How to Help Kids with Nightmares

Nightmares can be a common occurrence in children and can negatively affect their health in the long run. However, there are strategies parents can use to help prevent them from happening. In this article, we'll share some tips to help you avoid your child having nightmares at bedtime.

  1. Reduce stress by establishing a relaxing and predictable bedtime routine. A warm bath, an uplifting story, a song, and a night light can help your child unwind before bed. Reading books that address bedtime fears can also be helpful.

  2. Teach your child coping strategies to relax, such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, or visualizing happy memories, fun plans, or favorite books and movies. Distraction with a positive image right after a nightmare often helps it fade. Some children find comfort in having a flashlight, dream catcher, or “monster spray” by their bedside. Making a spray bottle of water scented with vanilla extract can help your child feel empowered to banish scary dreams by spritzing it around their room before bed. Creating a sign that says, "Only good dreams allowed here," and having your child decorate it with stickers or drawings of things they enjoy and want to dream about can also be effective. Letting them rub a little skin lotion or face cream – you might call it "good dream cream" – on their tummy or forehead before bed can also be soothing.

  3. Provide a nighttime partner, such as a stuffed animal that your child can comfort and help not feel scared at night or that will protect them at night. Research has shown that this strategy can lead to fewer nighttime fears and reduced parent involvement at night.

  4. Correct any misconceptions your child may have about dreams. For example, they may believe that dreams are a prophecy of a future event, that by dreaming something they can cause it to occur, or that bad dreams are a punishment for something they have done. Help them understand that dreams are just thoughts and that thoughts are never dangerous.

  5. Help your child rewrite the story of their bad dream. Children with intense nighttime fears tend to have strong imaginations and difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. Encourage your child to take control of their imagination by imagining a happy or silly ending to the nightmare. You may need to help them by suggesting ideas such as sucking up the monster with a giant vacuum or waving a lightsaber to make the monster disappear. If memories of the bad dream persist during the day, have your child draw a picture to change the story.

If you suspect that anxiety or stress is causing your child's nightmares, try talking to them about what might be bothering them during the day. If the nightmares persist or your child is extremely afraid of going to bed, bring it up with their doctor. The dreams could signal an emotional issue that needs addressing. By following these tips, you can help your child avoid nightmares and have a peaceful night's sleep.

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