Nightmares can be terrible, even as an adult but in general, we have them far less often than our kids. The rate is higher the younger the child is, with 96% of our children aged six to ten having nightmares.
Nightmares happen during REM sleep and whilst most children don’t wake up after them, the dreams initiate a fight or flight response- you know, the high heart rate, sweating, stressing. Any form of stress during the day increases the chance of nightmares but having a nightmare also increases stress. This can end up being a cycle so by working on how to manage nightmares also means one can in turn reduce the likelihood of them occurring in the first place.
1. Understand and validate
When your child has a bad dream it feels most intuitive to remind them that the dream isn’t real and they should go back to sleep but to them, it feels very very real. There needs to be a degree of validation with how your child feels. Agree that it feels really scary but remind them there is no bad person in their room.
2. Get them sleep ready
The later children go to sleep, the more likely they are to have nightmares. Focus on calming them down before sleep- maybe taking a bath or going outside to take a look at the stars.
3. Retrain the brain
Dreams can become part of the mind's habit. After a nightmare, teach your child to focus on happier and funny thoughts.
4. Don’t shield your child from what scares them
That simply confirms that what they are is frightening. The more your child sees the things that scare them, the scarier it becomes. We are going to use the example of the doll here. Spend fifteen minutes a day focusing on the doll. Have a tea party with her during the day (certainly not at night) or print a picture of the doll or even read a book about the dolls.
5. Help your child create a new dream.
They can then think about this before sleep. Even thinking about a new ending or start to a bad dream will make them less likely to have a nightmare!