Dealing with nightmares

Maria Fernandes

Nightmares create havoc in the minds of children. They get frightened and disturbed by them and are often unable to sleep. An occasional nightmare is normal however when nightmares are recurrent it signifies a problem the child may be facing.

No one knows what exactly causes nightmares. Most times they occur for no apparent reason and at other times they happen when the child is experiencing stress or change, such as moving, a new school or maybe the birth of a sibling. The nightmares tend to reflect whatever the child is going through and might include monsters, animals, bad guys, imaginary creatures or familiar people, places and events in an unusual way. Young children may have nightmares about being gobbled up, chased, lost or punished. Sometimes the day’s events and experiences can be in the nightmare but with a scary twist. A child may not remember all the details but usually can recall some of the images, characters or situations.

Dealing with nightmares and bad dreams:

After a nightmare or during one, children often wake up tearful and upset. What they need most at this point is comfort. Reassure them that you are there and everything is okay and safe. A cuddle or a kiss might help them settle down. However don’t overdo it because then they may feel they are safe only when you are around.

Let them know it was a nightmare and it is okay to feel scared but it is now over. Also avoid dismissing their fear as silly because nightmares can seem very real to children.

If they have dreamt about monsters, you could try explaining that monsters are only make-believe and though they may appear scary, they can’t really harm them.

Teach them coping strategies; knowing what to do in a tough situation helps them feel they are better equipped to handle a problem. Children with frequent nightmares are often afraid of bedtime and teaching them to visualise happy moments or fun things to do can help them relax.

Keep the light in the hall or the room switched on as this can help them feel safe and go back to sleep after a nightmare. And if they insist you stay with them, do so, but only until they go back to sleep. A comforter like a favourite toy or pillow can also help change the mood and soothe them.

If in the morning they want to talk about their nightmare, that is fine but don’t force them to talk about it. Talking about their nightmares in the day, usually makes the scary images less powerful.

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