Nightmares can be overwhelming. So when your child experiences a bad dream, it can be difficult to know what to do other than saying, “It’s okay. They aren’t real.” It’s crucial to learn how to handle nightmares as parents to help kids achieve healthy, restful sleep.
Research suggests that nightmares typically begin between three and six years of age, when imagination starts to develop and becomes more vivid. A bad dream every now and then is completely normal and they might even be more frequent if your child is very creative or imaginative. A recurring or similar series of nightmares might be an indicator of something else – high stress, exposure to frightening subject matter or experiencing trauma. While not all questions about scary dreams have been answered, there are a variety of strategies parents can utilize to help their kids relax and return to sleep.
Explain Dreams and Meanings
Dreams might be obvious to you as an adult, but for children, not so much. It can be difficult for them to determine what’s real life and what’s part of a dream. Since they occur in the part of the brain that is responsible for creating memories and processing emotions, try not to dismiss or downplay the nightmares. They can seem very real and distressing to kids who don’t fully understand what they are. Be patient with reactions, calmly talk through the experience and let them know that they are safe. The goal is to help them comprehend the difference between reality and what was dreamt.
Teach Them How to Cope
Whether it’s to deal with nightmares or other tough situations they may encounter, teaching children how to cope is an important skill. Help them learn techniques to clear their minds, think about a positive image or read a happy book. Self-soothing methods will also help to mitigate anxiety surrounding bedtime. You can even encourage your child to reimagine or rewrite the dream by suggesting that they can become the hero, such as making the scary threats disappear.
Be Aware of Triggers
If bad dreams are frequent or recurring, consider what your child is being exposed to that might cause them, especially right before going to bed. TV shows, frightening books and more can cause your child’s imagination to run wild and turn into a terrifying experience during sleep. By talking through the nightmare, you might see a correlation. Explaining the content they are exposed to or eliminating it altogether might help you see a difference in sleep activity.
Establish Good Habits
Sleep deprivation, inconsistent schedules and not having a bedtime routine can all contribute to the likelihood of nightmares. Establishing a steady pattern prior to sleep and sticking to a schedule will help kids (and adults) fall asleep faster, stay in a state to go through the slumber stages and lessen the possibility of scary dreams. Plus, when your kids have good nighttime habits, you will be in a much better position to get the rest you need too.
Written by: Stacy Liman, Certified Sleep Science Coach at Amerisleep
Stacy Liman is a Certified Sleep Science Coach at Amerisleep, an award-winning brand that produces technologically advanced sleep solutions. Amerisleep’s eco-friendly mattresses, supportive adjustable beds, and accessories are sold online and in showrooms across the U.S. (including four in Arizona), South Korea, and Australia. Learn more at amerisleep.com or find your nearest showroom at amerisleep.com/phoenix.