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Helping Your Child Cope With Bad Dreams

Helping Your Child Cope With Bad Dreams

We all have bad dreams or nightmares, but they can be especially frightening for young children.  Nightmares generally occur in the second half of the night and if the child wakes up after, they will generally be able to recall what was so frightening to them.  They can stem from something the child has seen or heard during the day, or they may follow a traumatic experience. Here are some tips to help your children deal when they have bad dreams and help them get back to sleep:

  • Make sure your child is getting enough sleep and that they follow a regular bedtime schedule and routine that is happy and fun.
  • Reassure your child that is was just a dream; offer lots of cuddles to comfort them, let them know you are there.
  • Try to eliminate stressful or last-minute events right before bed to better create a calm environment.
  • Teach your child how to conquer those ‘monsters’ rather than fear them; emphasize positive thinking, and ensure your child they are brave and of course, safe.
  • Try to talk to them about their dream during the day, but don’t press the issue if they don’t want to talk about it.  Don’t dwell on that “monster” under the bed.
  • Try to avoid reading scary stories or watching something frightening on TV before bedtime.
  • Use a nightlight on the dimmest setting or leave their bedroom door open with the hall light on.
  • Make sure they have their favorite comforting toy or blanket with them when they go to bed.
  • Stay in their room and comfort them; rub their back until they start to fall back to sleep.  It’s best to get them to sleep in their own bed so that they learn that their room is, indeed, a safe place.
  • Creative ways of helping them overcome nightmares might include:
      • Reading a book about coping with nighttime fears, such as Scary Night Noises, by James and Janet Grody or Bedtime for Frances, by Russell Hoban;
      • Drawing pictures of the nightmare and then destroying it;
      • Making a “dreamcatcher” to snare any bad dreams;
      • Finding a pleasant bedroom spray, like lavender or cotton-candy, and designating it as ‘monster spray’. Anytime your child feels uneasy, a few spritzes of their favorite smelling spray may calm their nerves.