• Parenting Nightmares: Help Your Child Bounce Back from Bad Dreams

    Parenting Nightmares: Help Your Child Bounce Back from Bad Dreams

    It’s the middle of the night when a scream comes from your little one’s room…

    “Mommy! I had a bad dream.”

    Nightmares are a scary but common occurrence for children of all ages, and their terrifying randomness can be as hard on parents as it is on kids. Here’s how to understand your children’s nightmares and help keep them at bay.

    young-boy-in-striped-shirt-in-bed-having-a-nightmare

    What Causes Nightmares?

    Dreams are tricky things. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what causes them, but studies suggest they’re the brain’s way of trying to sort out emotions and events that occurred during the day. Anxiety is often a driving force in nightmares. Ever notice how if you’re worried about a big presentation or test, you’ll have a nightmare about being late to work or missing the exam? A scary movie or creepy doll can have the same effect on children, especially around the Halloween season.

    Totally Normal

    From a developmental perspective, nightmares are normal. They’re most common in children between the ages of 6 and 10, though younger kids can have them as well. The difference is in their content of the nightmares, which is why it’s so important to talk with your child about their scary dreams. Younger kids are more apt to have bad dreams about monsters in the closet or creatures under the bed, while older children often have nightmares about real-life scenarios like getting lost, getting separated from a family member, or other frightening situations. Since nightmares occur during the REM cycle, the deepest stage of sleep, it’s difficult to wake up from a nightmare right away, which adds to the confusion and fear.

    Coping Strategies

    So how do you deal with your child’s nightmares? One of the most important things you can do is be understanding. It may be natural to want to say, “None of this is real, go back to sleep.” But to a terrified child, a nightmare seems as real as anything, so it’s important to acknowledge their fear and listen to them talk through it. It can help a child to know that adults have nightmares, too.

    Since nightmares sometimes come from restless sleep, having a stable bedtime routine can help prevent them. So can limiting exposure to TV, tablets, and other electronic devices; research shows that cell phones and other screens limit the body’s production of melatonin, which promotes restful sleep.

    mother-and-daughter-in-bed-smiling-and-laughing

    Recurring Bad Dreams

    If your child has a specific recurring bad dream, there are ways to help your child overcome them. Talk with them to determine the anxiety or fear that drives the dream, and then devise a way to confront it. If the dream is about a scary doll, for instance, arrange an encounter with the object in a safe, neutral way. It’ll strip the dream of its scary power and help your child feel more in control. Another strategy: have them write down a new, happy ending to their dream and practice role-playing it. It’s tempting to avoid the fear, but it the long run, avoiding it will only add to the power of the nightmare.

    We hope these strategies help the next time your little one wakes up frightened. Sweet dreams!

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