Is your child having nightmares? Help them cope with these simple tips.
WORDS ANNA FERNANDEZ
Nightmares are extremely common in young children and constitute a part of normal development, as children’s imaginations develop and they begin to understand that there are things that can hurt them.
So how exactly can you help your children conquer these sudden and unpredictable nightmare scares?
Physical and Verbal Reassurance
Let your child know it’s completely fine to feel scared after a nightmare. Avoid dismissing her fear or saying things like “it's only a dream”, because nightmares can feel very real. Try to console her in an empathetic and non-judgmental fashion instead.
You may also want to make her feel comfortable with her favourite stuffed animal and keep her bedroom door ajar so she knows you're close by.
Although physical reassurance is important, note that
you may be reinforcing a habit that’s hard to reverse if you keep
bringing your child into your bed after a nightmare.
Get Them to Confront Their Fears
Rather than shielding your child, help her gradually adapt to facing her fears. The more she confronts or sees the thing that scares her, the less scary it becomes. The best time to do this is during the day. Spend 15 minutes daily focusing on whatever she sees in her nightmares. If she’s afraid of dolls, you could read her a book about dolls. Just don’t expose your child to frightening images before bedtime.
Plan a Pre-bedtime Ritual
Too much excitement, noise, and activity before bed can make it harder for children to settle down. A relaxing routine can help prevent nightmares. Try a warm bath or a calming bedtime story, and if your child is easily excited, make sure you allow for up to an hour of quiet time before tucking her in.
Give Them Control
Give your child control over her nightmares. Get her to use “nightmare repellent” to keep the monsters away. Fill a spray bottle simply with water scented with a couple drops of vanilla extract or air freshener. Tell her it functions the same way as an insect repellent. She can use it both at bedtime or if she wakes during the night.
Take a Step Back
If your child has recurrent nightmares, it may be time for you to determine what could be making her stressed or anxious. Sometimes changes like the addition of a sibling, or the move to a new school can create uncertainty in very young children, leading to nightmares.
Help children adjust to new experiences by including them in the
decision-making process. Ask if she would like to help read a story to your
newborn or let her decide which shirt your newborn should wear.
For most kids, nightmares happen every now and then and are no cause for alarm. However, if they persist, leading to detrimental effects on your child’s everyday functioning, talk to your doctor sooner rather than later so the both of you can get a good night’s sleep!