While nighttime should be a time of serene relaxation and renewal, for many children this time for rest is also a time for nightmares. For parents whose children are plagued with nightmares, helping your tiny dreamers deal with these distressing nighttime occurrences can present a challenge. While nothing you can do can prevent your child from experiencing nightmares altogether, you can teach your child how to deal with them.
Talk about the nightmare with your child. Approach this topic the morning after your child experiences the nightmare. Ask him to recount as many details of the disturbing dream as possible. By doing this you show your child that you care about his nighttime disruption, and you allow him an outlet through which to explore this dream.
Rescript the dream with your child. Through the process of rescripting a dream, your child can rewrite the ending of his nightmare. This practice, recommended by AtHealth, helps take some of the scariness out of a petrifying nightmare. Complete this task immediately after the child describes the nightmare to you. Help your child by suggesting alternative endings. For example, if your child dreamed that he was eaten by a shark, suggest that he rescript the dream and write that it wasn’t a shark that approached her the water but instead a playful dolphin with which she then went on a swim.
Read nightmare-themed picture books. Picture books featuring nightmares, such as “The Dream Jar” by Lindan Lee Johnson, “There’s a Nightmare in my Closet” by Mercer Mayer or “The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Dream” by Stan and Jan Berenstain, allow children to see that they are not the only ones who experiences nightmares and can show these terrified tots that their nightmares pose no real danger.
Allow your child to help create a nightmare-free sleep space. Place additions to your child’s room that make him feel more comfortable in his sleep space. For example, if he is fearful of the dark, allow him to select and place a nightlight to illuminate the area. If he feels alone at night, purchase a large stuffed animal and allow this creature to share your child’s sleep space and act as a protector.
Consult a doctor if the nightmares increase in intensity or severity. While nightmares are normal, excessive bad nightmares or nightmares that occur nearly every night can be a sign of an underlying mental or physical condition, reports the Cleveland Clinic. If your child’s nightmares continue to increase in intensity or occur with regularity, consider consulting a health professional to ensure that there isn’t something behind these dreams.