Nightmares can occur to anyone at any stage, but they are more prevalent in children aged between three and six years, according to Psychology Today. Like adults, children have scary dreams that wake them up and leave them feeling frightened or upset. These frightening dreams occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage or when the brain is active.
Typically, when kids wake up from a nightmare, the images are still clear in their mind, and it seems real. Some children have trouble sleeping afterwards, others even resist bedtime to avoid having terrifying dreams. As a parent, you may wonder how you can help your children overcome nightmares. While you can’t stop nightmares from occurring, there are responses and methods to help your children regulate their sleep, so they can have a good night’s rest. Keep reading to learn a few ways to manage and treat nightmares in children.
Listen and Comfort Your Child
Common nightmares children have involve monsters, realistic fears of an aggressive dog, sharks, or snakes, being abandoned by a loved one, getting lost, or being chased by a scary person. And when children wake up after a terrifying dream, they want someone to comfort and listen to them. Your child also wants reassurance the nightmare isn’t real.
So, allow your children to explain their fears and ask them a few questions about the nightmare. Doing so helps calm your child faster. However, don’t focus on the bad dream for too long. Instead, ask your child to tell you about the rest of the nightmare the next day so they can return to their sleep. Remember, when your child talks, draws, or even writes about the nightmare during the day, the images don’t look scary anymore.
Know What Causes Your Child’s Nightmares
There are many reasons people experience nightmares, such as stress, not getting enough sleep, PTSD, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, history of abuse, and a specific phobia. Naturally, the experience after a nightmare will be unpleasant, but it won’t last for too long. With this in mind, find out what causes your child’s nightmares if they occur frequently. In most cases, children have nightmares linked to their fears. For example, if your child fears spiders or snakes, they’ll most likely have terrifying dreams about them.
Once you’ve identified the cause of your child’s nightmares, find creative ways to help your kid overcome fear. For example, ask your child to draw images of the nightmare, then tear them down. Alternatively, they could write about the bad dream and think of an interesting way to end it. For instance, they could be the hero who wins a fight against the scary monster. You can also hang a warning sign saying no monsters allowed, keep the lights on, or allow your child to sleep with their favorite stuffed animal.
Seek Professional Help
As children grow older, the likelihood of having nightmares decreases. However, some kids don’t outgrow their nightmares and the symptoms become more severe. If you notice your child’s nightmares are recurring, consider consulting a doctor. There’s no routine test for nightmares, but a physician will diagnose nightmare disorder by reviewing your child’s medical history and symptoms.
After the diagnosis, doctors provide multiple treatment options for nightmare disorder in children. For instance, if your child has an underlying condition that triggers bad dreams, the doctor will focus on curing the underlying condition. Your child’s doctor might also suggest treating nightmares with image rehearsal therapy or counseling to ease stress or anxiety.
It’s normal for children to experience nightmares. And while it’s impossible to stop nightmares in children, there are ways to help your child manage them. As a general rule of thumb, always listen to your child after they wake up from a bad dream. Then, comfort and reassure them it was a scary dream and the images they saw weren’t real. Also, find out what causes your child’s nightmares and find creative ways to overcome them. If your child continues to have nightmares, consult a doctor.