Nightmares are a part of life. All children have them from time to time, and all adults do too. Some nightmares are sad, some are scary and some are just disturbing. However, when children have nightmares they don’t yet have ways of dealing with them like adults do. That is why it is up to their parents to help them learn healthy ways to deal with nightmares. Instead of letting bad dreams keep them up all night, help your children deal with nightmares with some of these tips:
• Talk about them – One thing that always made me feel better as a child would be to describe the bad dream to my parents. Somehow, when I recounted the dream and was forced to remember all of it, it did not seem as scary. Oftentimes, dreams are not so bad with the lights on. I even remember laughing at how silly the things that scared me in my nightmares were. Having Mom or Dad listen to me talk about my bad dream was often enough to allow me to go back to sleep without any further difficulties.
• Sing a song– If the dream was really bad or I could not remember it and was just upset, my mom would offer to sing a song with me. We knew lots of happy songs that we could sing softly together to not disturb the rest of the house. Everything feels better after a few songs. Since I was raised in a Christian home, my mom often quoted Bible verses to me too. It made me feel good to know that Jesus was with me, even when my mom was not. She had all kinds of verses about not being afraid and trusting the Lord to protect you.
• Make them better– Another way to help your child get over a bad dream is to help them turn it into a good one. For example, if they had a dream that they were lost in a forest and couldn’t get out, you could encourage them to think of a happy ending. Maybe they found a magic castle in the forest and rode a flying horse back home. Or maybe they discovered a playground with lots of kids, and Mom and Dad were right there waiting for them. There are many ways to turn a bad dream into a good one, and it can even be a way to teach your children simple dream guidance. Even in their dreams they can push toward happy endings if they get in the habit.
• Take their mind off it– If the child just cannot be consoled, try doing something else. Play with a toy, make some tea, build with blocks or play puppets. There are many quiet activities they can do to take their mind off their dream for a while. Often, if you can get them to refocus, they will once again get sleepy and nod back off into dreamland without a struggle.
• Tell a story – Bedtime stories work just as well in the middle of the night as they do right before bed. If a child has a favorite book, pull it out and start reading it. The calming tone of your voice and your presence might be enough to send the child peacefully back to sleep. If not, they can still get caught up in the story and forget the bad dream they had. If you do not have a book on hand, make up a story of your own. Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast and other classic fairy tales are easy to remember and are common childhood favorites. If you have a more modern child, tell stories about astronauts or giant skyscrapers. The point is to keep them occupied and to get their mind off the bad dream. You can also have your child tell you a story. Have them think of something happy, even if the topic is something you don’t particularly like, such as earthworms or boogers. As long as they think the story is happy and good, let them talk.
• Relive a memory– Another way to get kids to think of something else is to talk about a happy memory. Maybe you can talk about a fishing trip or a bike ride to the park. You can ask them about how they got their favorite stuffed animal or how they met their best friend. You can also share good memories with them, like the first step they took, when they learned to tie their shoe and other accomplishments. Kids love to hear how proud you are of them for things they have done and exchanging memories like this can make them feel safe and comforted.
• Write them down – For older children, keeping a dream journal can help them deal with both bad and good dreams alike. When I was young I felt like I could not get back to sleep if I did not get the dream out of my head, but I did not want to wake my parents. So I started writing down my dreams down, and I still do so to this day. Dreams and nightmares can be inspiring and enlightening when you really take a look at them. Allowing a child to write down dreams is a great way to help the child deal with them in a healthy way.
• Talk about the cause – As I said, writing down or talking about dreams helps to get rid of them. However, there is another reason to talk about your child’s dreams. Sometimes bad dreams are caused by fears and insecurities in the child’s life. Dreams of falling are often a sign of feeling out of control. Dreams of being lost often mean you feel like you do not know what to do in a situation. By talking to your child about the possible meanings behind their dreams you can help them resolve the underlying issues that are causing the bad dreams and prevent future ones at the same time. This can be a great way to help a child that has a history of bad dreams. Maybe they are having trouble in some aspect of their life and it is manifesting in their dreams. Take a few minutes to do some research on possible dream meanings and you will be better equipped to help your child.
• Give a hug – Sometimes the simplest things are the best things. After a bad dream what your child really needs is a hug. Physical contact calms children and helps them to regain control after a shock. Hold your child and tell them that they are safe and you are there for them. You might even rock gently, as that movement is very soothing to children. Be patient and let them calm down before you try to deal with the dream rationally.
These are just a few of the ways to help your child with a bad dream. The most important thing you can do for them is remain calm and soothing. They are already upset, and you do not need to get angry or upset with them on top of it. I know it is tiring to be woken up in the middle of the night, but try to think of it as an opportunity to build a strong relationship with your child. After all, they will not come to you for comfort forever, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Ken Myers is a father, husband, and entrepreneur. He has combined his passion for helping families find in-home care with his experience to build a business. Learn more about him by visiting @KenneyMyers on Twitter.