Even as adults, nightmares can be absolutely terrifying.
So how do you explain to a child, who is still trying to understand the difference between real-life and fantasy, there isn’t really a scary monster living under the bed?
Nightmares can result in hours of tears and sleepless nights, and it can also be extremely distressing for parents to see their little ones so upset.
Unfortunately there isn’t a simple quick cure for nightmares but there are a few things parents can do to try and prevent them.
We’ve spoken to the experts at BabyCentre to get their advice on what to do if your little one is suffering from bad dreams.
There are also lots of tricks to help comfort them, and take away the fear of going to bed – but there’s also one thing parents should never do.
Why do children have nightmares?
Kids are particularly prone to nightmares between the ages of two and four.
This is when normal fears develop and their imaginations really start to develop and blossom.
What causes nightmares
There are lots of things which can cause nightmares, including;
- Listening to a scary story
- Watching an upsetting TV programme
- Stresses in life – such as toilet training, childcare changes and moving to a big bed
- Picking up on parents’ stresses – such as a work redundancy
What to do if your child has a nightmare
There are lots of little tips and tricks you can use to help comfort your little one if they’re scared after a nightmare.
However according to the experts at BabyCentre there is one thing you should never do – bringing them into your bed.
While it’s important to go to your child if they cry out, comfort them in their own bed.
The BabyCentre website states: “If you bring your child into your bed to comfort him, be aware you could be creating a habit that’s hard to reverse.”
Hug them and rub their back until he or she calms down.
Ask them about their dream, but don’t push it if they don’t want to tell you exactly what happened.
There’s a good change that saying “it’s only a dream” probably won’t help much as they’re still trying to understand the difference between real life and their imagination, but it’s still worth saying.
It might also help to show him there isn’t a monster in the wardrobe or under the bed.
Leave them with their favourite teddy or toy and remind him that you’re not far away.
If he’s still talking about the nightmare the next day, try getting him to draw a picture of what happened and then let him throw it in the rubbish bin.
How do I stop my child having nightmares?
As with adults, unfortunately there isn’t really a way to get rid of nightmares completely but there are a few things you can do to reduce them.
- Make sure they have a peaceful bedtime routine including a warm bath, an upbeat story and a night light
- Choose bedtime stories carefully, making sure you avoid scary themes and pictures
- Make a dreamcatcher together and hang it over the bed, telling them it will catch all the scary dreams. You can use pipe cleaners or straws
- Give your little one a small tub of skin lotion and call it ‘Good Dream Cream’. Let him rub a little bit on his tummy before he goes to bed to make sure he only has nice dreams
- Get some ‘Monster Spray’ or ‘nightmare repellent’ (otherwise known as a spray bottle filled with water and a few drops of vanilla extract to make it smell special) and let your child spray it a few times around the room before going to sleep
- If you think the dreams might be caused by stress or anxiety, talk to him about them during the daytime.