Nightmares: Why Children Have It and What You Can Do

What is a nightmare?

If your child jumps out of bed screaming and scared and finds it hard to fall asleep, it's probably been a nightmare. These fearsome incidents often happen in the second half of the night when most people dream.

Nightmares can be caused by a disturbing reading history, a frightening video at bedtime, or another time, lack of sleep, or stress during the day (eg, kindergarten events).

Your child may remember the nightmare the next day and be disturbed by the thought. But it may also be that it does not know anything about the nocturnal incident. Nightmares should not be confused with night terrors, a rarer sleep disorder that usually occurs in the first half of the night. Children who suffer a night terrors sleep soundly in a deep, dreamless state and are still very agitated and difficult to calm down. Sometimes they do not respond to calming attempts. The night terrors can last up to 30 minutes. After the night terrors, they just go to sleep and often will not be able to remember the next morning.

Nightmares

Most kids have a nightmare from time to time. Two to four-year-olds are particularly vulnerable because both fear and imagination develop at this age. Kindergarten children are now able to describe their bad dreams.

Your preschooler's nightmares can come from a scary story (even if you did not think it was too bad) or from a movie. Likewise, your child may dream badly because it was ripped off at bedtime or stressed or anxious during the day.

There are many stress-relievers for a kindergartner, from toilet training to moving to a big bed. Maybe your child has to deal with new caregivers or educators, or has noticed that as a parent you have trouble with colleagues or your boss. Nightmares are a normal reaction your child uses to process these feelings - you are not a bad parent because your child dreams badly!

How do I help my child with a nightmare?

Go to your child's bed when it cries or screams. Now physical closeness is important, hug your child or caress it until it calms down.Whether you take your child into your parent's bed, you have to decide for yourself. Especially if your child suffers from nightmares more often, the proximity can be very calming. Some parents also put a mattress next to the child's bed. Maybe it will be enough if the door remains open.

Let your child talk about the dream if it wants. Do not force it. Also console your child with words, making it clear that the words: ""It was just a bad dream"" do not solve the problem immediately, as kindergartners are just starting to understand the difference between reality and fantasy. Say it anyway, because it helps to foster your child's understanding that nightmares are not real.

You can also show your child that there are no monsters under the bed or in the closet. Do not overdo it, otherwise you will soon be drawn into an exaggerated ""all-corners-need-to-be-investigated"" task.

Convince yourself of the nightmare that your child has their favorite stuffed animal, the night light is on and remind your child that you're safe nearby and everyone in the apartment is safe.

If your child talks about the nightmare the next morning, have them paint a picture of the dream and then tear it up and throw it away.

How to prevent nightmares?

There are no guarantees, but a peaceful bedtime ritual can prevent nightmares. A warm bath, a friendly story and a night light are among them. Choose the bedtime story carefully, avoid those with potentially scary themes or pictures.

Some children also feel better when they take control in a scary situation and can do something about the ""evil spirits"" themselves.

It does not help with all the kids, but here are a few tricks to try:

Help your child build a ""dream catcher"" from pipe cleaners or paint one to hang over the bed. This Indian tradition is to catch bad dreams and let the good dreams through.

  • Give your child a little cream or lotion. Call it ""Good Dream Cream"" and have your child rub it on their stomach or forehead before going to bed.
  • Fill a small spray bottle with water and a few drops of vanilla scent or similar. This will give you a ""Nightmare Defense Spray"" that your child can spray before going to bed.
  • If you suspect that anxiety or stress is causing nightmares, try talking to your child during the day. If the nightmares recur, your child is afraid to go to bed or even feel anxiety during the day, you should talk to the pediatrician. Eventually, the dreams point to a psychological situation that should be discussed.

Learn more about sleep in kindergartners

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