Most everyone is prone to bad dreams from time to time, but it can be especially frightening to young children. If they wake up at night crying or scared from a nightmare, there are things you can do to alleviate their fears and help them know how to respond if it happens again. We have some tips to consider.
Take time to listen
Encourage your child to talk about his dream and what he fears about it. Don’t just dismiss it or make him feel like you don’t take it seriously. Listen carefully and offer your assurance that you understand what it’s like to feel afraid. It may be helpful the next day to have your child draw a picture of the nightmare so he can better express himself.
Create a peaceful routine
Work to alleviate bad dreams by creating a soothing, restful routine. Read bedtime stories that are fun and positive. Bypass stories that could trigger bad dreams. Even childhood classics like Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood can be troublesome because of the evil witch luring the kids into her home, or the Big Bad Wolf. A bubble bath, soothing music, a fun story or a song can all set the stage for a pleasant night’s sleep.
Give your child some tools she can use when she wakes up feeling afraid. You might choose to leave a night-light on in the hallway or adjoining bathroom, or hang a dream catcher and tell your child it will catch their bad dreams. You can also create some fun, magical "potions" to keep her feeling safe. Put a jar of hand lotion by the bed and call it "Sweet Dreams Cream" or a spray bottle with water that will cause the monsters under the bed to flee.
Keep a regular bedtime hour and make sure your child gets plenty of sleep. If he wakes up afraid and wants to crawl in bed with you, assure him he will be fine in his own bed and that you will stay there until he falls asleep.
Scan the bedroom for triggers
Check out what your child’s bedroom looks like in the dark. Does the light through the window cast scary shadows? Are there objects that seem menacing in the dark? Go through the room and make some changes so if she wakes up, the room will seem familiar and comfortable to her.
While nightmares are normal, a chronic pattern of nightmares should be addressed with your child’s doctor. There could be an emotional issue or anxiety trigger in your child’s life that needs to be addressed.