There’s a Monster Under My Bed!
There’s a monster under my bed! The boogie man is in my closet! A nightmare for a child is a dramatic and frightening episode which can mean a bad night of sleep for both children and parents. While nightmares are a normal part of a child’s development, it’s important to understand how to help a child cope with this experience. As a child’s imagination develops and they begin to realize things can hurt them, nightmares become a part of life, often occurring out of the blue.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, nightmares are dreams with vivid and disturbing content. These dreams are enough to wake a person from a deep sleep feeling panicked, often resulting in the inability to fall back asleep.
Nightmares are most common in children during REM sleep, and afterwards, a child can remember the dream. A sleep terror is an extreme nightmare that happens during non-REM sleep where the child screams and takes several minutes to fall back asleep. Sleep terrors are most common early in the night, and the child will awake will little memory of the dream.
What can you do if your child is too scared to fall back to sleep?
- The first step is to listen to the child. Listening, understanding, and providing reassurance that they are safe is the first step in helping a child calm down after a bad dream. Teach coping skills by encouraging them to “be brave” and think positive thoughts. To help the child understand they’re not alone, read a story about a child who is scared but overcomes their fear.
- Include a security object, such as a special stuffed animal. This object helps a child feel secure and relaxed while falling asleep. Many children find comfort from a pet sleeping in their room. Even a small pet, such as a fish, can provide company for a frightened child.
- Relaxation methods are a helpful for a child to learn, particularly if a nightmare occurs while they are away from home. They can use these techniques as they mature and learn to cope with fear by themselves. Have the child imagine a relaxing scene or a different ending to the nightmare.
Experiencing nightmares and learning how to cope with them are an important part of a child’s development. With ample reassurance, they will learn there is nothing to fear and find they are big and brave! For more ideas on helping a child after experiencing a nightmare, visit the National Sleep Foundation.