Almost everyone, regardless of age, gets to experience nightmares on occasion, but children are particularly sensitive to them. Most kids are deeply disturbed and frightened by nightmares, but there will be nothing to worry about if you are aware of the very cause of this disturbance and know exactly how to approach your child.
Nightmares are essentially bad dreams, which may lead children to wake up in terror or experience anxiety. Such dreams occur during the stage of sleep when the brain is particularly active.
Unlike night terrors, humans tend to remember their nightmares.
Vivid, realistic images observed in a dream lead to a feeling of having actually experienced the adventure upon waking up. This is precisely why, once awake, a child may think that everything really happened, and it should come as no surprise that emotions experienced in the dream, such as fear, worry etc., may actually carry over into the waking state.
Nightmares that have to do with any of the following issues are completely normal:
• Realistic threats (e.g. an aggressive dog, a shark or a spider);
• Imaginary fears, such as that of monsters;
• Experiences or events in the waking state that cause the child to feel stressed or disturbed/frightened.
The best way to minimize nightmares among children and ease their experience in case of such disturbances is to develop a sleeping routine, which you will follow strictly every day.
A variety of issues may cause nightmares, including having to deal with situations that cause the child to worry or feel disturbed. Oftentimes, nightmares may be a result of changes—having to switch homes or schools, witnessing birth of a new member of the family (siblings), or even conflict and tension within the family.
A nightmare may also be a natural reaction to trauma, which the child experiences in case of a natural disaster, an accident or any kind of injury.
For some kids, especially those with a vivid imagination, reading scary or mystery books or watching similar movies or TV shows just before bedtime may also inspire nightmares.
A child may call out to you for comfort and be in tears after waking up, which is when it is particularly important for you to pay close attention to their description of the dream and emotions they have experienced as a result, so that you can act accordingly:
Your calm presence helps your child feel safe and protected. Knowing you will be there helps strengthen their sense of security.
Comfort your child with a gentle voice. Reassure them that all this was a bad dream and that now everything is OK.
Show that you understand their fears and that these are absolutely normal. Remind them that everyone experiences nightmares and that most people are naturally frightened as a result, just as much as they are.
With preschoolers, especially those whose nightmares feature monsters, it may be a good idea to work your so-called parent magic. You might easily come up with the idea of pretend monster spray, a dose of which will make the pretend monsters disappear. A simple spray bottle and water may be just all you need to comfort the child. It may also make sense to check the closet and under the bed, or behind the door to reassure your child that all is clear and that there is nobody in the room.
Placing a simple nightlight next to their bed may also easily fix the problem, provided the kid does not feel very safe in a darkened room.
It is important to help you child go back to sleep by using their favorite stuffed animal to hold.
If your child suffers from frequent nightmares, analyze their daily routine and try to observe potential causes of discomfort. Observe their relationships with other kids and everyone they get to interact with on a regular basis. If your child experiences the same nightmare over and over again, or they find it hard to forget the experience, feeling stressed and anxious as a result, it would be smarter to consult with a physician.
If your child wants to describe a nightmare, you don’t have to get into every single detail of the dream. Try to allow them to tell you exactly what they feel like sharing. Sometimes, writing the dream down or making a drawing is a powerful solution, which allows the child to discard negative emotions in the process. As a result, the vivid image observed during the nightmare loses its power and meaning and may even turn into a comical experience in some cases.
Author: Likuna Khazaradze