How to manage Nightmares?
… three and six years old, when about a quarter of children have at least one nightmare a week. However, they can happen as early as two years old.
As most of us will remember, common themes such as being chased by a monster or animal, or being stuck somewhere you can’t escape from. While the subjects are extreme and frightening at the time, nightmares are perfectly normal reactions to the stresses and strains of growing up and are often caused by healthy development of the imagination.
So what should you do?
TOP TIP: Set up a dim nightlight in your child’s bedroom, yellow or red lighting is best, this will not stop them sleeping as we have receptors in our eyes that trigger the sleep hormone melatonin and these respond to dim light.
TIP: Bright lights such as white based spotlights will suppress melatonin and this can impact on your infant’s sleep so they are to be avoided.
TIP: Go into your child’s bedroom when it’s dark and with a child’s eye look around the bedroom to see if there is anything in the room that could look scary at night. A favourite cuddly toy in the day can turn into a scary monster in the dark.
TIP: Having a security object in bed overnight such as a special cuddly toy can help your child feel more relaxed and happy at bedtime and throughout the night.
What you can do in the daytime:
TOP TIP: To take the fear out of the dark encourage your child to play games in the house such as hide and seek, treasure hunts and timing to go upstairs fast games. Start with the games downstairs and as they become more confident encourage them to hide or look for treasure upstairs with you remaining downstairs. You could then graduate to hiding or seeking treasure in the dark with torches. As your child is having fun they soon forget to be scared and start to build up their confidence in the dark
TIP: Give comfort and reassurance. Your child is quite likely to call out or come to you in some distress when he has had a nightmare. The best thing to do is to listen to and reassure him and if necessary to stay with him until he has calmed down. It is important to remember that under the age of four to five, children cannot tell the difference between a dream and reality.
TIP: it is more important to comfort your infant than to try to rationally explain it away.
TIP: If your child has recurrent nightmares about the same thing, it can be useful to talk through this the next day and help your child to think up a happy ending, such as making friends with the monster. This can help to defuse the power of the nightmare and the hold its repetition may have on him. Make the monster into a character of fun. During the day draw silly pictures with your child and make up silly monster songs.