young minds that haven’t developed the complex rationale to distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t yet. Try to remember this when your child is still afraid following a nightmare. It’s important to be supportive and to listen, because what they’re feeling is very real to them. Reassure them that they’ve had a dream and show them that they’re safe in their rooms until they’re calm.
Show Them the Dark Isn’t Scary
Because most nightmares seem to stem from a fear of the dark, show them darkness isn’t scary by embracing it. Go camping, play hide and seek in the dark, play flashlight tag or hide things that glow in the dark all around the house for them to find. Conquering that fear will likely abate some of the trouble they’re having with sleeping.
Find Something that Makes Them Feel Safe at Night
Sometimes all a kid needs is a safety net. This can be a blanket, a stuffed animal, a nightlight, a pet or even a familiar routine. Some parents have also seen tremendous positive results with taking a spray bottle and spraying “monster spray” around their rooms at night to keep those fears at bay. Whatever it is, find out what is scaring your little one and come up with something creative to smash those fears before they even close their eyes.
Sometimes getting a good night’s sleep is as simple as coming up with a sweet routine before bedtime. Baths, reading and a good snuggle from you while avoiding television and other electronic devices will help your children wind down. You may also find it helps for them to consistently go to sleep and wake up at specific times throughout the day. Also, avoid scary television shows or images that can lead to bad dreams at bedtime.
How do you handle nightmares? Leave a comment and share!
Dr. Melanie Williams is a pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Pasadena Clinic. Her clinical interests include developmental disorders and delays, blood disorders and normal development of babies and toddlers.