Coping with nightmares
Nightmares typically start between the ages of 3 and 6. Most children grow out of having them frequently, but they’re something we all have now and again.
Nightmares take place during deep sleep – usually in the early hours. Unlike night terrors, they can be remembered (along with feelings of fear or unease) after waking. They can also occur after seeing, reading or hearing something scary, or if the child is anxious.
- Acknowledge that you can see how scared your child is.
- Tell or read a soothing bedtime story, or sing some favourite songs or rhymes together.
- Encourage them to have a favourite soft toy in bed to cuddle.
- Ask them what their favourite part of the day has been, or what made them laugh today.
- Talk through what they might like to dream about. If they’ve woken from a flashback or scary dream, encourage them to ‘switch the channel’ like they would on the TV and choose a ‘happy dream’ channel.
- Ask them to imagine the bad dream being locked away in a box. Imagine the box being taken away on a big truck, loaded onto a big ship, sailing out to sea then being dropped over the side. See it sinking down, down, down to the bottom of the deep, deep ocean.
- Gentle touch can be very soothing for children who enjoy being touched. Try slowly stroking down the child’s arm from shoulder to hand, stroking the face or using slow stroking or circular hand movements on the child’s back.
- Talk through a muscle relaxation exercise. Ask them to tighten each set of muscles, hold for a few seconds and then let go. Notice how the muscles become soft and relaxed. Start with the toes then the legs, bottom, tummy, shoulders, arms, hands and finally the face.