Those midnight screams from your child’s bedroom can be equal parts terrifying and frustrating for parents. Not only do nightmares wake your little one up at night, but they can wake the rest of the family up too. Nightmares are totally normal for kids (and adults, too!), but that doesn’t mean they have to be an every-night occurrence. If you find that your child seems to be struggling with nightmares more often than not, then here are some tips for helping him or her avoid having them in the first place.
1. Identify and de-escalate triggers
Most children have nightmares as a result of some activity, image, story, or reminder. Perhaps your kid saw an ad for a new horror movie about killer clowns on TV, and now whenever she sees any clown imagery, she has a nightmare. Instead of trying to protect your child from ever seeing a trigger, you should try to find constructive and non-threatening ways to expose your child to the trigger as often as possible . This could mean going to a kid’s carnival where clowns are making balloon animals or putting together a fun puzzle that’s clown-themed (and not scary!). The more your child interacts with the trigger in non-threatening ways, the less scary the trigger will seem in the long term.
2. Set up a regular bedtime routine
There is some correlation between how late a child goes to bed and how often he or she has nightmares . The later they go to sleep, the more likely it is they will have a nightmare. So try creating a regular bedtime routine that allows your little one to fall asleep at a reasonable hour.
3. Practice relaxing before bedtime
Stress is a huge cause of nightmares . Moreover, the stress caused by fear of having nightmares can make it more likely that your child will have a nightmare! To address this self-perpetuating cycle, try practicing calming techniques with your child at bedtime. Activities like mindful breathing, thinking about happy thoughts, and cuddling can all help relieve stress .
4. Teach coping techniques
When your child does have a nightmare (and, like we said, this is very common), it’s good to teach some coping methods so that they’re able to relax and fall back asleep quickly. The last thing you want is to create a cycle of sleeplessness, stress, and nightmares! Try teaching your little one to take deep breaths, count to ten, and think positive thoughts when she wakes up from a nightmare .
5. Listen and discuss nightmares
It’s important to be there for your child if they have a rough nightmare. Letting him know that you understand what he’s feeling and that you’ll protect him will make him relax and fall back asleep faster. Moreover, labeling the experience (“It was a nightmare, sweetie, it wasn’t real.”) will help your child understand what happened and cope with the experience better in the future.
Sleep is very important for children, and nightmares should never be the reason why they aren’t getting enough regular sleep! For more healthy tips, content, and news, make sure you sign up for our email list.