It might be really unsettling to think about, but many children have nightmares. Sometimes it's about monsters creeping under the bed, and other times it's about more serious stuff, like death. These nightmares can often be explained (they watched a scary movie before bed,f or example). Sometimes, however, they might happen for no real reason. The good news is that parents can implement some of the ways to help your kid through a nightmare in order to lessen the frequency and severity of these terrifying dreams.
The specifics as to why nightmares happen are unclear, but according to Web MD, they help humans process emotions, incorporate memories, and solve problems in their lives. As further explained by Web MD, the most vivid dreams and nightmares occur in Rapid Eye Movement sleep, or REM sleep. The exact cause of nightmares in kids isn't totally clear, but they are most often attributed to what your child saw or heard before bed or recent traumatic experiences, according to the Cleveland Clinic website. Additionally, certain medications can cause dreams and nightmares to crop up.
All of this sounds very clinical, but the key for parents is to observe any themes or patterns in the nightmares. Once you do that, you can employ helpful techniques to help your kid cope. Again preventing nightmares all together is impossible, but setting your child up for more peaceful sleep is possible. Here are seven easy ways to help your kid with nightmares.
1. Comfort And Reassure Your Child
Cuddling and staying with your child for a short period of time after they have a sleep issue is paramount, according to the aforementioned Cleveland Clinic article. Most kids will be tired and fall back to sleep anyway, but being with them in their bed for a bit is helpful for establishing security. Additionally, you could try turning on a dim nightlight, keeping the door open, or having them snuggle with their favorite blanket or stuffed animal.
2. Use Sympathetic Language
When you're saying reassuring things to your child following a nightmare, be sure to use sympathetic language like, "I understand how scary that must've been for you, but there's no robber here." The main goal is to not dismiss or invalidate their fearful feelings.
3. Talk About The Nightmare During The Day
You can put their fears to bed, by talking about them during the day. As recommended on the Cleveland Clinic website, you can try to identify a pattern or theme to the nightmares if you talk about them with your child during the day because they're more coherent. Are school stressors playing part? A new video game? Obviously, discussing this stuff right before bed or right after the nightmare is not a good idea as it could make sleep worse.
4. Don't Watch Or Read Scary Things Before Bed
You have to set the stage for happy, non scary sleep. According to the Kids Health website, it's best to avoid scary movies, shows, or books at least an hour before bed. If you don't see an improvement with that change, you may have to avoid scary media all together.
5. Don't Avoid Scary Things All Together
If your child is having nightmares about creepy dolls or ferocious bears for example, you can try to expose them to pictures, books, or puzzles involving the subjects, as recommended on Parents. By hiding a creepy doll, you're validating that the doll is something to be freaked out about. Instead, if you present the doll or bear to your child in a non-scary, happy, and non-threatening way, they'll hopefully start to separate fear from that particular subject.
6. Help Your Child Think Logically About Their Fears
As explained in the aforementioned Parents article, instead of saying, "there's no monster under your bed" (because you're inadvertently suggesting that it's possible one could be under the bed by saying this), you instead make them realize monsters aren't real. To do this, you could try getting out a calculator and asking your child how many nights they've slept in the house (say, 200) and how many nights they've actually seen a monster or a robber come out (zero). Then you've proven to them that it's not going to logically happen.
7. Make Sure Your Kid Is Getting Enough Sleep
Getting adequate sleep in the first place goes a long way towards warding off nightmares. According to the Cleveland Clinic, having your child get enough sleep will decrease the intensity of dreams or nightmares.
Seeing your child scared is no doubt unnerving, especially if it happens frequently. Significant and regular sleep disruptions for a child (or anyone) can start to impact other areas of their life. Do what you can initially to help comfort them, but also know that sometimes a medical professional is needed. There's no shame in that route and the benefit is that you'll likely fix any possible sleep issues, which leads to better sleep for everyone.