Helping Your Child Through Nightmares

Seven-year-old Jamie wakes from a horrible dream; she’s sweating, shaking and crying out for her mom. The room is dark and foreboding and she cries harder. Mom bounds in the room and comforts her, telling her there’s nothing to be afraid of and to go back to sleep. Jamie, still scared doesn’t want to and Mom is tired and doesn’t know what to do next.

Sound familiar? I know how frightening it is to experience nightmares. I wake up in a sweat, my heart pounding. Sometimes, I don’t want to close my eyes, for fear of having another nightmare. Well, if adults are frightened with nightmares, think about your children. Children have so much going on in their little heads, that their imaginations are full of thoughts, some good, some bad.
Depending on what they watch on TV or read in books and magazines; kids will conjure up almost anything. It’s a fact that children who watch cartoons are 3 times as likely to have nightmares at night. What we or they might think of as “harmless” can really cause night tremors in children. There are some key tricks that will help children have less nightmares and when they do, helpful ideas to help them fall back asleep without problems.

One thing to watch out for is when your child has a hard time falling asleep or stalls–doing whatever–to not fall asleep. A child who constantly stays awake at night is probably afraid of going to sleep, for fear of nightmares. Here are some tried and true suggestions to help make nightmares, a thing of the past.

>Limit their Television use. When they do turn on the TV, make sure it is NOT cartoons. Put on Sesame Street or One of Disney’s Programs–if you have cable. Just make sure the Disney programs are ones like, “Out of the Box” or PB& J–ones that foster learning and not violence.

>Have them say a prayer, to not have nightmares. Kneel down with them and have them say the prayer–if they are old enough–and tell them God will help them to have good dreams.

>Have them think about a happy place they like to go. Tell them when they close their eyes, to think of the best place mom or dad took them too, or where they went with a friend. Have them think about the fun things they did, the colors they saw. Nine times out of ten, they will dream about that place.

>Have them count sheep! It really works. First, tell them to make up names for their sheep and pretend like they are jumping over the moon, on their way to their house to bring them happy dream dust.

>Have them read happy books before they go to bed, not watch TV! Pick out Dr. Seuss or a silly book and have them read that before they fall asleep.

>Talk to them about their fears. Have them tell you what they are afraid of. If you understand their fears, you can help them by understanding and therefore, you can help them be less afraid.
If and when they have nightmares, the most important thing is not to shake them out of it, especially if they are thrashing in bed. Sit on their bed and quietly hum a favorite tune or speak softly, telling them you are here and that they are ok. When they wake up, take their hand and ask them whether they want to discuss their nightmare. If they don’t, don’t force them– just hug them and tell them you love them. Tell them it was just a bad dream and that what that they were experiencing was not real, even though the nightmare felt real.
If they are just whimpering when you go in, go to them and gently stroke their cheek and whisper that you are here. The most comforting and reassuring thing to a child, is that their mom or dad are there for them and, that they are calm.

If they have a hard time going back to sleep, sing or hum them a lullaby or say a little prayer. If they want you to stay–do so–for just a few minutes. Tell them to close their eyes and think of good things. Make sure that YOU let them fall back asleep on their own. They need to learn that it is O.K. to fall asleep by themselves. Most of the time, the kids wake in the morning, having forgotten the dream.
Nightmares are scary for any child–at any age, therefore; we can do our part by limiting the exposure–at least in our homes–that can fill their minds with bad thoughts.

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